My week 4 Journalism homework was to write up an interview we did with a Journalism classmate. This week, week 5, we stepped it up a gear and had to interview someone completely unknown! We were actually forewarned of this task, so I earmarked my attendance at the SpotOn London science communication conference (November 8 and 9) as an opportunity to interview a willing volunteer! Here goes…
Kirsty Jackson is a jive-dancing, blog-writing, sci-fi-loving trainee roller derby referee. She is also in the fourth year of a plant science PhD.
As a child, Kirsty was fascinated by discovery and always knew she would become a scientist. After following her interests at school, she applied to read biochemistry at Edinburgh University.
But, after a year of study, she was inspired to pursue plant science instead.
She says: “Growing up in London, I didn’t have much contact with plants, and there is little plant science in the school biology curriculum. But thanks to one motivational lecturer at Edinburgh, I found there were many amazing things to discover about plants and fungi. They really captured my imagination.”
After graduation, Kirsty decided to continue an academic career. She applied for a PhD at the John Innes Centre in Norwich and was rejected, but got an email from Professor Giles Oldroyd a few weeks later. He invited her to interview for a new research project, which she was convinced she hadn’t got either.
Now in the laboratory of molecular cell biologist Dr Jeremy Murray, Kirsty’s PhD project explores the symbiotic relationships between a group of plants called legumes, and bacteria and fungi.
Unlike a normal plant disease infection, legumes ‘allow’ certain bacteria and fungal agents to infect them. In doing so, functions such as the ability to take up nitrogen more efficiently from the soil are conferred on the plant.
Kirsty specifically experiments with a member of the clover family called Medicago truncatula. She analyses and characterises genes that are thought to be involved in the symbiotic infection process.
I met Kirsty at SpotOn London, a two-day science communications conference, and asked her about some of her other science outreach activities.
A keen science writer, she contributes fungal biology articles to the Plant Scientist blog (http://plantscientist.wordpress.com/) and the John Innes Student Blog (http://johninnessvc.wordpress.com/). She also enjoys dispelling myths about science portrayed in the popular press, and making science accessible to lay audiences.
“People often think science is ‘too hard’ for them,” she says. “But if you break it down into simple language, it’s much easier to grasp.”
Kirsty is also a member of the Teacher Scientist Network. Linked to a middle school in Norwich, she regularly visits the children, aged 7–11, to enrich the science curriculum by leading practical experiments and giving science demonstrations.
She says: “Children get so excited about science! Even something as simple as dry ice is fascinating to them. It’s brilliant because it reminds me of why I decided to pursue science as a career.”