Elizabeth Chapman

Project: Balancing the genetics of source and sink to increase productivity of bread wheat
Supervisor: Dr Simon Griffiths

I originally chose to study Biology due to its sheer diversity and range of topics; from biochemistry, genetics, cells, signalling networks and molecular processes, through to the macroscopic level of organs, individuals, populations and ecology. My love, and fascination, of plant science emerged whilst studying for a BSc in Biological Sciences with a year of work experience, at the University of Birmingham.

I enjoyed the broad curriculum of my first year, and being such a well-rounded student, I found it difficult to choose my specialism. Fortunately I was lucky enough to attend Gatsby Plant Summer School, which proved an eye-opening experience, through highlighting the all-encompassing nature of plant science, wherein a range of specialisms and techniques exist within the one field. Subsequently this guided my choice of placement year, where I worked within the ‘Conservation & Research’ Department, at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, carrying out DNA barcoding of UK Natives, and designing and undertaking a phylogenetic community ecology study of Welsh Grasslands.

My placement year was invaluable, providing first-hand experience of working in a research environment, where I devised my own research topic, and learned how to interpret scientific literature in new, novel and practical ways. Twelve months away from University changed my mindset, improved confidence in my own ability and, most importantly, made me realise I wanted to do a PhD, whereas previously I would have ruled it out.

Upon my return to University for my final year I chose to specialise in Plant Science and Genetics, continually seeking out the practical applications of research, and undertook a practical dissertation project, investigating lateral root development in Arabidopsis, which proved to be more complex than I ever imagined at the start!

Keen to mix both fundamental and applied science, I applied for a PhD within Crop Genetics at John Innes involving collaboration with a major plant breeder. For my PhD I am investigating the relationship of early flowering and stay green in novel wheat lines, with the aim of cloning ‘stay-green’ genes, to improve wheat productivity in the face of a changing climate.