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Gatsby Plant Sciences Summer School 2016

Dr M is the University of Reading mentor for Gatsby Plant Science (part of the Gatsby Plant Science Education Programme at the University of Cambridge) and each year he selects three undergraduate science students on a competitive basis to attend the inspirational and potentially life-changing Gatsby Plants Summer School.

The summer school (established by the University of Leeds in 2005) is a unique opportunity for first year BSc students to discover the challenges and opportunities of studying plant science, through talks from leading scientists, careers sessions, eye-opening practicals and thought-provoking discussions with researchers and peers.

Crucially, the summer school also invites secondary school teachers from around the country to attend and learn about new developments in plant sciences and to encourage and develop their teaching of plant sciences in the GCSE and A Level curricula. Absolutely vital this, for without stimulating plant science teaching in our schools how can we expect to encourage a new generation of plant scientists fit for the challenges ahead?

This year Dr M is attending the Summer School (based at the beautiful Hawkhills near York) for the first time, and he arrived on the Sunday to hear the first plenary lecture given by Professor Liam Dolan from the University of Oxford, entitled: “The roots of revolutions: development and evolution of the plant soil interface.”  Liam ended his talk by emphasising that Britain is a great place to be studying plant sciences with shed loads of cutting edge research going on in great institutions support by great plant collections in museums and herbaria such as Manchester, Edinburgh, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. (There are also great collections elsewhere (Like Reading!) and all over the world!).

Apart from listening to inspirational talks such as that by Liam, Dr M’s role at the summer school is to tutor a group of undergraduate students. On day 1 (Monday) Dr M and his student group (pictured at the top of this post) will attend a lecture by Professor Kathy Willis director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, entitled: “From Genes to Beans – what do we need to conserve and where?”

Following the lecture Dr M and the students will adjourn to a quiet room were they will discuss the content of the lecture and devise some pertinent questions which they will address to Kathy Willis at a second session a bit later on. The objective of this exercise is to get students away from passive listening and into focussing on the lecture, responding critically and gaining the confidence needed to devise and ask questions.

The summer school continues for a whole week and will include further lectures and practicals and social events including a pub quiz, treasure hunt a games night and a Karaoki night! Sadly Dr M has to leave after his work is done on day 1 and so the karaoke version of his legendary Poaceae song will have to wait for another time!


Plant Science Resources

Gatsby Plant Science is part of the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and its aim is to advance knowledge in fundamental plant biology and nurturing talent amongst young scientists.

Apart from the summer school, the foundation funds the following activities:

Science and Plants for Schools (SAPS) has the aim of creating opportunities for teachers and students to find out more about plants and to become more interested in plant science.

The Plant Science TREE (Tool for Research Engaged Education) is an online teaching tool giving access to inspirational educational resources (e.g. videos and lectures) from the research community.

Into Biology is designed to inform and inspire the next generation of biologists and supports UK biology students aged between 17 and 21, with science news, careers guidance, and study skills.



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