As we bring 2017 to a close, I wanted to reflect on positive things from the past year which has been filled with many challenges both personal and professional and I want to thank the people who have brought joy, support and inspiration.
This year has seen me move division to Agriculture and Environmental Science (AES), has seen my team grow, teaching increase, new collaborations and strengthening existing collaborations, brought a range of amazing speakers to Biosciences, and seen a new Vice Chancellor start at the University of Nottingham.
I first wish to thank everyone in AES for welcoming me into their community this year. They not only include me in research or teaching discussions but have also offered support and mentoring during some very challenging times. I can't speak highly enough of this diverse group of people. Elevenses brings social coffee time with the "tub of love" (a biscuit-filled tin) for any students, postdocs, technicians and academics around each day without any hierarchical division and usually ends in tears of laughter.
Adding to AES, my team has grown welcoming Daisy Dobrijevic and Magda Cobo Medina, along with Darwin Hickman as a co-supervised student. In the coming year Findi Ishaya will join us from Nigeria on a VC PhD scholarship and we will host to Erica Porter from the Queensland University of Technology for a part of her Mphil. I have to say these wonderful people fill me with excitement with their positive attitudes and creative ideas. Exciting year to come!
In addition to the growth of AR_Lab, my teaching portfolio is also growing. This calendar year I had the joy of teaching some of my favourite subjects in plant ecophysiology to 3rd years and running a new plant prac to about 300 first year students on two separate campuses. The discussions I had with some of this cohort while we wandered around trees in the glorious spring sun were of such a high standard that for 2018 I'm adding a third stage to the prac involving a treasure hunt using a mobile phone app. This makes me a tad nervous regarding technological glitches so I have a (dreaded) paper backup for the first run but I'm also really excited to be able to stretch the students further in their plant evolution and diversity knowledge in a fun way.
The autumn semester saw the beginning of a new academic year with a delightful group of 4 first year tutees and saw last years' tutees move on to internship applications and a higher level of challenges and time management. My five 3rd year project students have embarked on some really diverse and interesting projects from coastal erosion management to moss invertebrate diversity to crop nutrient physiology (in response hydroponics/soil and in response to pharmaceuticals present in wastewater) and to nitrogen preferences of plants growing in different niches (potentially interesting for greenspace in urban areas). I taught into two plant physiology modules at 2nd year and masters levels and received some truly wonderful comments on my teaching scores (if you follow me on twitter you will have seen my surprised reaction!). I have to say my job is made easy when the room is filled with motivated, interactive students so thank all of you who were in my classes this year.
The year also involved 3 trips to Sweden to visit friends, collaborators, to attend the rooting 2017 conference (see blog and here) and to take 20 undergraduate students to the arctic for a field module (see blog). Collaboratively, 2017 saw several international peers start in academic positions (and I signed my permanent contract too). One of those amazing people is Erin Sparks (Dellaware) and together we set up a sister-lab arrangement to collaborate on maize root-type research which is incredibly exciting - both in terms of research but also in terms of developing a peer group who understand the challenges of being a new academic in current times.
Many other collaborators in Germany, Australia, Sweden, Netherlands, Italy and here in the UK have also been amazing for feedback and support with grant applications over the past year. This includes support from Karl Pioch at KWS SAAT SE and from Kevin Hobbs at Hillier Nurseries as we develop new industry-relevant project. Very recently I had the pleasure of attending the Hillier Lancaster Plant Group and meet Roy Lancaster and a room full of other horticulture buffs. This was an amazing and humbling experience being surrounded by so much plant knowledge - a resource I plan to include in my teaching a research more in coming years!
One of my roles earlier this year was to organise the Holden Botany public Lecture and organise the seminar series. As part of this we hosted some incredible speakers including Sandy Knapp from the Natural History Museum (Holden Botany Lecture), Ottoline Leyser, Levy Yant, Ari Sadanandom, Katie Field and Tom Bennett (seminar series). In addition just this week I had the great pleasure of meeting James Wong (@botanygeek) who visited Nottingham to give a public seminar organised by Susie Lydon which raised money for UNICEF. It was a fascinating talk about how we can use a knowledge of plant processes (AKA physiology!) to improve the nutritional value of fruit and vegetables in our homes. Hearing from these inspirational people is one of the job perks of being an academic and I thank them all for taking the time to visit the University of Nottingham.
So at this point I want to thank you all - AR_Lab members, students, colleagues, collaborators, and friends for the good things this year and I look forward to exciting times to come in 2018.
The year has also seen the University of Nottingham welcome a new Vice Chancellor to our ranks. I have just watched Prof. Shearer West's inaugural lecture and I have to say I feel more optimistic about the future.
In a world filled with awareness for unconscious bias I have been reflecting on why I find Prof West an inspiring leader…*disclaimer: in the following statements I am by no means suggesting I am anywhere near the same league as Shearer but rather attempting to dissect potential biases of mine* … So do I find her inspirational because she's a woman? Or because she's international? Or is it because she's not afraid to tackle problems and give opinions that are not necessarily going to be 'liked' by everyone? Is it because she made a strong case for supporting early career academics to be able to work with the best in our field? Is it because she drew on expertise and quotes from VCs of several Australian institutions?
I happen to agree with many of the things she said, but I agree with many people and don't necessarily find them inspirational. I think what makes her an inspiration to me are those unconscious biases - she says things I relate to and agree with but she does it as an international woman in a position of power. But what does this mean for me as I improve my own leadership skills for my team? AR_Lab is internationally diverse including English, Spanish, Nigerian and American/Australian (and me as an Australian). Interestingly almost all PhD student applicants have been female - (that's before I get any say in the process!). At postdoc level it is much more balanced and together with Darwin joining the team I'm pleased that we are becoming more diverse on that front. We are still small and new so the true diversity of experiences, opinions and personalities are yet to fully shine but on reflection I think my fledgling team is growing well in terms of diversity. The real challenge now will be to find a way to inspire people diverse from myself; to establish a set of common goals with each of them to inspire them through 'the cloud' times (see blog…) and encourage a positive team environment to give them resilience to the challenges (including frustrating supervisor moments)! I am new to leading a team and I'm certain I have much to learn and will make plenty of mistakes but hopefully as a team we can evolve together.
Well that turned into quite the reflective piece! But what better time to take stock and reflect than at the end of a calendar year!
Reflecting back on the amazing things that have happened in the past year and being motivated by my research team and undergrad students, I am looking forward to 2018 with excited anticipation.
Happy holidays everyone.