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Gatsby Plant Science Summer Schools 2005-13

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Previous Years
  • 2013
  • 2012
  • 2011
  • 2010
  • 2009
  • 2008
  • 2007
  • 2006
  • 2005

Photo album 2013 / Event Review / Lectures / Student comments

Event Review 2013

The 9th Gatsby Plant Science summer School took place at the Emergency Planning College between 30th June and 5th July 2013. Now our 6th visit to the EPC, we feel like old friends returning and, as ever, new visitors to the school are energised by the quality of the speakers, practicals, students and venue.

This year the broad mix of plant science was all well-received and included a focus on insects.  Saskia Hogenhout’s talk on the dynamics of plant-insect interactions in disease was kindly sponsored by the British Society of Plant Pathology . Beverley Glover, the new Director of the Cambridge Botanic Gardens closed the school with a talk on flower diversity relating to pollinators. Added to this, Enrico Coen’s talk, which was sponsored by the Genetics Society, gave a geneticist’s view of flower development relating to function that complemented other talks beautifully. Malcolm Bennett’s talk on root biology, stressed the importance of multidisciplinary approaches, showing the power of Xray Micro CT imaging to view roots in soil and Jane Langdale’s evolutionary view of model systems prepared students to look beyond the angiosperms, which the students got chance to do on the Biodiversity practical at the National Park, Sutton Bank, with an excellent introduction to lichens by Sally Eaton. This year’s students were particularly taken by talks from Neil Bruce and Vivian Moses; Neil talked of his translational research, from biochemistry to engineering plants to remove pollutants from the biosphere and Vivian Moses gave an entertaining and thought-provoking historical perspective of the GM controversy and the UK public which was so encouraging to have debated.

Once again the practical classes proved highly popular; pathology again being the students’ favourite and updated with information on Ash dieback. All practicals proved a favourite for a number of students. Thanks to Jenny Farrar and her colleagues from Edinburgh for extending the Biodiversity practical at Sutton Bank and we look forward to developing further links between this and the Plant Identification and Ecology practicals.

The careers session this year included a younger range of professionals than in previous years and students appreciated hearing of diverse current destinations for those around 10 years after graduation, including patent law and science policy. Teaching had a prominent place as a career destination, with an introduction to the Teach First programme as well as talking to some of the teachers attending the 4th SAPS Summer School that aims to enthuse science teachers about current developments in plant science to take back to the classroom. While one aim of the summer school is to attract more of the UK’s high-achieving students into plant science PhDs, this year’s students also appreciated the Next Steps talk from Keely Watson, who attended the first school in 2005, which prompted an interest in plants, and has been working in commercial horticulture since graduation in 2007.  All very timely and encouraging, given the RHS report to government earlier this year on Horticulture Matters.

It was also encouraging to read some student comments from those who remain committed to their love of animal biology but, as a result of the summer school, appreciate the importance of plant science and the value of interacting with plant scientists to address future research problems.

The buzz of the summer school reaches most who attend and we hope each person can pass that on and amplify the signal.

Plenary Lectures 2013

This year's lectures covered a broad range of exciting, cutting edge plant science research that addressed globally-relevant applied initiatives as well as curiosity-driven research:

  • Prof Jane Langdale, University of Oxford: "Models – the need for different shapes and sizes” and Introduction to the Gatsby Plant Science Programme.
  • Prof Malcolm Bennett University of Nottingham: “What happens below ground? A multidisciplinary approach to Root Biology”.
  • Prof Vivien Moses Queen Mary, University of London: “The GM controversy and the UK public”.
  • Dr Saskia Hogenhout John Innes Centre: “Insect vectors and vector-borne disease agents of plants - the surprising dynamics of interactions among three unrelated organisms".
  • Prof Enrico Coen John Innes Centre: “Hidden Signposts of Plant Development”.
  • Prof Neil Bruce CNAP, University of York: “Defusing the biosphere – engineering plants to remove explosives and other pollutants from the environment”.
  • Dr Beverley Glover University of Cambridge: "Flowering plant diversity: development, function and evolution".
Selected student comments 2013

The venue was great. The surrounding grounds are ideal for the topic with a large diversity of plants. It almost felt like a small university which was good.

It allowed me the opportunity to think in different ways about the lectures

I particularly enjoyed the tutorials as a chance to get into the topic and chew it over from many angles, rather than just passively storing it for later revision.

Listening to others ask questions inspired me to ask more of my own

I loved that the tutors kept saying 'we don't know', because in normal education the teachers hardly ever say this.

I was particularly inspired by collaborations between scientists of different disciplines to create the most cutting edge research.

A lot of my university pals tend to disregard the plant sciences, I'm looking forward to

lecturing them on the vast diversity of the field with regards to diffusing the biosphere
and the developmental aspects.

The practicals were fun! I think the range of activities they made us try is amazing

I really appreciated the opportunity to approach older students that were previously in the same position as myself and find out how they got to where they are today.

It was the opportunity of a lifetime and I am extremely grateful for the experience.

Photo album 2012 / Event Review / Lectures / Student comments

Event Review 2012

The 8th Gatsby Plant Science Summer School took place at The Emergency Planning College between 1-6th July, 2012. This was our 5th year at the EPC and the college staff now seem to be used to being taken over by undergraduates, plants and laboratory equipment.

Students were treated to two outstanding opening talks; on Sunday evening, Prof Alistair Fitter from the University of York gave a provocative overview entitled “People, plants and planet”, based on the Royal Society’s recent report “People and planet”, and on Monday morning, Prof Elliot Meyerowitz, the inaugural Director of the new Sainsbury laboratory at Cambridge, enthralled students with a talk on “How cell to cell signalling creates developmental patterns” which they were able to debate in their following tutorials. The high calibre of talks continued throughout the week, covering research into increasing food yields through C4 photosynthesis (Dr Julian Hibberd); the importance of soils (Prof Richard Bardgett), circadian rhythms (Prof Andrew Millar) and engineering plant metabolism for healthy foods (Prof Cathie Martin).

Every talk and practical class is a favourite for some students, but this year, again pathology stole the show, with Prof Sophien Kamoun’s talk on Next generation disease-resistance breeding in plants being voted the students’ favourite talk and the practical class run by Dr Paul Beales and colleagues from the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) being voted the students’ favourite practical.

This year we also welcomed Richard Milne who ran a new plant identification practical on site, as well as joining in virtually all social activities and being a firm favourite with the students. The off-site field course run by Greg Kenicer from the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, took place at the North York Moors National Park at Sutton Bank, where there was a wealth of diversity and ecology to view on heath and meadows, as well as being in a stunning location. Sadly, Jon Graves’ luck over the past 7 years in having good weather for the Ecology practical ran out this year and a hastily-prepared indoor version was staged. The team heroically still enthused a number of students with this opportunity to observe, question and design their own experiments, but it only re-enforced in our minds just how important it is for students to get outside when they can and question how plants work in situ.

This year, summer school alumni and other plant science PhD students stepped up to running the social programme and pleasingly, there was one PhD student assisting in the demonstration of every practical class. Katie Abley also gave a short talk on her postgraduate research and explained how she took her next steps after attending the 2007 summer school.

A single careers session and informal mingle ran on Tuesday evening with visitors attending representing industry, government and independent research agencies, teaching, academia and Botanic gardens. The 3rd Science and Plants for Schools (SAPS) summer school also took place, inspiring 5 secondary school teachers and educational specialists about new developments and applications in plant science. We are delighted that the summer school continues to be an effective forum for enthusiastic plant scientists to raise the immensely broad profile of plant science to an undergraduate audience that is still largely uninformed and uninspired by plants.

Thanks to support from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, each year we see a growing number of people inspired and enthused about the opportunities plant science can offer society.

Lectures 2012

This year's lectures covered a broad range of exciting, cutting edge plant science research that addressed globally-relevant applied initiatives as well as curiosity-driven research:

  • "People, Plants and Planet". Prof Alastair Fitter, University of York
  • “How cell to cell signalling creates developmental patterns”. Prof Elliot Meyerowitz, Sainsbury Lab Cambridge
  • “Using natural variation in photosynthesis to feed the future”. Dr Julian Hibberd, University of Cambridge
  • “The root of the problem – plant-soil interactions in a changing world”. Prof Richard Bardgett, University of Lancaster
  • “Plant science leads the way in understanding biological timekeeping”. Prof Andrew Millar, University of Edinburgh
  • “Next generation disease resistance breeding in plants”. Prof Sophien Kamoun, Sainsbury lab Norwich
  • “Engineering plant metabolism for healthy foods”. Prof Cathie Martin, John Innes Centre Postgraduate Short Talk:
  • “A hypothesis for the generation of tissue cell polarity”. Katie Abley, John Innes Centre
Student Comments 2012

'It was a fantastic experience and has certainly given me a greater insight into plant science and its applications for solving the challenges faced by our global society. The breadth and depth of my knowledge has increased and I definitely found the lectures inspiring as well as informative. I thoroughly enjoyed all the different practical sessions as well and the Emergency Planning College was a wonderful venue. I would certainly recommend it to others and I hope that the Summer School can continue in the future, inspiring more young scientists. '

'I loved the fact that the lecturers were at the cutting edge of their field but were also able to explain their research in a way that we could understand. It was interesting learning about the applications of their findings to the wider world. The tutorials were useful in consolidating what the lecturer had said and it was good to have the opportunity to ask questions we had come up with. It was interesting that quite a few of their answers said that the question asked had not been researched, showing there are still so many areas in plant science which need further investigation. '

The range of different practicals was great, ranging from ecology to cell biology. I loved having the opportunity to use powerful confocal microscopes. It was also interesting to see how useful computer software can be in the study of plants, particularly in the cell biology and development practicals.

Excellent variety of jobs. After the Careers session I felt better informed about how life would be undertaking these careers, particulary teaching and Academic Research. I was inspired to go down the PhD-research-Lecturer route as well the PGCE teaching route. I also felt more aware how plant science fitted in with Industry.

Photo album 2011 / Event Review / Lectures / Student comments

Event Review 2011

We were delighted to welcome Dr Robert Zeigler to give the opening talk to the 7th Gatsby Plant Science summer school, which took place at the Emergency Planning College from the 3-8th July 2011. Bob Zeigler is the Director of the International Rice Research Institute  (IRRI) in the Philippines and there is no more distinguished scientist to set the scene for the week by talking about the importance of rice and world food security. Unsurprisingly, students voted this their favourite talk and we are very grateful to Bob for continuing to inspire the students in his conversations with them afterwards.

While a hard act to follow, all of our other eminent speakers did a great job and all received excellent praise from the students, with every speaker appealing specifically to some students.  This year’s broad programme ranged from medical applications of plant science (Prof. Dianna Bowles), to the relevance of tropical forests (Profs Patrick Meir and Toby Pennington) to pest and weed control in African agriculture (Prof John Pickett); not forgetting the importance of fundamental science into flower development (Prof Brendan Davies) and how plants “feel” changes in their environment (Prof Marc Knight). Brought together with undergraduates on a range of degree programmes from biology, biochemistry, genetics, cell biology, molecular biology as well as plant science and this year also one undergraduate studying mathematics, it is always very pleasing to see how many students appreciate the broader view of science and find applications of their discipline within so many of the talks.

All of the practicals were very well-received again this year, with pathology receiving the most votes as their favourite practical and students commenting that they will now be more aware of diseased plants when they are outside in the future.

This year’s careers sessions aimed to cover certain themes of employment in plant science i.e. research organisations, industry, advice and policy, and education and the environment and we are very grateful to those representatives who attended to talk to the students. The students were very appreciative of the opportunity to ask questions of professionals and to build their confidence in selecting and taking the opportunities to gain experience available.

Following on from new developments in 2010, we were again pleased to include a Gatsby PhD student talk given by Ben Miller from the John Innes Centre. Ben attended the 2006 summer school and is now completing his PhD on symbiotic nitrogen-fixation.  The undergraduates greatly appreciated seeing where they themselves could be within 5 years.  Two other summer school alumni, now studying for Gatsby plant science PhDs also helped out with the social programme, giving the undergraduates plenty of opportunity to quiz them about what life as a plant science researcher is really like.

The second development of 2010 was the SAPS teachers’ course and given its resounding success, we were delighted to welcome 3 more teachers this year who attended part of the school alongside the undergraduates. As a new development, we were also pleased to welcome  6 science education specialists, including those who set and mark secondary examinations and those who write school text-books and we hope to continue to show these professionals new developments in plant science.

Once again, we were largely blessed with good weather, though rain shortened both the plant identification and ecology practicals this didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. The week was rounded off by news that the Gatsby Trustees approved funding for 2 more summer schools in 2012 and 2013, which couldn’t have been a better ending.

Lectures 2011
  • Dr Robert Zeigler, International Rice Research Institute, Philippines: Importance of rice and world food security
  • Prof Patrick Meir, University of Edinburgh: Tropical rain forests, climate and deforestation.
  • Prof Dianna Bowles, CNAP, University of York: Biology to benefit society – science, supply chains and the healing power of plants
  • Prof Toby Pennington, Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh: What is the most endangered type of tropical forest and why is so little being done to protect it?
  • Prof Marc Knight, University of Durham: How do plants feel?
  • Prof Brendan Davies, University of Leeds: A FAR FAR better thing – multitasking and job sharing in flower development
  • Prof John Pickett, Rothamsted Research: High impact plant science for low input control of pests and weeds in African cereals: the push-pull (companion cropping) approach.
Student Commets 2011

The Summer School succeeds in getting the balance between inspirational talks, exciting information and social time to form friendships with individuals with similar interests! I have learnt to formulate questions and gained more confidence to challenge and debate; the tutorials were really useful!

The opportunity to ask questions to scientists passionate about their work about current research was very inspiring.

The structure of tutorial discussions prior to the Q and A session was very useful in developing critical thinking, reflecting on the talk and thinking about the future implications and applications.

The practicals were the first time that I really have ever had an idea of what a career in plant science (and actually, biology in general) would involve and how enjoyable I find it. It's given me a lot of food for thought about future career prospects!

The approach taken in the plant identification practical was great and genuinely inspired me to use the book we were given in the future to identify plants I encounter. The imaging (confocal microscopy) part of the cell biology practical was also excellent as it made the science seem like art.

The careers lecture really reminded me as to why I took the degree course I am on. Throughout this year I’ve kind of lost heart regarding my subject interest but being exposed to the bigger picture as it were has really helped me regain my enthusiasm. Looking at the scope for potential research projects is particularly exciting!

The icebreaker was really good as it wasn’t a typical icebreaker of say your name and something interesting about yourself, it really forced you to get involved from the beginning making it much easier to make friends and start discussions in the tutorial groups.

Made me feel confident in my choice of switching to a Plant Science degree and reassured me that there would be jobs and exciting research in this area.

The opportunity to talk casually to lots of highly qualified people in plant sciences has been amazing and changed my general view on plant sciences from just 'plant sciences is about plants' to 'plant sciences includes lots of different interesting things from pathogens, agriculture, politics etc etc'

Photo album 2010 / Event Review / Lectures / Student comments

Event Review 2010

The 6th Gatsby Plants Summer School took place at the Emergency Planning College form the 4-10th July 2010.

This year’s school got off to an excellent start – no student was held up by Sunday travel disruptions and many were confidently talking with each other even before the icebreaker event started.  The icebreaker involves students working in their tutorial groups to nominate a plant to save in the Domesday Vault!

All plenary talks were very well received this year. Two stood out as the students’ favourites, Dr Sandra Knapp from the Natural History Museum on “Understanding plant diversity” and Prof Julian Ma from St Georges Hospital on “Improving global health with GM plants”; however every talk was a favourite for some students.  Once again, morning plenary talks were followed by tutorials and a Q&A session with the speaker. We were pleased to welcome a number of new tutors to the school this year and the quality of student questions to the speakers was particularly outstanding.

As in previous years, we are pleased to say that all practicals and careers sessions were well received by the students.

As is customary, the school tries to develop something new each time and this year, we introduced two new activities.  The first was to involve summer school alumni to talk about their career choices after graduation.  Nine alumni attended on the Thursday evening and talked about what they’d done since attending their summer school.  Two students from the first school in 2005 are in the final year of their PhDs in plant science and each gave excellent talks that the students found inspirational.  Matthew Hodges spoke about “The evolution of cilia” and Edward Mitchard spoke on “Monitoring deforestation form space”.  We look forward to involving the alumni more in future schools.

The second new development was equally successful.  In collaboration with our sister Gatsby-funded project SAPS, Science and Plants in Schools, we ran a small course for school teachers to experience the ideas and excitement of plant science presented at the summer school.  Six teachers took part in some of the practicals and lectures with a view to creating new resources to inspire school students to look differently at plants.  The experience worked for the teachers and we look forward to seeing how this develops.

As always, we are extremely grateful to the Gatsby Charitable Foundation for funding the school and to all participants who make it a very successful and enjoyable week.

Lectures 2010
  • Prof Brian StaskawiczProf Brian Staskawicz, University of California, Berkeley
    Strategies for producing sustainable and durable disease-resistant agricultural crops
  • Prof. John SnapeProf John Snape, John Innes Centre:
    Tackling problems of world food security through genetics
  • Dr Sandra KnappDr Sandra Knapp, Natural History Museum, London: Understanding plant diversity – mission to an almost unknown planet
  • Prof Julian MaProf Julian Ma, St George’s Hospital, London
    Improving global health with GM plants - seeds of hope.
  • Prof David Beerling, University of Sheffield: Stomatal pores: ancient gateways to evolution and global change
  • Prof Simon McQueen-MasonProf Simon McQueen-Mason, University of York: Developing biorenewable fuels and materials from plants
  • Prof Sir David BaulcombeProf Sir David Baulcombe, University of Cambridge: Reaping the Benefits – science and the sustainable intensification of global agriculture.


Student Comments 2010

General comments

The summer school opened my eyes into the amazing capabilities of plants. It has allowed me to realise there is a connection with growing plants on a small scale for recreational purposes and for potentially providing answers to climate change and global food production.

Really utterly truely completely and undeniably brilliant. This week has come at a really good time and given me food for thought over the summer to come.

Thank you for this wonderful opportunity which I believe will prove to be a real turning point for my life. I am very confident that I can have an enjoyable career within the plant sciences - the stereotyped notion that "plants are boring" has now been firmly dispelled from my mind.

Fantastically well organized, enjoyable and informative. To be honest there are not enough superlatives.

On the lectures and tutorials

The quality of the lectures in general was inspiring, every lecturer was obviously extremely passionate about their area of expertise.

The tutorials and Q and A session were very helpful in allowing me to think critically about a lecture and learn how to ask intelligent questions.

The tutors were excellent leaders of the discussion, making sure we stayed focussed and that everyone contributed.

I think that Prof Sir David Baulcombe's lecture was good until the end, when it was fantastic. The questions were all very interesting and answered very, very well in a way that rounded off the week really well. It made me want to read up on the topics more and follow up on some of the points he made. Superb.

On the practicals

The practicals have been the most interesting part of the course. They were very different from what I had done previously and what I had assumed we would be doing. I was very surprised and inspired by what we saw in Developmental Genetics, the close links between nature and mathematics.

Getting outdoors to do plant stuff was excellent and the enthusiasm of the identification people and pathology people was great.

It was really good to be able to actually have a go using equipment and techniques that are used in plant research - we only get to hear about these things in theory at Uni. It was exciting to use the microscopes and pathology tests especially; you actually felt like a proper scientist and not just a student. I particularly enjoyed the ecology at the end as it was a chance to use what we'd learnt in a fun way with new friends!

I really enjoyed the practicals here. When I first looked at the practical schedule, I thought they must be very tough. Actually, when I did them, I surprisingly found that science could be demonstrated in such a interesting way.

On the careers session

I have loved the careers information here. Before I came here I knew that I wanted to do research but I had no idea how I was supposed to get there and how I was supposed to do it. This week has helped me so much with that.

The careers section really helped me to think seriously about a PhD and its uses other than a pathway to a research career. The session emphasised its transferable skills that can be gained from the three year study.

The talks from the panel of speakers and postgrads were so reassuring; I'd always thought that by now I should have chosen my career path for life and could never change it once I'd started it; I now know that you can swap jobs and careers millions of times until you settle, and it's OK to do this. I also didn't fully appreciate the vast range of post-Uni options available until now. I'm so excited to get my career started after Uni instead of dreading leaving the safety of the Uni bubble!!

I was intrigued by the career changes the panellists had undergone and was encouraged by the evidence that degree titles are not overly restrictive and that many careers have oscillated between different areas of research. The fact that the 3 panellists had completed very similar degrees but currently held very different positions was inspiring and showed the diversity of roles that can originate from a single initial route. They also highlighted the importance of being proactive in searching for ideal positions and making the most of contacts. The range of panellists throughout the week and the career profiles in the booklet clearly demonstrate the incredible variety of careers that are contained within the plant sciences.

On the venue and social time

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Emergency Planning College venue. The nature of the buildings lent itself to a Scientific Conference and the facilities for the lectures seemed ideal. The staff were consistently friendly and helpful, the accommodation block was extremely comfortable and the food was incredibly nice with a good range of options. It was wonderful to stay on the estate as the grounds and woodland lent a special quality to the site. There were also many comfortable areas for relaxation, such as the seating area, and I really appreciated having tea/ coffee freely available. I also enjoyed the use of the computer facilities and the gym. I cannot think of any way in which the venue could be improved and hope that the Gatsby Plants Summer School may always be able to use it.
I honestly can't think of a negative for the venue. Really loved it.

I was worried about the icebreaker when I first read what we had to do as I thought it would be nerve-racking and embarrassing etc. However, the actual icebreaker was really fun and was a good opportunity to get to know people and get into the swing of speaking up in lectures.

Social programme was fab, massively contributed to my enjoyment of the Summer school by making it very easy to meet people.

On whether the summer school has influenced your future module choices and opinions of plant science

As well as making me consider module options for next year it has also made me consider more seriously the possibility of going on to study for a PhD.

I now definitely prefer plant science to animal science and it has helped me to make up my mind about taking plant sciences next year
The Summer School has altered my view of the applications and importance of plant science in research.

I have come across so many new, interesting and inspiring ideas this week. I am looking forward to reading up on all of these in the following weeks. A lot of really interesting research has been presented this week that I had not formerly associated with plant science.

Photo album 2009 / Event Review / Lectures / Student comments

Event Review 2009

The 5th Gatsby Plants Summer School (5th – 11th July, 2009) was held once again at the Emergency Planning College near York, after the previous year’s success at this new location.

All classes this year were held from Monday to Friday, with students arriving on the Sunday and settling in to the relaxed surroundings.  The opening plenary this year was given by Professor Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz from the University of Calgary, who we thank, not only for enthusing students with his lecture on “What determines the form of plants?”, but for bringing a group of researchers from East Anglia with him to stage a successful new Developmental Genetics practical on modelling flower forms.  Other highly rated talks included Dr George Lomonosoff on the many uses of viruses, Dr Robert Scotland on how tricky plant systematics can be, and two angles on food production – one from Prof Guy Poppy on balancing agriculture with biodiversity and the other from Dr David Watson, on the issues facing sub-saharan Africa.  In the end though, it was Professor John Gray who gave the students’ most popular talk, which though simply entitled “Chloroplasts”, addressed the many fascinating aspects of these organelles, including those yet to be understood. Once again, all speakers engaged wonderfully with their audiences and extracted lots of questions from the students.

In addition to the developmental genetics practical, the pathology practical was also new this year.  We were delighted that FERA (the Food and Environment Research Agency in York) were keen to stage this practical which looked at Sudden Oak Death and its detection in the field and was voted the students’ favourite practical. All other practicals were again well received and our thanks go to Leica Microsystems and Carl Zeiss Ltd for the use of their confocal microscopes for the cell biology practical.
The careers session again appealed to the students who valued the opportunity to speak to people who either focussed on plants in their studies and applied these skills elsewhere, or who were still actively involved in jobs that depended on plant knowledge.

This year we introduced an outreach exercise and are grateful to Dr Patrick Middleton (Head of Public Engagement in Science at the BBSRC) for coming to talk to the students about the importance of communicating science to the public and introducing our competition. Students worked in their University teams to propose an activity to support the BBSRC's Plant Evolution exhibition that is touring the country. Congratulations to students from Edinburgh, Sheffield and Oxford who were invited to develop their ideas further.

The Gatsby Plants Summer School continues to be a successful medium through which those at the forefront of their subject can simply convey their passions to students eager to be excited by science and its opportunities. We evaluate our success by student feedback and by the end of the Summer School, 99% of students agreed that they had been introduced to new ways of thinking about plants and 93% agreed that plant science was more interesting than they thought (see student comments).

Many thanks for the Gatsby Charitable Foundation for funding the 2009 Gatsby Plants Summer School and to all the participants who gave their time so enthusiastically.  

Lectures 2009
  • Prof Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz, University of CalgaryProf. Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz, University of Calgary: What determines the form of plants?
  • Prof Christine Foyer, University of LeedsProf Christine Foyer, University of Leeds: Weapons of mass destruction: A radical view of plant biology
  • Prof John Gray, University of CambridgeProf John Gray, University of Cambridge: Chloroplasts
  • Dr Robert Scotland, University of OxfordDr Robert Scotland, University of Oxford: What is that? A core question of systematics
  • Prof George Lomonossoff, John Innes CentreProf George Lomonossoff, John Innes Centre: Turning diseases to commodity: Using plant viruses in bio- and nanotechnology
  • Prof Alison Smith, University of CambridgeProf Alison Smith, University of Cambridge: Pond Slime to the Rescue: Algae as a source of bioenergy
  • Prof Guy Poppy, University of SouthamptonProf Guy Poppy, University of Southampton: Food production versus biodiversity: How can science help us feed the world whilst minimising the environmental footprint of agriculture?
  • Dr David Watson, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, NigeriaDr David Watson, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Nigeria: Plant science for food security and improved livelihoods in sub-Sahara Africa
Student Comments

General comments:

THANKYOU so much, this is exactly how I wanted university to be and I loved every second of it!

Thank you very much indeed for a fantastic week, this has cemented my interest in plant sciences and maybe I will come back as a tutor!

Thank you very much for the opportunity to take part in the summer school, I have really enjoyed it across all aspects, and cannot after this week understand why everyone isn’t interested in plant science, because they are really missing out!

The main thing that I have really enjoyed and found stimulating is the atmosphere and being with like minded people. Plant science and science in general was always in the conversation ……..It is good to be somewhere where science is cool!

On the lectures and tutorials:

The potential of plants is astounding, from so many different angles I couldn't write them all down! And something I found particularly inspiring. The lecturers didn't know the answers to some of our questions as its still to be discovered or in the process of being discovered - I feel like I could now be a part of that, an exciting future ahead!

Enthusiastic lecturers made it more interesting!

I really enjoyed when lecturers talked about what they were doing personally and explained step by step how research on one subject led to the next.

I enjoyed the breadth of topics across the week especially those on immunology which I did not automatically associate with plant science

Tutorials were great at getting me thinking more about the lecture.

I enjoyed the opportunity to bounce ideas off each other in the tutorial session and the need to think critically during the lectures to identify areas that I could ask questions on.

I particularly liked the real time application of the plant science. It inspired me to think about how the science needs to be communicated to the public and regulatory bodies before it can be used in practice.

Dr David Watson's plenary was a fantastic closing talk as it was so positive, sharing so many success stories that show how plant science really changes and saves lives.

On the practicals:

Both cell and developmental genetics practicals were very inspiring in what could be done with computing and plant science in collaboration.
The use of the confocal microscope in the cell biology was particularly impressive.

I thought the ones that involved some kind of outdoor work were especially good because it allowed me to relate them to everyday things around me. I've started noticing disease everywhere!
The fact that we didn't have to complete any structured work made the practicals really fun and enabled us to learn a lot more than if we had been looking for specific things to answer a question.
Getting a hands-on approach made learning and understanding a lot easier than hearing in a lecture or reading in a book.

I feel that the practicals were by far the most inspiring aspect of the week for me, as they helped to translate the lectures into the real world.
The plant identification practical as well as the developmental genetics practical altered the way I look at plants when out in the countryside.
All of the practicals inspired me to seriously consider a career in plant science.

On the careers session:

It was actually really useful that you don’t have to know what you want to do and that even if you go into a career you don’t have to do it forever.

This session was extremely useful, insightful and inspiring. In addition, it helped me to think about the huge range of possible fields of work available within Plant Sciences.

I really enjoyed speaking to the panel speakers after the careers talk. I could relate to the kind of people they were and what they enjoyed doing, so now I'm sure I'd like to do a similar thing.

This was one of the most interesting parts for me during the week, thank you!
I gained the confidence from the careers session to trust my instincts on what I would like to do a bit more, and I also found the mention of women and mothers in science quite inspiring, the career/family clash is something that worries me. The range of transferable skills we will gain was also impressed on me more clearly.
Made me feel much better about where I need to go from where I am at the moment as I was feeling really lost and had been taunted that the only job to come out of a science degree is becoming a teacher.

I hadn't considered a PhD before this week - I'm definitely going to pursue the idea now!

On the venue and social time:

The venue is amazing! Keep holding it here! It’s lovely to have the grounds around and such good food and bedrooms and coffee lounge etc. It really adds to the atmosphere.

Inspiring surroundings, the location could not have been more perfect. Nature all around, exactly why we're all here! It was great to do the two practicals outside too, being able to relate what we've learned to what’s right on the doorstep.

The EPC is in the perfect location for these sorts of activities. Surrounded by nature and not too far away from any location in the UK.

I thought that the social programme and the icebreaker were brilliant at getting people together and were also very entertaining!

I found all of the social programmes to be fun and were very good at getting all the students to interact.

On whether the summer school will influence your future module choices:

The Summer School has helped me to reconsider the modules I am taking on Plant Sciences next year. By providing information about future career and research opportunities it has enabled me to have clearer goals for the future.

The summer school has made me want to integrate a lot more plant science into my degree program which is more biochemistry based.

I had already decided on plant sciences as a career path before I came to the school. However the school has helped me decide on which area I would like to specialise in.

Photo album 2008 / Event Review / Lectures / Student comments

Event Review 2008

The 2008 Gatsby Plants Summer School (29th June – 5th July) was held at the Emergency Planning College, near York. The relaxing surroundings, including extensive landscaped grounds and woodlands, made this a perfect place for our 1st year students to leave the stresses of University work behind and try out something new with a packed programme that gave them a taste of the vast diversity of research happening at the very cutting-edge of plant sciences from biochemistry to ecology, fundamental to applied.

The programme was kicked started on the Sunday evening with Prof Ottoline Leyser, University of York, challenging the audience to ‘think like a vegetable’. Throughout the week, students had talks from nine leading world-class plant science researchers, including two international speakers, on topics as wide ranging as ‘what is a leaf?’ (Prof Jne Langdale) to drought tolerance (Prof David Cove), the secretory pathway in plant cells and it’s potential in biotechnology (Prof Jurgen Denecke) to the problems of translating advances in science to subsistence farming in Africa (Dr Peter Craufurd). In the end it was Prof James Barber’s talk on artifical photosynthesis that was voted ‘student’s favourite’, closely followed by Prof Peter Beyer’s closing plenary on golden rice. Our thanks goes to all the speaker’s for the inspirational talks given throughout the week.

Tutorials followed after morning lectures and provided students with a chance to discuss the talk they had just heard and think some more about it. Feedback from previous year’s students has shown that tutorials have provided a vital training ground to develop student’s critical thinking skills, helping them to question the evidence presented and structure questions to ask the speaker. This year’s tutorials and Q&A sessions were as lively as ever, and students also enjoyed being able to chat to the speakers and tutors in a more informal setting throughout the week.

This year’s practicals covered cell biology, genetics, pathology, plant identification and ecology, with the latter three all involving fieldwork. The pathology practical was led for a final year by Dr Peter Urwin (University of Leeds) and Prof Michael Shaw (University of Reading), and kept its crown as most popular practical for the third year. This year also saw Prof Brendan Davies (University of Leeds) leading the highly-rated genetics practical for a final year. Our thanks goes to the above people in particular but also to all of the practical leaders and tutors who have been involved in making the practicals sessions so successful. In addition, our thanks goes to Leica Microsystems and Carl Zeiss Ltd for the use of their confocal microscopes for the cell biology practical.

The Gatsby Plants Summer School also shows the wide range of opportunities open to students in plant science through a careers session. The feedback on this year’s careers session was particularly positive (see Student Comments). The session opened with Dr Celia Knight (University of Leeds) giving the student ten tips to get them thinking about their future. Next students had an opportunity to talk to three professionals all of whom had careers connected to plant science. There were four sessions over the week with different professionals each day – a total of 12 career panellists over the week – and students were able to pre-chose which session they went to so they were able to attend the one most suited to their interests.

The Gatsby Plants Summer School aims to inspire students by exposing them to exciting cutting-edge plant science and letting them have a chance to talk researchers and professionals that are passionate about the subject throughout the week. By the end of the Summer School, 97% of students agreed that they had been introduced to new ways of thinking about plants and that they were more positive about plants and plant science as a result.

Many thanks for the Gatsby Charitable Foundation for funding the 2008 Gatsby Plants Summer School and to all the participants who gave their time to share their enthusiasm.

Lectures 2008
  • Prof Ottoline Leyser, University of York: Thinking like a Vegetable: how plants decide what to do
  • Prof Jurgen Denecke, University of Leeds: The Secretory Pathway of Plant Cells: from sorting receptors to biotechnology
  • Prof Jim Beynon, University of Warwick: Genetic Warfare between Plants and their Pathogens leads to Weapons Proliferation
  • Prof Jane Langdale, University of Oxford: What is a Leaf?
  • Dr Peter Craufurd, University of Reading: Crop Science for Development: a journey from the laboratory to farmers’ fields in the tropics
  • Prof David Cove, Washington University, St Louis, USA: Water Availability in Agriculture: a case study for drought tolerant plants and the role of basic science
  • Prof James Bullock, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology: Applying Ecological Theory to Real-World Problems
  • Prof James Barber, Imperial College London: Can We Build an Artificial Leaf to Efficiently Capture and Use Solar Energy?
  • Prof Peter Beyer, University of Freiburg, Germany: Golden Rice on a Mission
Student Comments 2008

Perfect experience.

It was GREAT! I will remember this all my life!

It has been the best thing I have done in a long time and given me real inspiration.

Thank you. Couldn't recommend the experience more highly! A really well organised and fun, engaging, enlightening week. Seriously, an amazing experience.

Amazing week! I think the conference structure was very exciting and provided a much needed glimpse of the world of science. Thank you.

Gatsby has been one of the best weeks of my life (!). The approach to specific topics was very informal but academic - the relaxed situation and setting made it a perfect environment for learning - I felt I got more out of this week than a whole module at University and it has definitely changed my perspective! I like the way current issues where discussed - it made the practical applications very relevant. Thank you so much for making this programme available to first year undergrads - I think it is an invaluable experience and given the opportunity I would definitely come again and recommend this to other first years with an unsure or even negative view of plant science - their opinion will definitely be challenged!

I very much enjoyed attending the Gatsby Summer School. The accommodation and the food were absolutely brilliant. The lectures and the careers session very much inspired me and showed me paths for my future career I wasn't even dreaming about. It has broadened my perspective and opened my mind for the various possibilities there are in plant science. It has generally deepened my interest in plants and through the practicals sharpened my ideas about my own skills. I also met lots of lovely people and enjoyed being part of the great scientific community.

The Summer School is a unique opportunity for biology undergraduates. The chance to have relaxed discussions with world class professional scientists about their work, careers and general life has been amazing and I would definitely come back year after year, given the chance.

The Summer School has helped me to appreciate the enormous relevance of plants to our way of life and society, particularly through the various lectures on crops and on what the role of plant science can be in dealing with world problems. I have also been inspired by the way plants can be used as model genetic organisms, for cell biology studies and for biotechnology. The world of plant science is far more fascinating than I had previously thought.

I started doing zoology at University - not any more! There are so many exciting opportunities and areas of research you can pursue that have meaningful and useful applications… feeding the 3rd world, helping to provide renewable energy sources?!!

Plants are much more interesting than I would have admitted a week ago. Molecular biology of plants is just as fascinating as that of animals.

Even though I may not have understood everything I heard it gives you a bigger picture about plant biology and their importance in many different aspects of today’s world and for the future. It made me realise what I am more interested in and equally important - what I'm not!

I found this week inspiring and the enthusiasm of the speakers was very infectious. I now feel interested in areas of plant science I didn't like before.

The talks were extremely interesting with enthusiastic speakers.

All of the plenary sessions made me appreciate plants and their role in the modern world.

Overall it exceeded my expectations, the overall feel was very relaxed and this only encouraged people to discuss the issues and interest in their free time. An excellent insight into modern plant science and highly recommended!

The tutorials: I have never had the opportunity to discuss a lecture and its content like that before and I found this extremely useful as often I got lost / couldn't understand points. I started off not contributing but by the end of the week I found myself asking questions.

The talks and then discussion after enabled more in-depth understanding.

It was really great to be able to have casual interesting discussions about science! Tutorials were good for this.

Talking through the lectures in the tutorials helped to understand parts of the lecture that I maybe didn't understand, and get other people's views on the subject.

Tutors were also excellent.

The practicals were fun and well run and gave a feeling of one-to-one attention.

Practical classes gave a good broad knowledge / understanding of jobs in plants.

I got the most out of the practicals as the preknowledge was further deepened and methods which could not be covered at uni could be 'tasted' here.

Careers session was one of the best I have ever attended.

Made me think differently about the careers options open to me.

The careers session was also extremely helpful and I liked how the tutors / lecturers talked about their career history.

Meeting scientists successful in their particular fields that encouraged a career in plant science has given me something to aspire to.

I especially liked the careers sessions which showed how diverse the job opportunities are.

The Summer School has been beneficial in providing a more positive way of looking at plants and plant science. It has been particularly valuable in showing the extensive scope of careers within the industry (aside from academic research).

The accommodation was perfect and there were plenty of opportunities to socialise - a good mix of work and play!

The Emergency College was a really nice environment to stay in (so nice I felt a bit spoilt for the week!).

I sincerely felt that the organisers went above the call of duty and applied every effort into making the week both enjoyable and intellectually stimulating.

Excellent social team and events. Enjoyed bar and meal times. Excellent location, very relaxed atmosphere for learning. Tutors were also excellent. Perfect balance of both of these sides of the course.

An exceptionally enjoyable and stimulating experience in an incredibly beautiful location. All staff of the college, lecturers and support team were helpful, friendly and enthusiastic. The accommodation and setting could not have been better. Overall an amazing experience, the only drawback being that it had to end and that I cannot come back next year. Thank you Gatsby!

Photo album 2007 / Event Review / Lectures / Student comments

Event Review 2007

The third Gatsby Plants Summer School (8th-15th July 07) saw research plant scientists from around the country arrive at Stoke Rochford Hall, near Grantham, to pass on their enthusiasm and interest in their subject to top first-year biological science students.

The programme was started by Nobel Prize winner, Prof Tim Hunt from Cancer Research UK, who gave students an insight into life as a successful research scientist. This theme of a career in science was revisited later in the week with Prof Jane Langdale from the University of Oxford talking about what it takes to succeed in science and the opportunities available. A careers session at the end of the week gave students a unique opportunity to talk to ten successful professionals who were either currently working in some area of plant science or had trained in plant science before heading in a new direction.

However, the core of the Summer School remained the eight plenary talks given by world-class plant science researchers over the breadth of the plant science field (see Talk Abstracts). Charles Arntzen’s talk on “Preventing AIDS and Infectious Disease with Plant-made Vaccines” was voted the students’ favourite, closely followed by Sue Hartley’s plenary on “Grasses Bite Back”.

Tutorials followed after morning lectures and gave students an opportunity to review the talk they had just heard, discuss the parts they hadn’t quite understood and question the evidence presented. Questions resulting from the tutorials were then taken back to the plenary speaker in a Q&A session. Feedback on the tutorial sessions was particularly positive this year with many students finding them especially helpful at developing their critical thinking (see Student Comments).

As in previous years, practicals were an essential part of the Summer School and this year students had practicals covering cell biology, genetics, pathology, plant identification and ecology. In addition, the Arabidopsis Stock Centre at the University of Nottingham ran a bioinformatics practical for students, which included a tour of the greenhouses at the Stock Centre.

The Pathology practical, with its mix of lab and field work, was the most popular practical for a second year. Many students also particularly appreciated the rare opportunity to use a confocal microscope as part of cell biology practical and our thanks goes to Leica Microsystems and Carl Zeiss Ltd for the use of their confocal microscopes for the duration of the Summer School.

The Gatsby Plants Summer School aims to enthuse and inspire end of first year biological science students about plant science, and the third Summer School certainly did that as shown by many of their comments (see Student Comments). In addition, 97% of students agreed that the Summer School had introduced them to new ways of thinking, and 86% of those that hadn’t already chosen plant based modules for their 2nd year, were reconsidering their options to see if they could include some plant based modules on their return to University.

Many thanks for the Gatsby Charitable Foundation for funding the 2007 Gatsby Plants Summer School and to all the speakers and tutors who gave their time to share their enthusiasm.

Lectures 2007
  • Prof. Tim Hunt, Cancer Research UK: How to Win a Nobel Prize
  • Prof. David Baulcombe, John Innes Centre, Norwich: Small Silencing RNA - the Dark Matter of Genetics??
  • Prof. Richard Mithen, Institute of Food Research, Norwich: A Fork Full of Medicine - Anticancer Activity in Broccoli.
  • Prof. Sue Hartley, University of Sussex Grasses Bite Back
  • Prof. Monique Simmonds, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: Plants in our Lives: from Beauty to Death.
  • Prof. Paul Knox, University of Leeds: Life Behind Walls.
  • Prof. Gail Taylor, University of Southampton: Plant Biotechnology for Bioenergy - High-tec meets Sustainability.
  • Prof. Liam Dolan, John Innes Centre, Norwich: A Wacky Hair-do: Building Land Plants from Green Slime.
  • Prof. Charles Arntzen, Arizona State University, US: Preventing AIDS and Infectious Disease with Plant-made Vaccines.
Student comments 2007

"A week ago I would have classed botany as gardening. That view has changed completely."

"The entire experience has been very insightful and thoroughly enjoyable. I learnt a lot and my interest has grown exponentially."

"Really good week, was unsure about applying to come but thoroughly enjoyed it. Brilliant opportunity and would recommend to others."

"I really enjoyed the whole week and would recommend it to any undergrad with any interest in plant science no matter how small."

"Before I was a definite No for plants, now I am very interested in transgenic plant uses (esp vaccines etc). Meeting the experts and seeing their enthusiasm made me feel like this is a very rich and opportunity filled field."

"I think listening to talks by top scientists in these areas is a really big advantage for an ordinary 1st year student."

"The accessibility of those giving the talks made them, as a whole, far more useful than the talks themselves."

"Speakers were very helpful and open for further discussion which was great. Hearing about peoples work was really inspiring."

"I never realised that plants were so complex and there are so many areas of research. Plants are also useful for the future, for example I never considered that plants could be used to produce vaccines. There are so many things we don’t know! I am already doing a plant module as a compulsory part of my course but now I am anticipating that I will find it interesting. I have come to realise that plants are so complex and diverse that there is something in plant biology for everyone."

"Tutorials were very helpful to generate more critical approach to lectures or presentations rather than ‘just absorbing’ information which has occurred at 1st year. All tutors very friendly and encouraging – great. Their enthusiasm is infectious!"

"Tutorials were extremely helpful in understanding the material. That’s what Uni should be like!"

"Small groups in practicals providing almost individual attention – fantastic."

"I gained the most from the practicals which showed me that doing experiments with plants, which I have not previously had much experience of, can be thoroughly interesting."

"The practicals gave me some good experience of a broad range of plant subjects that I will not necessarily cover in my degree."

"It was great hearing from academics and getting greater insight into research, PhDs and careers that lecturers do not have time to give us. It has been a really interesting and worthwhile trip that has made options about my future and where I want to go much clearer."

"Careers session and Researching your Future talk helped give an idea of what can be done after this, or at least to start thinking about it."

"I was extremely pleased with the help I received from the organisers and staff whenever I needed it. Felt part of the group straightaway. I had an absolutely great time and have made some really good friends and contacts as a result of the experience. Great fun!"

"I am grateful I had the chance to take part in the summer school. Not only did I hear interesting lectures on plants which opened up my eyes, but I had the chance to meet some really fascinating and intelligent people as well. This week was often challenging and some hard work, but it was lots of fun and I think I made some good friends too. It highly exceeded my expectations. Thank you very much for this amazing week!!"


Photo album 2006 / Event Review / Lectures / Student comments

Event Review 2006

Through a range of high-level plenary lectures, tutorials and practicals the students were able to interact with many eminent plant scientists from UK Universities and science institutes, including the John Innes Centre and Central Science Laboratories. The closing plenary speaker, Prof Bob Goldberg, travelled all the way from California just to speak to our students.

The plenary speakers, all world-class plant scientists, were tasked with challenging the students to new ways of thinking about plants. From a “Mole of Holes” to “Lighting up the cell”, “The Nightlife of Plants” and “All Flesh is Grass” students were encouraged to think about plants from every angle. Especially popular were Prof Julian Ma’s talk “From Genes to Greens to Vaccines” and Prof Bob Goldberg’s “Super Plants for the 21st Century”.

Tutorial sessions helped students formulate questions to ask the plenary speakers, but it was not long before students got into their stride and started cross-examining the evening speakers too. The quality and quantity of questions asked was a very positive indication on how stimulating students found the talks.

As with all biology, plant science is at heart an experimental science. To reflect this, six practical sessions were run during the week covering all the key areas of plant science:

  • Systematics
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Genetics
  • Pathology
  • Ecology

This year the Pathology was rated particularly highly by the students, with Ecology and Systematics also proving popular. Students especially enjoyed the fieldwork aspect of these practicals and the freedom to choose their own specimens for study.

Ultimately, the aim of the Summer School was to expose biological science students to cutting-edge plant science, hopefully inspiring them to include plants in their future studies. The early signs were good; virtually all students said they were introduced to new ways of thinking about plants during the week and the vast majority were seriously considering studying more plant science on their return to University.

Many thanks to the Gatsby Charitable Foundation for funding the Gatsby Plants Summer School 2006.

Lectures 2006
  • Prof. Phil Gilmartin, University of Leeds: Plant Science; a Personal Passion.
  • Prof. Julian Ma, St. George’s Hospital Medical School: From Genes to Greens to Vaccines.
  • Prof. Ian Woodward, University of Sheffield: A Mole of Holes.
  • Prof. Caroline Dean, John Innes Centre, Norwich: Puberty for Plants.
  • Prof. Alison Smith, John Innes Centre, Norwich: The Nightlife of Plants.
  • Prof. Chris Pollock, Institute for Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) All Flesh is Grass. A Botanist’s Journey into Agriculture.
  • Prof. Chris Hawes, Oxford Brookes University: Lighting up the Cell.
  • Laurence Cockcroft, Adviser for Gatsby’s African Programme: Gatsby’s African Programme.
  • Prof. Bob Goldberg, University of California, Los Angeles: Super Plants for the 21 st Century.
Student comments 2006

"I hadn’t realised how important and relevant plants were and the different careers open as a plant scientist. I am grateful to have been given this opportunity to revise my opinion."

"Although I was already interested in plants, I never knew they could be so complex and engrossing."

"All the people involved have an obvious enthusiasm for science and this contributes to the school massively."

"Overall, it was amazing! A fantastic choice of speakers, beautiful location and unrivalled opportunities to quiz top plant scientists. I feel very privileged to have been able to attend. Thank you."

"The level of input and dedication of those involved was exceptional."

"Honestly one of the most enjoyable weeks I’ve had, in a lot of aspects."

"Great experience, I would recommend it to any other student."

"Fantastic week – don’t want to go home! The Summer School opened my eyes to plant science and the opportunities available to me. It has also taught me about asking questions and questioning the lecturers, which I am sure I will find valuable no matter which subject I do at University. The teaching standard was very high."

"I attended the Gatsby programme to experience plant science on a new dimension and I got more than I expected. It is a brilliant, fantastic, encouraging initiative and I have come to appreciate better the role of plants in the sustenance of humanity. I am much more than positive."

"I think organising an event like that was a great idea. Now I can see that plant science is a big and powerful branch of biological sciences. An important point in it was what you call networking. I am quite sure I met people who I’ll be working with in the future. Moreover I collected contacts with lecturers and I’ll certainly apply to do a project next summer in one of their labs – that’s unbelievable, I’d never imagined myself interested in plants so much – congratulations!"

"The plenary lectures were very interesting and varied. Covered a range of subjects and were in depth enough to be stimulating and thought provoking without seeing overly challenging."

"It has been nice to learn about areas which I wouldn’t normally have the chance to do. Everybody was really enthusiastic and prepared to answer as many questions as we had."

"The tutorials were very good as they enabled me to question parts from the lecture and enhance my understanding"

"Non assessed practicals – no pressure but able to just enjoy new techniques and increased familiarity with lab equipment. Plus the abundance of staff to help was invaluable, each was enthusiastic and engaging – very infectious."

"The careers session was fantastic! It really opened my eyes to careers I had not heard of before."

"The careers session was very helpful, a brilliant idea to show how we can look forward to a future in, or related to, plant science and really helped to put it into context."

"I didn’t realise how many doors a degree in plant science could open, even if not initially studying plant science."

"Work / social balance was just right, and was really surprised (and pleased!) about how relaxed it was! (while still managing to be very informative and thought provoking). Thank you!!"


Photo album 2005 / Event Review / Lectures / Student comments

Event Review 2005

The first Gatsby Plants Summer School took place at the Bretton Hall campus from 4-10th July 2005. 94 first class end of first year undergraduates from 17 UK Universities were treated to a unique experience which was completely free to them, courtesy of the Gatsby Charitable Foundation.

Leeds University won a national competition to host this facility that aims to redress the lack of interest of undergraduates in plant biology. Students had the opportunity to interact with over 60 plants scientists from 13 UK or US Universities or Research Institutes.

Part of the success of the summer school was due to the high quality of the invited speakers. The event was opened by Professor Sir Peter Crane (then Director of Kew Gardens) and plenary speakers included high profile plant researchers from the UK and the US. Tutorials and a feedback session followed the first daily plenary lecture, which facilitated often enthusiastic discussions. Practical classes enthused and exercised the undergraduates in the six key disciplines covering plant science:

  • Biochemistry
  • Genetics
  • Cell Biology
  • Pathology
  • Systematics
  • Ecology

The summer school was complemented by a varied social programme and the landscaped environment of Bretton Hall and near by Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Bretton Hall is an 18th century mansion located within 500 acres of landscaped ground, also including the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Bretton Lakes Nature reserve. It provided an idyllic retreat atmosphere for the summer school, allowing students to build confidence in their interaction with tutors. The landscaped environment was referred to as much as possible within the programme to raise “plant awareness” amongst the students and a dinner buffet hosted at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park was enjoyed by all.

The atmosphere was exhilarating and the feedback from students and tutors judged the event a resounding success. Over half the students agreed that the summer school will make them re-consider their module choices to include plant-based options at their respective Universities and we will be keeping in touch with the students to see how their interest in plant science is being kept alive.

Lectures 2005
  • Sir Peter Crane, Director of Kew Gardens: Plants for the 21st Century
  • Prof. Ottoline Leyser, University of York: Thinking like a Vegetable
  • Dr Angela Karp, Rothamsted Research: Growing Energy
  • Prof. Enrico Coen, John Innes Centre: From Weeds to Wormholes
  • Prof. Julian Ma, St. George's Hospital Medical School: From Genes and Greens to Vaccines
  • Prof. Jeff Dangl, University of N. Carolina: How Plants Recognize Pathogens, and How Pathogens Fight Back!
  • Prof. Chris Pollock, Institute for Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) All Flesh is Grass. A Botanist’s Journey into Agriculture.
  • Prof. Andrew Millar, University of Edinburgh: How and Why do Plants have Rhythm?
  • Prof. Howard Atkinson, University of Leeds: Can GM Crops help Feed the World? Nematode Control as a Case Study.
Student comments 2005

"All the talks were incredibly inspiring and thought provoking."

"I would like to express my great gratitude for everything that has been done for us. The enthusiasm of all lecturers and tutors has been so inspiring, and it is very good to get out of a university environment and see what conferences etc. may be like in the scientific community."

"Really enjoyable week and have learnt a lot. Plenary speakers were excellent, as were the practicals. I liked the layout for the week and think the tutorial feedback sessions really helped. Thank you."

"I came on this course because I don't know a lot about plants and I never found them all that interesting - I thought it would be useful to learn about something I don't understand. I have had a really excellent time, I really didn't think we would be treated so well and I have learned a huge amount. I will definitely consider a career in plant biology after this week and I never thought I would - so well done!"

"The days were well structured and organised but very compact. Despite it being hard work at times it was still extremely enjoyable and I think I have learnt a great deal this week."

"Practical sessions put lecture content into context and made it easier to understand some of the concepts discussed. Tutorial sessions were good as they enabled tutors to go over and make sure content discussed in the lecture was understood"

Comments emailed after the summer school finished

"First I must thank you once again for the Summer school week. It has actually changed my life! Met new friends and had a whale of a time, (not to mention learning tons!) Thank you"

"Just a quick email to say thank you for giving me the opportunity to attend the Gatsby Plants Summer School 2005. The week made me look at plants in a completely new light and I have spent the afternoon telling my family all about everything I have learnt. Its amazing how much I have actually absorbed and remembered this week and all in such a lovely environment. Everyone was really easy to talk to and friendly and the campus was perfect."