A blog post by Magdalena Cobo-Medina, Sarah Carroll, Sophie Young, Helena Herrmann, winners of the Functional Ecology-sponsored best poster and talk prizes.
The PEPG ECR is an annual event which allows early career scientists working in the field of plant environmental physiology to share their on-going research, and to learn and explore opportunities within their field. The symposium is organised by the Plant Environmental Physiology Group (PEPG) which is the only joint British Ecological Society and Society of Experimental Biology Special Interest Group. The main goal of this group is to promote and strengthen the plant environmental physiology community, supporting and training young plant environmental physiologists.
This year the event took place at the Eden Project in Cornwall, which provided a perfect setting for a stimulating plant environmental physiology meeting!
The Eden Project is an educational charity which connects people and the living world, exploring how we can work towards a better future. It was originally designed to stimulate the local economy and is currently the second largest employer in Cornwall. It is nestled in a huge crater and its main attractions are the two biomes: the largest rainforest in captivity with enormous trees and stunning plants and the Mediterranean biome with brightly coloured flowers and aromatic herbs.
After checking everyone in at the youth hostel accommodation (YHA) on site, we received a warm afternoon welcome from Dr Mike Maunder, Director of Life Sciences at the Eden Project, who inspired us with the Eden Ethos and his many examples of what successful conservation and restoration should look like. For those of us who have been zooming in on one research topic for a few years now it was refreshing to hear about the wider implications of scientific research and to discuss a general versus a specialist approach to science.
To the joy of everyone, we were shuttled from YHA to talks to meals all on the famous Eden land-train.
Our first full day at the Eden Project was kicked off by Dr Rachel Warmington, Plant Pathologist and Science team manager at the Eden Project. After listening to her fascinating behind-the-scenes stories of plant acquiring, quarantining, and propagating, we got the see the gardens for ourselves! We enjoyed a tour guided by Paul Stone, Head of Horticulture at Eden, who took us from one amazing view to another, all around the outdoor gardens and of course the two biomes, including the new orchid pergola with over 500 specimens.
After some free time to enjoy our Baobab smoothies made from powder bought from rural harvester groups in Malawi and to explore the Eden Project further, we finished the day with a pint and an exciting poster session at the YHA. Poster presentations were followed by delegate talks over the next two days. Both posters and talks presented covered diverse topics in plant physiology, from below ground mycorrhizal associations to leaf-level photosynthesis and its measurements, on a wide range of plants including rice, beet, moss and pitcher plants, to name a few.
Presenting our work among a supportive group of peers allowed us to gain valuable experience as well as explore and discuss future research opportunities: with such a broad collective knowledge ranging from plant physiological techniques, metabolomics, to isotopic labelling, there was always someone in the room with an interesting suggestion.
Furthermore, we were given the opportunity to learn from some of the experts in our fields. Prof. Lawren Sack from UCLA gave a fascinating plenary lecture on turgor pressure, showcasing a rapid assessment for drought tolerance and demonstrating the power of meta-analyses.
Dr Marj Lundgren, Dr Matt Davey and Dr Rachel Warmington then shared their different career paths with us and made it very clear that one path does not fit all! Rachel’s career change from a tax advisor to the head of science at the Eden Project highlighted the importance of identifying the qualifications and skills required for the job you want and working to achieve these, and that it’s never too late to try something new. Marj and Matt both spoke about the value of time management, networking and having a good work/life balance in building a successful academic career. Marj also gave the valuable advice that ‘the best talk is an understood one’ and ‘those who succeed in academia are those that hold on the longest’; a good reminder to keep persevering! Matt ended the session with the handy tip of joining a conference committee or research society to be able to attend conferences for free if money’s getting tight. It was very reassuring to hear that there are many routes to a successful career.
And finally, we are super grateful to BES, SEB and Functional Ecology for their generous support of the meeting, and to Dr Katie Field, Dr Saoirse Tracy, Dr Marj Lundgren, Dr Amanda Rasmussen, and Dr Matt Davey for organizing a fantastic conference. We thank them and all of the participants of the symposium for their time and effort, their shared experiences and answers to many questions. PEPG ECR was (and surely will be again next year!) a great opportunity to showcase and learn about new research, to discuss career options in and outside academia, and to build a strong network across many universities and countries.