My PhD in pictures


Image by the author’s mother

Last Friday I donned a strange-looking outfit to graduate with my PhD. I had a lovely day with my family, and many of my friends who came back to Norwich to graduate. Despite having a certificate (and photographic evidence), it is still quite hard to believe that my PhD is now well and truly finished.

The last 5 years have been a mix of fun, exciting, busy, challenging and frustrating times. Overall, the good times more than outweigh the bad and I have learnt loads about science and myself along the way, so the experience was definitely worth the hard work.  To mark the occasion, I have put together some photos that represent my PhD journey.

In the lab

In the lab

All images by the author

I studied Medicago truncatula, a member of a plant family that can form friendly relationships with soil bacteria called rhizobia. The rhizobia infect into the root through root hair cells (bottom left; bacteria stained in blue) and provide the plant with nitrogen in return for sugars. For most of my experiments, I grew seedlings on agar (jelly-like substance; top middle). Then I put the seedlings under a microscope (bottom right) to study plant responses to signals produced by rhizobia. Unfortunately,  these experiments had to be done in the dark so at times I felt a bit like a vampire! For some of my other experiments, I grew M. truncatula in soil and then had to dig them up a few weeks later to examine the roots. Most of my plants were grown in controlled environments where temperature, light and humidity were carefully regulated (top right).

Out of the lab

out of the lab

All images by the author, except bottom left (Sense About Science).

Alongside my lab-based research, I had many opportunities to take part in other activities outside the lab. These activities included:

  • Science outreach sessions with schoolchildren and adults including fun demonstrations (e.g. dry ice!) and experiments (top left)
  • Training activities such as the BiotechnologyYes! competition and a Sense about Science Media Workshop (read my blog post about it).
  • International scientific conferences were a great opportunity to get updates on research in my field and network with other scientists. (Read my report on the recent Plant Calcium Signalling Meeting in Münster, Germany). After the conferences I would try to spend a day or two exploring the local area if possible. For example, a conference in Münich, Germany in 2012 was a great excuse to explore the city and take a train journey to Nuremberg (top right).
  • Meetings with other Norwich-based scientists to discuss research and establish new collaborations, including the John Innes Centre Annual Meeting and departmental seminars. My lab and two other research groups also went to Yorkshire on a “lab retreat” for a couple of days to exchange ideas for future experiments (bottom right).

The thesis

All images by the author.

All images by the author.

Towards the end of my PhD I exchanged the lab bench for a desk in the library to write my thesis. When I started my PhD I had dreaded the idea of thesis writing, but when it came to it I actually really enjoyed it. (Read my post on the stages of PhD thesis writing). After initial submission of my thesis the next step was the viva. I celebrated surviving my viva with friends and colleagues and one of my friends even gave me some homemade wine (top right) he had made from grapes grown on my grapevine (I can’t take any credit for the grapevine, it was there when I moved in to my house). After completing minor corrections to my thesis I submitted the final copy (bottom right) and received official notification that I had passed my PhD 🙂 This all happened around my birthday so my mum made me a “PhD cake”.

All the other moments

The photos here only give snapshots of my PhD journey. There are a whole host of other moments that haven’t been caught on camera but will still be remembered. Silly moments, like when I almost tripped over a bright yellow “caution wet floor” sign, and lab tea breaks when we cut cake into ever smaller pieces so that everyone could have a slice. Fun times socialising in the John Innes Centre bar on Friday evenings and at special events like the Fireworks Night party. Stupid moments, like when I hit my head on a shelf while checking on some plants I had growing, which negatively affected my PhD studies more than anyone could have predicted. And important moments, like the first time I observed calcium signalling in root hair cells from a plant line I had spent over a year developing.

One of the most important things I learnt is that there is a lot more to a PhD than carrying out a few experiments and writing a big book at the end. It is a learning experience where what you learn outside the lab can be just as important as what you learn in it.

Dr. Sarah

Some of my fellow PhD students from the John Innes Centre, The Sainsbury Laboratory and the Institute of Food Research

New Doctors of Philosophy from the John Innes Centre, The Sainsbury Laboratory and the Institute of Food Research. Image by the author’s mother.


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