TMAF invests in research for two main reasons. Firstly, we want to help find answers to the major scientific questions and challenges in farming. Secondly, we want to develop the skills and expertise of young researchers help them forge a career of contributing to agriculture through their work in science.
Our investment in future scientists
Suzannah Cobb is working at the UEA in research supported by TMAF, BBRO and KWS to discover whether sugar beet varieties developed to be resistant to virus yellows attack will stand up in the field. Read her earlier research update.
Joseph Martlew is researching subsoil compaction and ways to alleviate it and measure it more effectively. The work is a collaboration between Cranfield University and NIAB with support from TMAF for field experiments.
Read his previous summary of his research.
They are both happy to answer our questions to give an update of what they are doing now towards their PhD’s.
If a PhD is a researching and reporting race to a finish line, where are you both now?
SC: I’m halfway through my second year, which is halfway through my experimental work before the final year which will be writing up. I’ve probably worked out which race I’m in and what I need to do to get to the finish line, getting on with the running, but not thinking too much about the writing up at the end yet!
JM: I can see the end. But I’m in the very time-consuming, intensive phase of writing up the results, supported by my supervisory team, to ensure concise and effective delivery of my data or results.
A lot of the results of my experimental work have not come until towards the end of my work limiting the time I have to draw everything together.
SC: For me, even though my work is mainly in the glasshouse, a trial takes up to 6 months. What I planted last week, I will not know whether it’s worked until 6 months’ time. I have friends researching other topics who can do a whole experiment in two days: that obviously makes life simpler.
The writing up phase, what’s involved?
JM: You need to write up everything.There is no word limit to a thesis. It is in the form of concise scientific papers. You write from the standpoint of your research question, comparing your own results with those published by other researchers. The final chapter brings it all together in a discussion.
It is logical, but it’s difficult. It’s one of the skills we are supposed to be demonstrating we can do. My supervisor says “pull out all the golden threads of a story that makes sense in the real world.” That’s what I’m doing now.
SC: One of the most tricky things is to keep everything focussed throughout the PhD. But I feel fortunate. Because TMAF and KWS are sponsoring me, I have more of a sense of ‘this what they want’. I’ve got to have something at the end that is relevant to a sugar beet grower. For colleagues of mine in the scientific community, it is easier to go off down a research rabbit hole that looks interesting and emerge 6 months later having proved it wasn’t interesting! I think you have to be conscious throughout your research that you are pulling a useful story together.
Sounds like a PhD can be all-consuming, will it be a wrench when it is over?
JM: I think so. I’m looking forward to the viva (an oral test or focused discussion giving the opportunity to defend your PhD thesis in front of a panel of academic experts). It’s a nice thing. It’s probably the only time that someone will sit down with you and ask you about everything you did in your research! But I will enjoy presenting my work – or parts of it – to TMAF meetings and NIAB, for example.
SC: In some ways a PhD does not end. You can pass on a research thread for someone else to pick up and do more research with. I will be able to tell you in a couple of years’ time what I pass on for someone else to work on.
There will be more updates from the research by Suzannah Cobb and Joseph Martlew.