Hosting the UoL Plant and Photosynthesis Symposium 2022

Posted on: 30 March 2022 by Jessica Pritchard in March 2022 posts

Group photo of attendees to the symposium

A group of PhD and postdoc students got together and organised a Plant and Photosynthesis Symposium which was held on the 17 March 2022. We spoke to Jessica Pritchard, one of our PhD students, who organised the event to find out what it was all about and her experiences before, during and after the symposium.

Since starting a PhD in 2019, most of my time working on my project has been done in a bubble. This goes for any PhD student who’s been around the last couple of years. Though we felt lucky to be in the lab since July 2020, there was something missing from our wider interactions. Obviously, our hopes of jetting off to exciting international conferences were also dashed. Despite this, we knew that in our area, plant science and research on photosynthetic organisms like cyanobacteria or purple bacteria, there were multiple lab groups doing innovative work, even if we had never met some of them. So, when a few months ago we found lunchtime conversation in our shared office turning to our desire for some scientific socialising, we had no choice but to hatch a plan.

Me and six fellow PhD students and post-docs decided we needed to get everyone in a room again when it was relatively safe to do so. From this, a symposium was born. We wanted to invite every PI and their groups who had any interest in, or link to, ‘green things’ and get them chatting, presenting, and possibly collaborating. In planning the day, we learnt an awful lot about what goes into organising events like these. Starting out we were pretty much in the dark. Booking a space, getting people to come and present, scheduling, providing lunch, and health and safety were all new to our team. Through some good delegation (by me) and some hard work (by all), we got everything checked off our lists and had quite a high-interest level from the plant and photosynthesis community here at the University of Liverpool, as well as some external plant scientists at Liverpool John Moores who caught wind of our plans. A big shout out must go to the ISMIB PGR and post-doc societies who paid for our lunch, which most definitely boosted our attendance numbers, and especially to Nefeli who runs the PGR soc for putting us in touch with all the right people.

The 17th March swung around and with the sun finally shining over the University, it was set to be a great day. We had eight PI’s signed up to kick off the day who we had challenged to summarise their lab groups, elevator pitch style in only five minutes! Then we moved on to 12 longer slots for PhD students and post-docs, for some the first chance to present their work to a friendly audience. People really enjoyed the experience and dealt with challenging questions well, hopefully leading to some reflection on our personal project progress. In the morning we had also scheduled a poster and coffee session in which six masters and PhD students got a chance to discuss their research with a caffeinated and enthusiastic audience.

Overall feedback has been great, and PIs and students alike have said they really appreciated the chance to meet one another and talk in real life, whether that be about science or chatting in the breaks. Personally, I loved putting faces to names I’ve seen on zooms or Twitter, finally getting a better understanding of what research my friends and colleagues do. The breadth and importance of plant and photosynthesis research we have in Liverpool from globally reaching multi genome bioinformatics, to improving crops to ensure food security, to engineering photosynthetic bacteria, is something that deserves to be celebrated and should be highly valued.

We hope that green-minded students of future years will take this idea forward and have an annual meeting of minds, and we also want to hold more smaller events soon. It has been a great experience, for our CVs and general organisational skills, and the more people involved the easier that gets. For anyone, in any research area, I would really recommend getting in touch with the ISMIB PGR and post-doc societies as they are there ready and waiting with pots of money to fund events like this!

You can find the schedule for Plant and Photosynthesis Symposium here