EducationI started at a local primary school but left aged 8 and went to St. John's College Cardiff, where I stayed to do my GCSEs and A-levels. I was at that school until I was 20-years-old! I ended up one year behind when I joined my new school, to catch up on my Maths skills, and needed an extra year to finish my A-level studies. Life throws you curve balls, and sometimes things just take a bit more time.
QualificationsAchieved eight A grades at GCSE including Astronomy, Physics, Maths and French, and A* grades in Spanish, English Literature, Biology and History. For my A-level studies, I chose Biology (A), Chemistry (A*) and History (A), and AS-levels in Mathematics and Physics (both C). At University I earned a 2:1 in my undergraduate Masters in Biology (MSci, Hons).
Work HistoryI have been very fortunate in that my PhD is my first paying job. For a while, I volunteered at a Sunday School and later a Nursing Home whilst I was doing my GCSEs and A-levels.
Current JobPhD student. My hours are flexible but I generally work 9-5 and I get paid by the university.
University of Nottingham and Rothamsted Research
Favourite thing to do in my job: Giving my wheat plants regular 'hair cuts' or taking photos of the fungus I study.
About Me: I am a 26-year-old plant pathologist (I look at plants with diseases) studying for my PhD at Rothamsted Research. When I'm not working I like to spend time hanging out with my friends or on my hobbies.
Hello, my name is Hannah.
I live in Harpenden with four housemates, and I am just now realising that I am the only PhD student in the house! If I could have pets where I live I would love to have a dog🐶.
I have a degree in Biology and now I’m working at Rothamsted Research and the University of Nottingham to get my PhD in Plant Pathology.
When I’m not working I like to spend time with my friends or on my hobbies! I recently started practising watercolour painting🖌️ and gymnastics, my cartwheels are getting good🤸♀️! But I also love stargazing🌠, climbing🧗♀️, baking🧁, photography📸 and I spend too much time listening to podcasts or watching YouTube/Twitch or playing video games🎮.
My pronouns are she/her.
My Work: I study a fungus that causes disease to wheat! For my research, I make changes to the fungus' DNA (I make mutants!) and test what that does to its ability to cause disease.
I work with a microbe known as Zymoseptoria tritici, but I like to call it Zymo for short. Zymo is a fungus that causes disease only on wheat leaves and results in the loss of up to 50% yield. Farmers definitely do not stan this fungus.
It has been roughly calculated that efforts to control this disease accounts for 70% of the EU’S pesticide use (specifically fungicides – chemicals that kill fungi!).
In a similar way to how bacteria become resistant to many antibiotics, fungi like Zymo are capable of becoming resistant to many pesticides. Zymo has been shown to have some resistance to all the pesticides we have to throw at it!
This is why my project is important: if we can understand what genetics controls the ability to cause disease we can develop new ways or new chemistries to help control the fungus!
To do this I change Zymo’s DNA randomly. After testing my mutants on wheat plants and on different types of agar plates, I extract their DNA and send the “interesting” ones to have their whole genomes sequenced so I can find out what genes changed. Once I have worked out which changes I think are most likely to explain the “interesting” mutants, I then have to confirm this by making (you guessed it…) more mutants. I consider myself a bit of a mutant detective, searching for criminal genes that are responsible for causing disease.
My Typical Day: No two days are the same but... I get up, get dressed, eat some breakfast and check my calendar before a five-minute walk to work! I am very fortunate to live very close to the laboratory where I work. Once at work I start my day by making a cup of tea and make my to-do list for the day at my desk. A day in the laboratory starts with trying to remember which set of hooks I left my lab coat on then check my to-do list. Check on my plants, do they need watering? Check on my fungus, is it growing well?
07:00 till 08:30 – wake up and get ready for work.
08:50 – Head to work.
09:00 – Get to my desk and switch my computer on. Make a cup of tea and check my emails. I like to make sure my laboratory notebook is up to date and make a to-do list that I can carry around with me for the day. If ever anyone needs to find me they can almost just follow the fluorescent orange sticky notes.
09:30 – Check on my agar plates (how well are my microbes growing) and my plants (haircut time or water?) Sometimes my plants are grown in the greenhouses (when I need more space), but I often grow them on the window ledge in the laboratory! The wheat plants need three weeks to grow before I put Zymo (the fungus) on and after that another 10-21 days!
10:00 till 12:30 – A lot can happen during this time. If I need equipment sterilising or media (agar plates, broths…) in preparation for the next day/week this when I like to do it. Friday mornings at this time every fortnight or so my supervisor and I will meet to discuss how things are going and what I’ve got planned for the coming weeks.
When I have some fungus out on special agar plates or on plants, if they’re ready for photos I might get (some of) that done during this time. Sometimes when I am transforming Zymo’s DNA I won’t get to leave the laboratory for lunch until 13:30!
12:30 ~ 13:30 – I tend to take a long lunch ‘break’ (unless my to-do list for the day is very long). Sometimes I also catch up with other PhD students. Other times I end up drafting emails to send later or spend time on some more creative projects.
14:00 till 17:00 – Again depends on what needs doing. If all my lab work is done I might work from my desk for a bit, get confused by bioinformatics or frustrated with some presentation slides and then swap scenery and go sit in a space called ‘The Hub’ for a while. On Wednesdays, the ‘Science of Feeding the World’ group at Rothamsted meet to talk about science communication, public engagement and the new podcast!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Friendly. Imaginative. Patient.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
I was inspired to do science while on a work experience placement in Astronomy! I only got interested in plants and plant disease once I got to study at University.
What was your favourite subject at school?
What did you want to be after you left school?
Medical Doctor or a Detective.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Nothing serious, though I definitely did rush some homework in the mornings.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I also really enjoyed History at school, so maybe I would have become a historian?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Depends on my mood, but I really love the band Yellowcard or Michael Bublé.
What's your favourite food?
Apple pie or Rhubarb crumble 🥧(especially with custard)
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Having control of two large robotic telescopes for my summer work experience was pretty rad. Outdoor rock climbing in Spain, getting to the top of my first outdoor sport lead was a thrill.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
I would wish for a very slightly longer arm span (more reach for climbing). To be tolerant to lactose again (I miss eating cheese sandwiches). Being able to slow down time spent with friends and having fun (spend more time with them).
Tell us a joke.
I'm sorry I don't have any good jokes... I'm not much of a FUN-GAL (fungi, fungus, fungal... I'll leave 😂)