This intensive week of talks from leading scientists, constructive careers sessions, eye-opening practicals and thought-provoking discussions with researchers and peers turns some of the UK’s brightest bioscience undergraduates on to a future in plant science.
The Gatsby Plant Science summer school aims to introduce the excitement and potential of plant science to 80 first-year undergraduates selected from 26 research-intensive UK Universities. Initiated in 2005 by the University of Leeds and now run by the Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge, the annual week-long residential summer school takes place in a relaxed, rural setting in Yorkshire in which students learn new ways to see plants in their environment and to use plants in research. Through hands-on exercises and talks from international research leaders, students discover how plant science can offer world-leading curiosity-driven research as well as help tackle global challenges such as food security, energy needs and climate change and are encouraged to continue their interest by taking second-year plant science courses at their universities.
Students are selected from a range of degree programmes from biology, biochemistry, genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology, as well as plant science, and many appreciate the broader view of science given, finding applications of their discipline within almost all of the talks. Increasingly we are looking also to select interested students of mathematics and physical science degree programmes.
The practical classes promote enquiry-based learning through exercises that also have an element of “wow, that’s amazing”, whether from the biology itself or the method of study e.g. computer modelling of flower development in the genetics practical. Other practicals show real application; for example in pathology, students find and observe diseased plants in nearby surroundings and run diagnostic tests that scientists use in the field.
The summer school has gained an international reputation and can attract the highest calibre of speaker. Tutorials and a Q&A session with the speaker follow the lectures and are given by academics from UK universities and research organisations. Students report that these help them build confidence to learn through questioning.
Important to any undergraduate today is, "What use will my degree be and will it get me a job?" The summer school offers careers sessions in which successful plant scientists now in a range of professions share their biographies with the undergraduates and help them build confidence in selecting and taking opportunities to gain experience.
The school has developed over recent years to be an effective forum to bring together tutors, students, employers, school teachers and others passionate about broadening access to plant science education. Summer school alumni now give talks on their own PhD research and we look forward to involving more alumni in the future to report their successes in plant science.