Experiments, Technician Life

Pastries and pesticides

Meetings had been something that were quite alien to me until I came to Rothamsted. I think it depends on the size and dynamic of your research group. When I was at Sheffield University, our group was very small and meetings was just something that we didn’t really do. But now meetings have gone to the other end of the scale, I have a minimum of one a week!!

Our black-grass resistance research group consists of a senior scientist, three Post-Docs, three technicians and a PhD student and we have a weekly meeting on a Monday morning at half 9 where we discuss upcoming items such as visitors, other meetings and experiments and then we all take it in turn to either present an update on current work being undertaken or suggest a journal paper for discussion. And although these meetings sound excessive, I think it helps to make you feel a better part of the team and is a chance to hear about what your fellow colleagues get up to all day. Plus it’s an excuse for another cup of tea and occasionally there’s biscuits.

There are always plenty of meetings to be invited along to at Rothamsted. Whole institute ones, department ones and experiments ones. However, the one I like telling people about the most is our Resistance meetings, which is not a movement from the Second World War but are instead a gathering of all the people working on the different types of resistance; herbicide, fungicide and insecticide. These meetings consist of a couple of talks from staff based in the different disciplines and a savage music quiz at their annual Christmas party.

And then there are the meetings off site. Because we work as part of a much wider, collaborative project with other universities, we need to have regular meetings with the rest of the crew or as they are more officially called, the Black-Grass Resistance Initiative (BGRI). These occur every six months and we take it in turns to host between ourselves at Rothamsted and Sheffield, Newcastle and London. The general agenda consists of updating everyone on the work being undertaken at each institute and then moving onto publications, black-grass related ideas and the future direction of the project. There then follows a social aspect involving food and the odd beer or two. Each venue has its bonuses, for instance the London contingency are based at ZSL which means lunch breaks include a walk around London Zoo which always gives you motivation for the afternoon once you’ve seen some penguins and gorillas. Our most recent meeting was last week and was the turn of Sheffield to host which has great advantages for me because I get to see old friends and work colleagues plus I grew up there and my parents and sister still live there so it’s a chance to catch up with my family. And they did a pretty good job of hosting, pastries on arrival, plenty of sandwiches and cake for lunch and tapas and Sheffield ale for the evening. Oh and the meeting seemed successful too.

After the excitement of a day out the office in Sheffield last week, this week has consisted of a lab coat and a lot of squatting. It’s been spray time for the latest run of 7000 pots. Three glasshouses, three herbicides, three days. Although this meant that before this could take place we had to do my least favourite job; transplanting. It probably sounds like I do a lot of ‘boring’ tasks but I don’t mind doing any of them….apart from transplanting. This is where we check that there is a plant in each pot and transplant a new one from the spares we always sow, just in case. I don’t know why but I really dislike this job, I try to go into it with a positive attitude but within minutes I’m loudly sighing and wishing it was over. I think it’s because there’s always quite a few plants to transplant and it effectively feels like I’m re-sowing half the experiment.

Once we have as full a set of plants as possible, we then record how many leaves each black-grass has prior to spraying, which takes about a day and then we spray them. This involves using a nifty bit of kit we have, that sprays the plants using a nozzle mounted onto a boom that runs down the room rather than us using a knapsack or handheld sprayer. And this also means we stay safer because we are not in the room when the chemicals are in the air. The process involves getting the trays of pots from the glasshouse, wheeling them down to the spray room, taking the pots out of the tray and lining them up on boxes on the floor (hence the squatting) and then dose them up with herbicide, wait for them to dry a few minutes then put them back in the trays and return them to the greenhouse and collect the next batch. And repeat. Lots of times.

And as much as I care for my black-grass plants (even though I’ve just tried to kill them over the past three days), I am ready for a four day break. Happy Easter to all.


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