Covid-19 and the ‘lockdown’ it caused forced scientists around the world to stay at home and often pause their research. How was and is your research in PLAMORF affected by the pandemic?
I think my group have handled this challenging situation admirably. And I’d like to thank everyone in my group for their resilience and commitment. Our work is computer-based so it was perhaps less disruptive than for others. Nevertheless, our capacity was of course somewhat reduced due to other commitments in the lockdown period. For example, some of us had to look after their kids. Of course, this is rewarding and important, but it does take time away from our usual focus. But we were nearly fully functional during lockdown. However, recruitment is delayed. I had planned to hire another postdoc this year and this will now need to wait. Currently we are hoping to start recruiting again later this year or early next year.
In addition to the positions you need to fill, what is planned until the end of the year for your group?
First, we would like to have a proper statistical assessment of all available data by the end of the year. And then we want to identify whether there are significant correlations that can be used to predict mobile mRNA. Second, we want to develop the modelling and analysis tools that we will build on through the project. Right now, it looks like we’re very much on-track.
The team of Richard Morris compares mobile and non-mobile RNAs to find motives triggering RNA mobility. They analyse properties like GC content, abundance and sequence motifs, followed by statistical analysis, machine/deep learning, etc.
Like most scientist, you have to acquire external grants to finance your research. How would you describe your experience with the ERC synergy grant awarded to PLAMORF in comparison to other funding schemes you are working with?
I really enjoyed the process. It was great to work with Fritz and Julia and to jointly develop the programme. I think what we’ve come up with is really interdisciplinary and synergistic. The ERC process itself was long and rigorous, yet it was a great experience. My positivity is likely biased by the fact that we were successful. But I do think it’s a wonderful scheme that has the objective of simply trying to fund the best people to do their best research. At all points we knew what was happening and why, and we found all ERC staff very supportive, as were the reviewers and the committees. We felt we were carefully and rigorously evaluated and that the process was fair and transparent. I highly recommend the ERC grant scheme to everyone. It’s a great experience to have gone through and we now look forward to some fun research and delivering our best.
The number of people graduating from university is rising steadily around the world. Any tips for undergrads or PhD students that want to stay in science? How can they stick out from the crowd?
There are many brilliant students coming through the system so this is a timely question. It’s a great and very exciting time for scientific research so my first suggestion would be to take advantage of these opportunities, invest your time and effort and see where it takes you. Follow your dreams. Some people seem to have their career paths carefully planned out – certainly in my case it was a bit more stochastic and I’ve greatly enjoyed moving between disciplines to find a niche that I think suits me. So based on that, my other suggestions would be to try to find what excites you most and where your ‘superpower’ is, then go for it but be flexible and have a plan B. I think knowing what you’re good at and being excited about your work will allow you to stand out and find your own path.
For background information on their work, check out the group profile on our website or the John Innes Centre website. Visit also the work package descriptions to find out which research questions PLAMORF wants to answer and have a look at the main objectives.
Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to see when the next interviews with the other group leaders are ready, and when Richard is recruiting again!