Anna Tiley (@tileyanna) is a current Biological Sciences PhD student at the University of Bristol. She researches a fungus called Zymoseptoria tritici which causes a devastating disease of wheat known as Septoria Tritici Blotch. Here, she tells us about how she became interested in Plant Pathology (the study of plant diseases) and gives a sneak peek into the fungus she’ll be doing her talk on. Anna will be speaking at our Soapbox Science event in Bristol this June.
SS: How did you get to your current position?
AT: I’ve always loved the natural world and when I was younger we used to have a whole range of pets from cats to fish, guinea pigs and even a turtle. My parents always encouraged us to be interested in nature which also meant regular trips to the countryside on weekends.
I studied Biological Science at the University of Oxford and absolutely loved it. Despite initially wanting to be a Zoologist, I switched after my first year to study Plant Science and Molecular Biology. By my third year I had specialised into Plant Disease which is the exact opposite to what I had originally planned! I think this subject appealed to me because it’s so important for helping us tackle the future challenges facing global food production.
After graduating I wasn’t really sure of what to do and therefore ended up applying for lots of graduate schemes that I wasn’t really passionate about. At the same time I was also interning at The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew and it was this experience that made me realise just how much I missed science. I applied for my PhD at the University of Bristol and haven’t looked back since!
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
AT: My family are quite scientific (my granddad worked for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and my grandma trained as a Pharmacologist), and I’ve also had some incredibly inspiring teachers and lecturers both whilst at school and during my undergraduate degree.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research?
AT: The most fascinating part of my work is the organism I work on. When I grow it in the lab it looks like an ugly mould or like something you’d find at the back of your fridge. However, it’s actually a deadly fungus that attacks wheat crops all over the world (even in the UK). The fungus causes a devastating disease called Septoria Tritici Blotch and we don’t have a 100% effective way of controlling it.
My research aims to help us understand how this fungus reproduces as this might hold the clue to stopping it in its tracks. As wheat is one of the top three most important cereal crops in the world, this could be really important for helping increase wheat production without using up more land, water and other limited resources.
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
AT: I’ve been a volunteer for the last two years at Soapbox Science and thought it was about time I stood up on the soapbox too! This is such a fantastic event to be part of and I have met so many inspiring fellow women scientists through it. I love the idea and think it’s such a great way to promote female scientific role models and break stereotypes about female scientists.
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? fear? thrill? anticipation?
AT: Thrilled. I’m delighted to have been chosen as a speaker and am already picking out which props to bring along.
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
AT: I would really like there to be more cross-talk between science and other subjects, particularly the arts. These are often regarded as being quite opposite from each other which is a pity as they could result in some brilliant collaborations.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?
AT: (Being a PhD student myself, I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer this!) I would recommend getting lots of experience outside of the lab (blogging, internships, and science communication events), going to conferences, networking and taking every opportunity to present your research to different audiences.
You can catch Anna on her Soapbox in Bristol’s Millennium Square on 7th June 2-5pm, where she will be “Investigating a Cereal Killer”!