We are an eclectic mix of past and current PhD students from one of the world’s oldest agricultural research institutes: Rothamsted Research.
Rebecca Nesbit (Butterfly Becky): Conservation and the environment have been my passion from when I was far too young to know what it all meant. So I studied biology at University of Durham and in 2010 I was awarded an ecology PhD. I did my research at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire and spent my time chasing migrant butterflies. I now work as a PR consultant, and represent small companies with bright ideas in science and technology.
Emma Wright (the bee girl): Officially I’m looking at ‘The effect of pathogens on honeybee learning and foraging behaviour’, which in simple terms means that what I want to know is: ‘are sick bees stupid?’ You may have seen on the news or Dr Who recently that honeybees are having a bad time of it lately and we’re not entirely sure why. One potential problem for them is diseases and parasites which don’t just kill the bees but could also be affecting their behaviour. Which is what I’m interested in. And yes before you ask I have been stung, but usually only when I’m really annoying the poor bees! Serves me right!
Trish Wells: In Britain about 50% of the land is managed for agriculture and I believe that modifying the way we farm is the most practical, most feasible and the most widespread way we can improve our environment. I am doing a PhD looking at insects and diseases that kill greenfly. I’m interested in the interactions between these species and how that affects pest suppression in bean and wheat fields. My focus is on the harlequin ladybird and its predation of lacewing larvae which also eat aphids. I want to reduce the impact of agriculture on our environment by enhancing biodiversity for the benefit of crop protection (more ladybirds and lacewings means less greenfly). I find this work fun, real and exciting (and often very, very hard).
Nichola Hawkins: While Becky, Emma and Trish have been playing with insects, I’ve been keeping pet fungus! Plants and fungi may not move around as much as animals but I’m on a mission to show that they can be just as exciting. My PhD is in plant pathology, looking at fungal diseases that infect crop plants and damage food production, and how to sustainably control an organism that keeps evolving- while it’s amazing to watch evolution happening within a few years, it does make life difficult for crop protection scientists who are dealing with a moving target.
Sarah Hards: I have a degree in Geography from Cambridge University and became interested in the social science of sustainability. I am now completing a PhD at the University of York, which looks at how and why people adopt environmentally-friendly habits. I am also working on a research project at Keele University called “Reducing energy use through community knowledge networks”.
Becky and Sarah first met at school where they would plan ways to save the world from the front row of the biology lab. Quite by chance they both ended up doing PhDs at the University of York!