A few weeks ago we uploaded a post about NoCaSS2013, a student-run conference between Plant Sciences PhD students between the University of Cambridge and us here in Norwich. After the success of 2013, it was Cambridge’s turn to play host, so we all bundled into a coach last Friday to attend the event.


The event was held at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge (not to be confused with our very own Sainsbury Laboratory, here in Norwich). The Sainsbury Laboratory is a recently-built research institute, housed in a Stirling Prize winning building, so getting to see it from the inside was a real treat for many of us..

The day began with breakfast, much to the delight of the Norwich crowd, given the horrendously early start many of us had endured. The pastries, fruit, and of course coffee put us all in good spirits ready for the first session of the day. There were eight student talks throughout the day (abstracts chosen by panels from both locations), and the first three of these talks started the day. These talks were followed by a poster session, before the next three talks, and then the final two after lunch. The talks covered a huge range of topics, from bumblebees and stick insects, to wheat, liverworts and genetics – so hopefully everyone found something they could really enjoy hearing about! If anyone didn’t, hopefully they were able to find something  in the poster sessions, showcasing the research carried out by other students at the conference.

As well as talks, the conference also gave the opportunity for students to have discussions. There was a choice of two discussion sessions, one entitled ‘What experiments do we need to do to show that GM technology is ‘safe’ (or not!)?’, and the other ‘How can modelling and experimentation inform each other to produce good science?’. Given my interest in GM (see here, and here), I knew exactly which session I would attend – although there seemed to be good interest in both. I can’t comment on the modelling session, but I can certainly praise the group discussing GM. There was a good mix of students with lots to say, and  some really passionate debate. Our discussion was interesting enough to capture the attention of a passing Group Leader, who snuck into the discussion to join in.

Julie Gray, our Keynote Speaker (image credit sheffield.ac.uk)

Additionally, we  had a discussion session about open access publications, hosted by eLife, and run by our very-own recent JIC graduate Stuart King. Again, this sparked some great discussion and debate about the benefits of open access publishing. The day ended with a keynote lecture by Julie Gray from the University of Sheffield. Julie spoke about her research – “The Hole Story: Understanding Stomatal Conductance”. Both Stuart and Julie were full of praise for all of the student speakers, as well as the posters  – and they had the unenviable task of judging both talks and posters by the end of the day. The students did get to play a role in poster judging however, with each student getting one vote for a poster from the opposite location, creating a short-list from which a winner was chosen.

After the day was finished, we all spilled out and made the short journey to the University of Cambridge Plant Science department for dinner and a drinks reception.  This reception was a great time to network and meet students from our opposite institutions. The drinks and pizza kept everyone in good spirits, and both Stuart and Julie stayed around for us to chat to as well.

NoCaSS 2014 did not let down the success of last year’s event, and Cambridge put on a great conference for us. I have to say a huge thank you to the organizing committee from Cambridge, who didn’t seem to stop all day, ensuring that everything ran smoothly from start to finish. Thanks also have to go to The John Innes Centre, Cambridge Plant Sciences and Open Plant for funding the event, and eLife for their discussion and sponsorship. NoCaSS is a testament to the brilliant post-graduate work being done in both Norwich and Cambridge, and hopefully next year’s event will continue the brilliant precedent set in the past two years.

 jic openplant 

By Izzy Webb, a 2nd year PhD student in the lab of Phil Poole


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