Introducing a new blog series – just five answers to five quick questions! Thinking about doing a PhD? Find out more about what it’s like as a PhD Student at JIC. Already a PhD? Learn more about what your peers are doing.

Today we have third year student Alba Pacheco-Moreno talking about her PhD experience!

1. Who are you?alba

My name is Alba and I have just started my 3rd year. I am originally from Spain, where I studied Agricultural Sciences and specialised in plant breeding and crop pathology at the Technical University of Madrid. After doing my undergrad project, I realised that I really wanted to learn more about plant and microbe molecular biology, so I did a Masters in Agricultural Biotechnology. During this, I worked on understanding the molecular basis of the Rhizobium – legume interaction.


2. What is your PhD about? 

My PhD project focuses on understanding how barley plants and a beneficial soil bacterial group, Pseudomonas fluorescens, communicate with each other. This group of bacteria inhabits the rhizosphere, a thin layer of soil attached to the roots and directly influenced by plant derived compounds. The rhizosphere is the most diverse set of microorganisms directly interacting with a plant, therefore the influence that these can have on plant fitness is enormous. The rhizosphere microbiota can affect plant growth both directly, by improving nutrient acquisition or producing hormones, and indirectly, by suppressing plant pathogens. If we are able to understand what the genetic determinants are that control this relationship, we could use this information to breed new barley cultivars with an enhanced capability to recruit beneficial Pseudomonas. This information could help to reduce agrochemical use and achieve more sustainable agriculture.


3. What is your favourite PhD moment so far? 

It is very difficult to highlight just one thing, but it has to be having met so many great people. Working here gives you the opportunity to continuously expand your horizons. There are always many new visitors, speakers and students and every one of them has something to teach you. I really think that is extremely valuable.

Also, having the opportunity to attend to conferences is great. You can learn about new techniques, see what is going on in your field, establish new collaborations and last but not least, you can definitely have loads of fun.


4. What do you do to switch off from PhD? 

What probably helps me the most to unwind is going to the gym. Putting earphones in and having a good working out session is one of my favourite feelings. Before moving to Norwich, I used to practice Thai Boxing/K1 and now, I am trying to get back to it because there is no comparison to the way that a good sparring makes me feel.

I also enjoy spending time with my boyfriend and our dog. I am a family person and being at home or going for a walk, just the three of us helps me to relax too. Recently, I have started to do crochet and I find it incredibly relaxing. I do it while I am watching a tv series or a movie and it keeps me from playing with my phone all the time.


5. What advice would you give a new PhD student?

I think that the most important thing to remember as a PhD student is that we are learning and therefore, asking when you don’t know the answer or when you aren’t sure about something is absolutely fine. Be honest with yourself and others and never be afraid of learning.

Also, I think that listening is really important. Listen in conferences, lab meetings, seminars, when chatting with your peers etc and try to learn as much as you can. Everybody has something to teach you and it is not always science related!

Lastly, I would like to say never stop trying to achieve what you want. Doing a PhD is not always easy and sometimes things can be really tough. Coping with bad results and the inevitable impostor syndrome will require of good amounts of self-confidence and honesty, because sometimes you may need help and there is no shame in asking for it.


PhD Profile was concocted by Shannon Woodhouse. If you would like to be featured on PhD Profile, please email or find Shannon on Twitter @shwoodhouse.

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