Overdue updates

As many of you will have probably noticed, I’ve not posted anything in nearly four months. I could try and come up with any number of creative excuses, but the harsh reality is I had to prioritise the biggest experiment of my PhD, my outreach work, being disabled, and another crippling batch of depression.

Now I’ve mostly brushed those under the carpet (that’s a lie), I’ve decided to document what I’ve actually been up to since I last posted anything, and what I’m actually going to do next.


So, from March to May I was running a huge hydroponics experiment. Now, if you don’t follow me on Instagram you’ll likely have no idea what I’m talking about. It involves growing Arabidopsis (see this post from last year about why we use it as a model species) in liquid media. This is quite tricky as it makes them pretty susceptible to contamination from bacteria and fungi.

I use hydroponics as I’m working on salt stress. Why am I working on salt stress? Salt is toxic to plants, and as climate change reduces fresh water supplies (especially in developing countries), farmers are using salty water to grow their crops. This kills the plants as they often aren’t adapted to high levels of salt. So, I use hydroponics to evenly apply a salt stress, making sure all of the plants are experiencing exactly the same amount. This is considerably trickier in soil.

So once I’ve grown and stress all my plants (over 400 of them), the roots and shoots get harvested, weighed, dried, and the ion content is quantified. Over multiple days. For multiple genotypes. Then comes manual input of 8 different parameters for each individual shoot or root, then statistical analysis, then data visualisation. Luckily, that’s over and done with now and now I just need to try and work out how to manage doing a 5 day protocol in a cold room…

Arabidopsis plants growing in hydroponics – they’re about 40 days old here.


Experiments aside, I was given the opportunity to take my research to the US (NH) for a prestigious Gordon Research Conference on ‘Salt & Water Stress Tolerance in Plants’. I’d never been to the states before, and never been to a conference. I was lucky enough to get funding from the Society of Experimental Biology to help me get there (Thanks SEB!). To make things even more daunting, I was asked to give a presentation on my work at the Gordon Research Seminar, a mini pre-conference for early career researchers (Thanks to Sandra & Lidor!) Not only that, I also had to present my work on a poster for two days in a row (thanks free wine!)


So, with that being daunting enough, I was then selected from poster abstracts to give a talk at the main Gordon Research Conference, to a room of about 200 Very Big Names in plant science and abiotic stress work (Thanks Mel Oliver!) I managed them both, got incredible feedback, met some chill new people (Thanks Cape Town!), and got to experience an artistic interpretation of New England vegan food.

(The sunniest day in Waterville Valley + ski-lifting through the forest)


Whilst holed up in New Hampshire’s most ‘interestingly’ decorated conference centre, I had to keep myself on my toes by checking Twitter (thanks ADHD). I was surprised (read: fucking elated) to find out I won my University’s ‘Impact in 60 Seconds’ competition with a silly video called ‘Getting to the Root of the Matter’. For those that haven’t seen it (there’s a link below), my patient friends let me pour water, soil, salt, on their heads, threw vegetables at them, and filmed themselves stuffing their faces with spring rolls.

Link here!

It was judged by social media engagement (I have a lot to thank you all for), and by 6 members of my college’s upper management. I’m now the proud owner of a video that will be used as advertising across Glasgow’s Science Centre, and some pretty alright video editing skills.


Before I went to the US I was contacted by Elizabeth Adams, who is a Research Developer at the University of Glasgow. She masterminded a ‘Diversity, Inclusivity, Equality’ day for postgraduate researchers, their supervisors, and academic staff. I was invited to give a lightning talk about my experiences as a disabled student and my vision for change. Being me, I decided it’d be more useful if I made another video, so it could be shared with other universities and students with ease. It’s now been picked up as supervisor training material at the University of Glasgow, and thanks for the Graduate Council of Postgraduates, is now going to be used by universities up and down the country for training.

I’ll make another post detailing my vision for an accessible lab future in due course, but for now, here’s the video (there’s no CC on the video but YouTube’s ones are pretty spot on).


To top it all off, I finally graduated from my Masters by Research (MSc(Res)) in the last week of June. My research masters was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I’m constantly amazed that I made it through. Becoming suddenly very disabled with very little support network or money was horrible. But, three years after I started, I finally get to never think about it every again (that’s a lie, it’s the basis for my PhD…) My family couldn’t make it to the ceremony, but as always, my pals came through (in black lycra catsuits) to make me feel worth it.


My first co-authored paper has landed in Plant Physiology! We work on root systems (among a wide variety of other things…) in my lab, and we have a pretty neat way to visualise and reconstruct average root systems for quantitative phenotyping and physiological analyses. I’ve spent the past three years trouble-shooting and improving this software, all feedback is welcome.

Check the paper out here!


Finally, I’m off to London next week as I’m through to the final round of the British Federation of Women Graduate’s Academic Excellence grant competition. That’s all I’ll say about that until I know the outcome!

As always, get me on twitter at @emilyxarmstrong, on Instagram @theradicalbotanical for more frequent updates.

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