My last few posts have looked at the exciting science that was presented recently at the UKPSF conference. How can we ensure there will be a new generation of eager, bright plant biologists to help turn those great ideas into reality? This is another major – and global – issue and was addressed by a number of speakers within the area of ‘plant science education’. Accordingly, we heard from Celia Knight (University of Leeds) on the Gatsby Plant Science Summer Schools, which gives 1st year undergraduates from a select group of UK universities the opportunity to immerse themselves in a plant science summer school. Research suggests that this intervention helps not only to promote awareness of plant science as a career, but also has increased the number of researchers in plant biology. To help this there is also the University of Leeds’ TREE (Tool for Research-Engaged Education) – ‘an online teaching tool giving access to downloadable lecture slides, on-line lectures, practicals, movies and other material on topical plant science to support lecturers in their teaching’. Mary Williams (American Society of Plant Biologists, but based in Glasgow, UK) shared ideas from the USA’s experiences of outreach efforts to promote plant science, which might help the UK’s fledgling ‘special interest group’ [the UKPSF] inspire the next generation. Incidentally, Mary is almost single-handedly responsible for the Plant Cell’s superb teaching resources – Teaching Tools in Plant Biology, several of which are freely available. And, in the hope of enthusing impressionable students before they get to university, Ginny Page (SAPS, Science and Plants for Schools) made the point that plant scientists need to publicise the importance of their work more. Well, there’s a challenge for all of us.
My appreciation of the range of plant science undertaken in the UK was certainly increased by attending the conference, but it is not people like me that the UKPSF has to win over. Its main aim must surely be to formulate a coordinated strategy and vision for Plant and Crop Science in the UK that will be utilised to inform policy. If it can do that, it will be doing a grand job! And, if it can also “inspire, educate and train the next generation of plant and crop scientists” — who will be needed from the full breadth of the multi-faceted discipline of botany! — along the way, so much the better! [For further background to some of the global concerns raised in some of the posts from the conference, see Johan Rockström et al. and Jonathan Foley et al. – Ed.]