31 August 2020. Dr Steed is at the Department of Plant Sciences, School of Biological Sciences. A PDF version of this Issue is available here.
Research focus: Circadian signal transduction in plants
I am currently working as a post-doctoral research associate looking at the role of the bZIP transcription factors in transducing sugar signals to the Arabidopsis circadian clock. In plants, the circadian clock is important for synchronising biochemical and physiological processes with the external light-dark cycle. This is important because the correct synchronisation of internal and external rhythms leads to an increase in yield traits. We know that the major product of photosynthesis, sucrose, relays metabolic timing information to the central circadian oscillator but we are unsure of the precise mechanism. The aim of my project is to fully elucidate this signalling pathway and to understand the role of the bZIPs. Our hope is that a better understanding of this pathway will allow us to identify potential breeding targets in crops and thus contribute towards an increase in yields which is desperately needed.
What made you decide to pursue research?
Prior to starting my PhD, I spent 4 years working as a secondary school science teacher. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed being in a classroom, I missed the intellectual stimulation that comes from doing lab-based research. As an undergraduate studying at the University of Surrey, I was fortunate to have lectures specifically on the circadian clock which I found fascinating and when the opportunity came up to complete a PhD investigating the wheat circadian clock at Cambridge I jumped at the chance. I have continued onto a post-doc because I enjoy being in the lab and the problem solving that comes with research, things often don’t work!
What would be your advice to aspiring researchers?
I learnt that I enjoyed being in the lab during my undergraduate degree by spending my third year on industrial placement with a large pharmaceutical company. I think for any student thinking of a career in research if you get the opportunity to spend time doing a work placement do it because you will learn what you like and (almost more importantly) what you don’t like. When it comes to research it is important to follow your interests; when things aren’t working it’s the intrinsic interest in what you’re doing that keeps you going. Finally, don’t be afraid to get things wrong. Research can be super frustrating at times, you are doing something where you don’t know the answer and often you don’t even know how to get to the answer but that makes it all the more satisfying when you do get things right.