18th September 2017- Hannah Brazeau, Algoma University

Hannah BrazeauHello everyone! I’m Hannah, a final year BSc. Biology student at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Prior to starting my undergraduate degree, I trained as a laboratory technician through the biotechnology program at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario. The education I received at St. Lawrence deepened my interest in environmental science and gave me the push I needed to pursue a degree in science.

 I am a big-time fan of plants, with an interest in plant-plant interactions and invasive plant species. Now that I am in the final year of my degree, I will be writing my honours thesis in Dr. Brandon Schamp’s plant community ecology lab at Algoma U. You can learn more about the work going on his lab by visiting: http://people.auc.ca/schamp/index.html

While I am at Biotweeps, I will be aiming to give you all a window into the day-to-day experiences of studying biology at the undergraduate level. I will be discussing what it is like to study science at a small university, starting a career in science later in life, early career engagement in science communication, and of course, the fascinating world of plants. There may also be a few Star Trek references thrown in (sorry, I can’t help myself).

 I will also be dedicating a full day to discussing general advice for new students that are just starting out at university for the first time, and I am looking forward to hearing and sharing some words of wisdom from you all.


24th of October 2016 – Zarah Pattison, University of Stirling

zarah-pattisonHi! I am a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Stirling working on the effects of connectivity on the abundance and presence of E.coli in freshwater lochs/lakes across the UK. This work forms part of the Hydroscape project led by Stirling University and has a great variety of scientist working on all things freshwater. I have just submitted my PhD thesis which focused on the effect of changing environmental conditions on invasive alien plants and how this may impact native vegetation communities. Now I nervously await my PhD viva in December.

My academic life is a total contrast to my previous 10 year career as a make-artist. Whilst working full-time I studied through the Open University to get the qualifications I needed to start an undergraduate degree at Royal Holloway, University of London. It was here that I changed from Zoology to Ecology and fell in love with plants and microbes. I also completed a research masters degree at Royal Holloway, assessing the role of plant-soil feedbacks in the invasive alien plant, Impatiens glandulifera (Himalayan balsam).

It is safe to say that I am now hooked on research, fieldwork and plant ID (“weeds” preferentially). As a south African woman, fuelled by coffee, I try and get involved as much as possible in STEM outreach and hope that somewhere in the near future we can encourage more young girls (and boys) to enjoy science as much as we all do!



16th May 2016 – Kelly Ksiazek, Northwestern University and The Chicago Botanic Garden

Kelly KsiazekKelly Ksiazek (@GreenCityGal) is a fifth year PhD candidate and Presidential Fellow in Plant Biology and Conservation at Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden. She believes that the complexity and beauty of nature can be found all around us, including in our plentiful urban habitats. Biodiversity conservation could be better supported in cities if more was known about how communities respond to the harsh conditions of the so-called “concrete jungle.” She sees particular potential in the vegetated or green roof; a type of increasingly common habitat that incorporates a layer of growing media and plants into buildings. Her research looks at the possibility of using urban green roofs as habitat for native plant and pollinator conservation. Most of her experiments take place in and around her hometown of Chicago, IL USA where she is discovering how to incorporate various components of biodiversity into green roof designs that mimic local shortgrass prairies.

As a former high school science teacher, Kelly also enjoys finding opportunities to engage in science communication such as through her research blog (https://GreenRoofResearch.wordpress.com), a recently published activity book for children (www.greeningUPthecity.com) and various school and community presentations (for example, this week at the Laurie Garden in downtown Chicago: http://www.luriegarden.org/education-events).

When she’s not collecting data on green roofs, writing, analyzing data or performing experiments in the lab, she likes traveling to visit friends and discover new places, gardening with edible and native plants, exploring new restaurants and breweries in Chicago and experimenting in the kitchen.

2nd May 2016 – James Borrell, Queen Mary University of London

James BorrellI am a conservation genetics PhD student in my final year at Queen Mary, University of London. My research interests are focused around the genetic consequences of population decline and habitat fragmentation, specifically in Dwarf birch (Betula nana), a small mountain tree.

Despite being somewhat unimpressive to look, Dwarf Birch is an ideal plant to study because it has so much going wrong. From a substantial range decline over recent decades, to climate change and rampant deer grazing, we now have evidence that it’s hybridising with two other related birch species, which appear to be breeding it out. On the plus side, it grows in remote and beautiful areas of the Scottish Highlands, so fieldwork is a pleasure. One of the best surviving populations is on the estate of Trees for Life, a conservation NGO.

As well as my PhD research, I also blog and have an interest and background in expeditions, particularly as a tool for engagement and science communication. I’ve worked on conservation projects around the world, including the Dhofar Mountains of Oman, the Peruvian Amazon and Southern Africa. Most recently, I led an international research expedition to Northern Madagascar studying edge effects in herpetofauna and filming a short documentary that will be out later this year. There’s more info about Expedition Angano, here.

Lastly, I also run a small social enterprise called Discover Conservation with stories from field biologists in weird and wonderful places around the world.

Expect lots of fieldwork photos!

August 24th 2015 – Rebecca Barak, Northwestern University/Chicago Botanic Garden

I am a PhD candidate in Plant Biology and Conservation at Northwestern University and Chicago Botanic Garden in Illinois, USA.  I study restoration ecology, the science of rehabilitating degraded ecosystems. In particular, I study plant community ecology in the tallgrass prairie. The prairie – native grassland dotted with colorful wildflowers – once covered the Midwestern United States. Restored prairies are built to regain habitat lost to farming, but they aren’t as diverse as remnant prairies, they have fewer coexisting plant species. Diverse prairies are more functional, supporting more wildlife and fewer weeds. What makes restored prairies diverse? To answer this question, I study the effects of management, like seed mixes and prescribed fire, on multiple measures of plant biodiversity, including phylogenetic and functional diversity. I also study seed biology to learn which seed traits may impact establishment of planted species in restored habitats. I work in the field, greenhouse and lab to better understand the connections between restoration decisions and plant biodiversity.

For my week on Biotweeps I’ll be tweeting about PLANTS!!! I’ll also tweet about restoration ecology, the prairie ecosystem, seed biology, citizen science, and highlights from summer field research in restored prairies in and around Chicago. You can find me on twitter (@BeckSamBar) or at my website (http://www.plantbiology.northwestern.edu/people/students/becky-barak.html).

27th April 2015 – Emilie Champagne, Université Laval

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m a Ph.D. student in biology at Université Laval, Québec (Canada) and my thing is plant-herbivore relationships. You might not know that yet, but plant-herbivore is one of the coolest and most important ecological interactions. In many systems, it shapes the structure, composition and functions of the ecosystems! From my master degree, where I studied plant compensatory abilities (regrowth following herbivory) to my Ph.D., I’ve been fascinated by those interactions. In my current research, I look at how plant’s neighbors can influence their susceptibility to herbivory, a process called associational effects. As herbivores select their resource hierarchically, I want to know how associational effects will vary with spatial scales. You can find a description of my various projects on my former and current research group. You might notice that I’m from a large herbivore background, but you can also ask me question about insect herbivory.

So what can you expect in my biotweeps week?

  • Cool stuff about plant-herbivore relationships: how plant resist or tolerate herbivory, herbivore’s selection process, associational effects (of course!), alternative stable states.
  • Engaging discussions about life as a graduate student, open science, women in science.
  • Touching stories about how it is to do science in another language then English, fieldwork in wonderful location (Deception Bay and Anticosti Island!)…
  • Fun

You can find me and my frequent list in my blog (mostly in French, sometimes in English), on twitter, and also Research Gate, stack exchange…so many ways to procrastinate!

January 12th 2015 – Jeremy Yoder, University of Minnesota

Jeremy YoderJeremy Yoder is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Minnesota. He studies the evolution of interactions between species, and the population genetic and genomic signatures of natural selection. He contributes to The Molecular Ecologist and Nothing in Biology Makes Sense!, and he tweets under the handle @JBYoder.