Plant science. This is a area of science that I have grown to love, and one in which I would like to continue my scientific career. But for me, this wasn’t always the case.
Like a lot of students I didn’t particularly enjoy plant science- I didn’t see how it was relevant to me, or how studying things in plants was really going to help progress science that much. But, I was basing this all on my experiences of plant science before university- on the photosynthetic pathway and the function of the phloem.
I have now been in the plant world for over 3 years- and it is so different than I had initially thought. I realise now that I had a lot of misconceptions about plant science- and now I am expanding through my blog, and social media- into scicomm more, I have seen that these misconceptions are extremely common.
The more I read, and talk to others, the more I notice a lack of understanding of plants- and I feel this may, in part, be why so much bad science is touted about plants. And sure, how are you going to understand about something like the development of Golden rice, if the only things we are really taught about plants is that they have chlorophyll, they make their own food, and they produce oxygen?
Even the term ‘plant science’ is misunderstood- the number of people I talk to who think I am basically a glorified gardener!! I don’t even grow my own tomatoes- they are in the much more capable hands of the horticultural staff!
But, how do we even begin to rectify this?
I feel one of the first and most important things to do is change the perception of plant science- focussing on kids. Why kids? They are the ones who have the potential to grow up into the next plant scientists. They are the ones who can take cool information home to mum and dad and get the family excited about science in a new way and format.
I would love to see classes being taught that talk about how plants can communicate with each other, how they can live in the toughest places on earth, how they can produce some of our most potent medicines. Skewing plant science to instead be relatable may be the way forward in terms of teaching- rather than simply talking about the plant organs, or the process of photosynthesis- which, whilst every important, will not inspire so much.
I also think we should be more open, and willing to discuss and show off our science. If you go onto instgram or twitter and search the hashtags plantsci or plantbiology you will find a lot less content than for other science branches. You also end up scrolling through photos from people who have hijacked these hashtags for a much broader meaning of the word- such as the smoking of plants for plantscience… but thats another thing entirely!
In part this smaller content is most likely as there are less plant scientists than, say, microbiologists. In addition, not everyone likes communicating science via social media. (which is more than ok!) But, I still think that maybe we (the plant biologists) could do more via these outlets to showcase our research- and better define what a Botanist, a Plant scientist, a phytobiologist is… Maybe a clearer idea of what we are and what we do will also help in the general understanding of the area we study?
Of course, another problem is that GM is such a big topic that it can quickly overshadow all else. There is a lot of plant biology which is going on which doesn’t even go near GM- but you can bet that these scientists will still be asked about GM…
This in part is why I am so excited to have seen this tweet by the Botany Geek- James Wong last week:
I can not wait for a series to be coming out which is talking to plant scientists about science! I am really looking forward to hearing about more of the work being undertaken by plant scientists, and learning about new things!
I hope in the future plant science can become more accessible, and some of the misconceptions surrounding plant science can be removed.I also hope that GM will become more of a background topic, allowing the actual science itself to shine bright without being darkened by the GM cloud.
Thank you for sticking with this slightly rambling post- I hope this will spark some discussion about plant science and the ways in which it is portrayed, taught and discussed.
I have talked a bit about the way plant science is talked about before… It is something I am really passionate about! check out the links to the other posts below: