Miss Lauren Edwards

Supervised by

Research interests

The unsustainable and destructive nature of peat extraction and its extensive use in the horticultural industry requires a suitable alternative to be found. Alternative sources are being considered, but they all have properties that make them unfavourable to both commercial and amateur growers, because of their inconsistent quality and performance. For any of them to succeed in replacing peat, a solution must be found to increase their ability to produce a similar standard of plant performance currently achieved, whilst also providing other benefits which will make these media favourable to growers.

Despite large efforts being made in the retail sector with positive increases in the production and sale of peat free and peat reduced composts to gardeners, the uptake by professional growers is still slow. Whilst many undertake research with sustainable materials there is no indication that any move to actually using these is on the horizon because the integration into current systems would require a lot of changes and the risk to product quality is too great.

The aim of my PhD research was to investigate the effects of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi on plant performance in reduced peat substrates, with a view to implementing their use in the horticultural industry in order to facilitate an increase in the use of peat alternatives. This is in order for the industry to fulfil the government’s target to eliminate the use of peat in the UK by 2030.

The data collected in this thesis could provide professional growers with the confidence to focus research and trials on wood based substrates.

So far, my work has also provided evidence of three positive, (including two novel) effects of AMF colonisation in bedding plants grown in peat reduced growing media. Improved size consistency and decreased nutrient stress in plants along with improvements to the water holding capacity of a growing medium are all effects which directly support the use of AMF to improve plant performance in peat reduced, and hopefully, peat free growing media.

As direct results of adding AMF inoculum these improvements can be used as positive indicators to growers, particularly of plants in nursery conditions, that AMF can reduce the negative effects of decreasing peat content in substrates.

Teaching

The most valuable experience during the course of my PhD has been teaching, and I have been lucky to contribute to a range of different courses from our Biology, Zoology and Ecology and the Environment degrees which have included The Diversity of Life (plant and fungal origins), Living Systems: Animal and Plant Physiology, Invertebrate Biology: Structure, Behaviour and Evolution, Insects Plants and Fungi: Ecology and Applications and, Biological Data Analysis and Interpretation. I have also marked and assessed both first and second year undergraduate work.

I have field course experience, having spent two years teaching as part of a small team on a two week residential marine biology field course at the Field Studies Council Research Centre in Millport, Scotland. I have also been given the responsibility of supervising third year undergraduate student projects as well as students from sixth form undertaking Nuffield Research Placements. For the practical elements of second year courses I helped assess students skills as part of the Royal Society of Biology accreditation requirements.

I identified a need that first year undergraduates struggled with the change in exam style and requirements from A-level to university, and designed revision sessions to help them with interpreting questions and exam technique.

I also introduced the use of new audio/visual equipment installed in the laboratory to improve the demonstration of a complex practical technique using close up filming. This video is now used by two courses and the students found it very useful.

In February 2017, I received a College award for my efforts in teaching excellence and engagement, which demonstrates my passion and the impact I have made. I was nominated for this by both students and staff.

I have completed the inSTIL (Programme in Skills of Teaching to Inspire Learning) course, passing with a commendation for the consistent high quality of the portfolio of work I submitted, including: observations of demonstrating, lecturing, and a micro-teach session, my Wiki-post on ‘Testing reflective questioning and its use as a feedback tool for directed learning in large groups’ and a self-evaluative essay. I have since kept up with pedagogical advances and have ideas for methods that I would like to continue to implement into my own teaching.

I took this passion for teaching and I am now training to be a qualified secondary school teacher whilst I teach at a state secondary school in Orpington. The opportunity came through the ‘Researchers in Schools’ programme which is run by the Brilliant Club charity. I was very excited to be part of a scheme that would allow me to follow my interest in teaching as well as making use of my PhD and research. The scheme employs PhD students and puts them in schools in deprived areas as subject specialists. We complete teacher training and a PGCE in our first year whilst working, but we also deliver a course based around our doctoral research to groups of high ability students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is all in the hope that we will be ambassadors for University and research within the school and will contribute to widening access to University within some of the most deprived areas of the UK.

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