The Steven Bishop Early Career Award 2020 Winner’s Focus – Jennifer McIntyre

26 May 2021

What has the award meant for you?

When I set out to write the grant application for this award, I had not long finished my PhD. We were in lockdown and I had time to think about what I would do for a project, which could be run alongside and compliment my other research. My PhD had been investigating anthelmintic resistance at the genome wide level, looking for genetic markers of ivermectin resistance. I was moving on to look for markers of moxidectin resistance. Yet having trained as a vet, I was wanting to do something which might more immediately benefit farmers, yet still complement our other projects. How might farmers best understand resistance, how were they currently using these drugs, and how could we efficiently and clearly pass on findings from the genomic research?

Winning this award was a fantastic encouragement to myself as an early career researcher. Not only did it give me an opportunity to plan, re-plan and execute my own project, but also to learn the ins-and-outs of how a project is actually run ‘behind the scenes’. I’ve had opportunities to engage with people from all different facets of the sheep industry in Scotland, which I would probably never have done otherwise. This has included farmers, vets, auction marts, country and feed stores, agricultural colleges and laboratories and even with a government department interested in agricultural research.

What knowledge and benefits have you gained from winning the award?

I have gained an increased awareness of how Scottish farmers are using moxidectin, when they treat their sheep and why they are using it. This information has been gathered not just formally from famers participating in the project but also informally as I have spoken with various people and organisations who have facilitated advertisement of the project to farmers. I have also realised just how much sheep scab management has the potential to impact anthelmintic resistance development for the 3-ML class of wormer.

A primary goal of the project was to learn from Fiona Lovatt how best to communicate with famers – both to gain information and to pass on research findings. I have been able to practise this not just with Fiona Lovatt and Roz Laing, who are working with me on the project, but also with Laura Miskell and Eric Morgan - with whom we collaborated shortly after starting the project last autumn. In addition, through communication with various vets, merchants, and others I have learnt and adapted how I have explained the project to different groups. The recent BSAS conference was hugely enjoyable, and probably not something I would have managed to go to without the award. During it I had the chance to take part in a communication workshop run by AHDB, and what I learnt from that I immediately applied to the WORMSS project – improving online information and subsequently, when writing a short article for the Scottish Farmer.

Several benefits of the award are likely to be continually realised in the future. I have learnt about the practicalities of applying for ethical permission in a GDPR age and have set up our lab here to perform the diagnostics we require for sensitive anthelmintic resistance work. Although challenging to learn and implement, I am now much better equipped to co-supervise a PhD student in the coming year. The work has complemented research projects I am involved with as a postdoc, and the identification of farms with moxidectin resistance in Scotland has provided us with both contacts and sample material which will be of use in these projects going forward. I now have a network of individuals within the sheep industry for when we come to disseminate outcomes from both this project and other projects, and I have a much better grasp of how to practically do this.

What advice would you give future applicants, and why would you encourage them to apply?

If you have a question you want to ask, or a project you would like to try I would strongly encourage you to apply. For me, I was delighted to get the award – but I hadn’t expected that I would do so. The benefits from winning the award have been huge, yet one of the benefits was realised even before I received the award – that of planning a project, thinking through the costs and the logistics.

Make sure that you have a supportive and informed team to work with on your project. You can’t do it alone, and don’t be afraid to ask others outside of your team for advice too. They might have particular information which you need or suggest a fresh angle which you haven’t considered.

When you’re planning your project, double check if you can apply for ethics in advance of getting funding. Despite looking into the ethical application procedure while writing the grant, I hadn’t realised I could apply beforehand, and it was something which took a lot longer than anticipated. Despite having applied for ethics in the past, I found that the advent of GDPR, and a collaboration outside of my university, greatly increased the time taken to apply!

In addition, while you are researching and planning your project, look for other projects which are researching the same thing. I used https://gtr.ukri.org/ before getting too deep in planning my project to check no one else was researching it too. Also try to find out whether others are either already, or planning to, perform research in a similar way, or about a similar aspect that will be part of your project – can you do it differently so that you don’t clash? Or is it better to change your project idea to something else?

Finally, both before and during your project learn how to seize your opportunities. Over the course of the project, I have had to adapt how I approach things. Getting people onboard with your project can be challenging but be persistent and find out how they will be most likely to respond – if they don’t answer an email don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or visit if appropriate. Plan a project which you will enjoy and find worthwhile doing. Be realistic in what you can achieve in the time that you have, but also be prepared that things might not go to plan. Have a Plan A, B and C and don’t give up. If it is worthwhile doing it will be of benefit to you, your team and to others.

 

Entries are now open for this year’s prestigious ‘Steve Bishop Early Career Award 2021’.

Sponsored by KTN, this award is aimed at those in the early stages of their career as an animal scientist (postgraduate student or within two years of graduating with a PhD, or those working in commerce or industry with an equivalent level of experience without necessarily having a PhD). 

This award, worth up to £5,000, is for specific short research programmes and/or training opportunities in the UK, or overseas, with a new academic or industrial partner.  The overall aim is to help support and develop a new partnership rather than a piece of work with a current partner or current organisation and in some circumstances, it may also be used to part-fund projects. Funds can also be used in any relevant animal science sector.

The successful fellows will have the opportunity to present the outcomes of their awards at the next global annual conference – BSAS 2022, in Nottingham on the 12th – 14th April (and the associated early-careers day), including submission of abstract.

A world-renowned scientist, who made an outstanding contribution to the understanding of the impact of genetics on infectious diseases in farm animals, Professor Bishop was renowned for the support he offered to students and young scientists starting out in their careers. His primary research interests revolved around the genetic control of resistance to infectious disease in livestock, studying impacts from the gene to the population.

A further award, Steve Bishop – Sustainability (Net Zero) will be launched at the beginning of July. Look out for further details.

To enter the Steve Bishop Early Career Award sponsored by KTN, click here.