In May 2022, the PBRI awarded the Ritman Scholarship to four outstanding PhD students, to commemorate Dr Kim Ritman, a foundation member of the PBRI. The recipients were Rebecca Degnan (UQ), Bianca Rodrigues Jardim (LTU), Tavish Eenjes (ANU) and Salome Wilson (ANU) (L to R below). The scholarship enabled the students to attend the PBRI Symposium in Adelaide on 11 & 12 May, where they presented their research and enjoyed meeting colleagues working in plant health, gaining insights and inspiration on potential career pathways.

The four students used the scholarship as a platform to create a network for undergraduate, Honours, Masters, PhD students and Early Career Researchers working in the field of plant health.

This network was developed by students for students with the intention of delivering regular online meetings around agendas that focus on the students’ needs.

The geographic scope for the network was originally Australian and New Zealand students, however through the power of social media, 210 students submitted an ‘Expression of Interest’ to join from across the globe, prior to the launch of the network. This showed there was a real gap in connecting students working in the field of plant health across the globe.

At the launch, the four Ritman scholars introduced themselves and their research with Tavish Eenjes moderated the meeting, fielding comments and questions from the participants.

Salome Wilson summarised the purpose of the network, which is based on the PBRI Biosecurity Extension Community, providing a platform to share research findings, explore new opportunities, improve professional development, and to promote collaboration.

PBRI Program Director, Jo Luck polled the students on what they wanted to get out of the network. The responses included networking, career advice, professional development, internships and conference opportunities, with a preference to meet every two to three months.

Rebecca Degnan created a dedicated Slack channel for the students to connect in between meetings. Many enthusiastic students have already joined, introducing themselves from continents including Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and New Zealand. They have uploaded photos of themselves working in their laboratories or in the field, and described their areas of expertise.

Bianca Rodrigues Jardim outlined the next steps for the network in particular, the focus of future agendas, some suggestions included writing pitches, career pathways, policy, and bioinformatics plus specific research topics such as plant virology.

It is exciting to see so many students keen to connect – it is a credit to the four Australian students, Salome, Rebecca, Bianca, and Tavish, for getting the Plant Health Student Network up and running and creating such enthusiasm!

Read the students’ attendance reports