Active research is an exciting part of Harper life, with new and innovative papers informing how we teach our degrees. Jenna Shaw, PhD student in the Harper entomology department, is embarking on her latest academic journey. She is looking to further understand the life of aphids, helped by her PhD studentship, kindly funded by the John Oldacre Foundation and match funded by the Perry Foundation.
“My PhD project is entitled, Investigating the chemical ecology of aphid hyperparasitoids,” Jenna shared. “As a biological control method, growers and farmers often release a primary parasitoid wasp to target aphid populations. They lay their eggs inside of the aphid where they'll develop through to the adult stage, killing the aphid. Happy days for the farmer.
“But there is a secondary parasitoid called a hyperparasitoid which lays its eggs inside of the other parasitoid whilst its developing inside of the aphid. So this kills off that primary parasitoid that was being used to control aphid populations. Now aphid populations go back up and cause more damage to the crop.
“I will be researching the chemicals - volatiles, semiochemicals, pheromones - involved in this interaction. How does the hyperparasitoid know the aphid is parasitised and when is the optimum time to lay their eggs? Do sex pheromones between male and female of the same species have a part to play?”
To achieve results, Jenna explained her plan to discover how the aphids will react to the chemicals, saying: “I will be setting up experiments to expose aphids to a primary parasitoid and hyperparasitoids in order to observe behaviour and collect up the volatiles for analysis. With the answers obtained from this research pheromone traps could be developed to help monitor and trap hyperparasitoids which will help protect the parasitoid population that's being used to control aphid populations.”
So what inspired Jenna’s interest in aphids? She explained: “I really enjoy research. I love the idea of discovering things that can help benefit the world and humanity in some way. In the case of my PhD project I will be contributing some information and answers to help develop methods to protect biological control techniques that support our food industry but minimise damage to other wildlife and habitats.”
Dr Joe Roberts, Lecturer in Entomology and Integrated Pest Management, is working alongside Jenna to support her in her research. He said: “Working with a PhD student is a fantastic opportunity to help train the next generation of research entomologists and you get to be involved in cutting edge research. In the Jean Jackson Entomology Laboratory we have PhD students working on a wide variety of projects focussed on diverse topics such as crop protection, chemical ecology and ecological entomology.”
With all of this exciting research typically happening across campus, starting her PhD in isolation was not quite what Jenna had envisioned. She commented: “One of the biggest challenges is not being able to interact with other PhD students. When I'm unsure or nervous or troubled with self-doubt it can be quite lonely to not have other people in the same boat as you saying that those feelings are normal. I have a bad case of impostor syndrome most days and I have to keep telling myself that I can do it!”
Despite this, Jenna is still finding the positives in her experience. She said: “However, starting my PhD in isolation means I don't really know any different so to me this is normal PhD life - for now! I am really excited to get stuck in with the project for this interesting topic; it's fascinating, so just working on that excites me.”
Harper is not a new home to Jenna as she initially came to campus in 2015 to study MSc Entomology. Having grown up on Shropshire, it was the perfect place for her to continue her studies. She commented: “Harper was the only place that did a degree specifically in entomology and that provided amazing facilities and network events where you could engage with 'entomology famous' people.
“Throughout the years since graduating I have moved around for different jobs but always stayed in touch with Dr Tom Pope about PhD opportunities. I always wanted to get back to research and higher education and Harper was at the top of my list of places to do that. I love the location, I live in the nearby county town, and the facilities and staff are great.”
Although starting your studies in lockdown might seem daunting, Jenna advises not to be worried: “Do it! If Harper offers the degree course that you really want to do, then you have to do it. Once the logistics are sorted it's definitely worth it to enjoy a degree course, to get on the right track in your career, and to have those wonderful university experiences.”
As Jenna shared, there are many amazing experiences to be had with Harper Adams. From our placement years to our specialist knowledge, there is an opportunity for everyone to be part of the industry from farm gate to plate. Discover how you can get involved on our Virtual Open Day, June 17, to see what a degree that matters can help you to achieve.