Fully funded MSc or PhD student positions are available for highly qualified students having a strong interest in integrating different tools of modern biochemistry, proteomics, and genomics to address key questions on the functional organization and control of plant carbohydrate or phosphate metabolism (November 2013).
There is a wide assortment of potential projects available, with the final choice depending upon the student's background and specific interests, and starting date. Projects range from native ENZ purification and characterization, to metabolite extraction and quantification, to the use of proteomics, 2-dimensional gel electrophoresis, mass spectrometry, ENZ activity assays, immunological techniques (western blotting &/or co-immunoprecipitation using monospecific antibodies), molecular biology techniques (transcript profiling via RT-PCR, recombinant enzyme expression, etc) to assess the influence of seed development and germination, or environmental stressors such as phosphate starvation on ENZ control, expression, protein:protein interactions and in vivo subcellular targeting. Possible projects also include using our Dept's state of the art confocal fluorescence laser scanning microscope for imaging fluorescent protein tagged enzymes in living cells, and screening and analyzing transgenic plants in which several of the ENZs that we have been studying have been 'knocked out' (loss-of-function) or over-expressed.
Post-Doctoral Research: No fully funded post-doctoral positions are currently available. Interested post-doctoral candidates who have been awarded a major fellowship (that provides their salary stipend) are requested to contact Prof. Plaxton.
TRAINING ENVIRONMENT FOR HIGHLY QUALIFIED PERSONNEL (HQP)
(the following section was directly copied from Plaxton's NSERC Discovery Grant Application - submitted to NSERC on Oct. 30, 2012): Owing to their training in enzymology, protein purification, and metabolic biochemistry many of my former HQP have enjoyed rewarding careers in biotech and molecular biology-oriented academic, government, or industry labs. Over the past decade I have been contacted at regular intervals by metabolic engineering departments of ag-biotech companies (e.g. BASF, Monsanto, Pioneer) struggling to fill gene discovery positions requiring HQP trained in native ENZ purification/characterization, ENZ kinetics, and metabolic biochemistry. However, my HQP recruitment and training has been considerably augmented by the ongoing integration of innovative proteomic and mass spectrometry tools, along with advanced molecular biology, functional genomic, and cell biology/imaging techniques into my research program.
- Over the 5 years of the current proposal, I anticipate training 2 post-doctoral fellows (PDFs), 4 PhD students, 5 MSc students, ≥10 BSc thesis students, 5-10 summer undergrad research assistants, and 10-15 volunteers. Key to successful HQP training is matching a project with their interests and abilities. I initially identify clear objectives for each thesis student or PDF, and enjoy working with them to design projects that align with their interests, while nurturing their career development. As my HQP gain experience they are progressively encouraged to develop their own ideas and innovative approaches to their research, while developing solid oral and written communication skills. Thus, most HQP leave my lab as effective communicators while having a clear understanding of the ‘big picture’. They also gain important insights into the cost of research, lab budget management, and especially the need to maximize the return on every single Canadian taxpayer $ that has been invested in our research via NSERC grants.
- My individual HQP projects often bridge multiple disciplines, including plant ecophysiology, biochemistry, protein structure-function, molecular genetics, and cell biology. I foster this integrative approach while broadening the scope for individual projects by encouraging students and PDFs to contribute to each other’s research. BSc thesis students are another important component of my HQP training as they typically work under direct supervision of a senior grad student or PDF to help complete a specific component of their research. The continual challenge of training ‘raw rookies’ is more than compensated for by their youthful enthusiasm and motivation to master theoretical and practical aspects of techniques we use, while helping us to discover how plants work. I work hard to ensure my lab retains accumulated experience (PDFs and senior grad students enjoy serving as mentors for junior students), and we have excellent relationships with other labs within our department and at Queen’s which allows us to tap into local expertise to enhance our research abilities.
- Facilitating international collaborations and interactions has been another significant component of HQP training as all of my PDFs, and a number of grad students, have come from other countries while bringing new ideas and technical skills. Recent PDFs (Rao, Park, & Ying) have played an important role in the integration of molecular biology, functional genomics, and cell biology/imaging into my research program and student training. We have also enjoyed hosting a number of visiting international Profs. and PhD students: most recently Mike Shane (W. Australia), Isabel Ballesta (Seville), and Alex Valentine (Stellenbosch) who have each enriched my lab and HQP with their wisdom and collaborative approach to plant sciences, while themselves becoming well qualified with key methods and equipment instrumental to my research program.
- Regular participation in national (and occasional international) plant science or biochem conferences has also made an important contribution to my HQP training as it provides them with: i) invaluable feedback (& perspectives) about their own research, ii) an opportunity to network and establish contacts and interactions with their peers, as well as established PIs (while enhancing their communication skills), and iii) inspiration and education by other conference participants.
- Tangible Evidence of HQP Training Success: One of the most rewarding aspects of my faculty career has been having the privilege of observing and participating in the evolution of raw, untapped talent into mature, innovative, and creative research scientists (while sharing in their ‘joy of discovery’). With few exceptions my grad students finish ‘on time’, and 100% of the 25 MSc or PhD students that I have graduated to date (and 12 of 13 PDFs) have obtained at least one first authorship refereed publication in a high impact biochemistry or plant science journal. Many of my BSc thesis students (at least 50%) have coauthored our publications. I am also gratified that a high proportion of my HQP have continued in research. Perhaps most compelling is that fifteen of my previous grad students or PDFs are now academic faculty members (9), or senior staff scientists (6) in government institutes or biotech companies like Monsanto or Oncolytics Biotech.