Professor Nigel Maxted
University of Birmingham
Who is your scientific inspiration and why?
N.I. Vavilov was born in Moscow on 25 November 1887, the child of a prominent textile manufacturer. He obtained his training at the Moscow Institute of Agriculture, graduating in 1911. He then moved to St Petersburg and after being caught for several hours in a queue for bread next to Leon Trotsky, Trotsky ensured he was given the funding to establish the Bureau of Applied Botany,. He went on to develop the foundation for both the theoretical concepts of ‘Centres of Origin’ and the ‘Law of Homologous Series’. He was the first to really appreciate the value of plant genetic diversity and the practical need to maximise collections of traditional genetically diverse crop varieties and crop wild relatives. He travelled extensively collecting these materials between 1923 to 1940, carried out 180 collecting missions, of which 140 explored the territory of the Soviet Union, concentrating on grain, industrial, vegetable, fruit and other groups of cultivated plants and their wild relatives. A total of 250,000 seed accessions were collected under Vavilov direction and this rich diversity was thoroughly characterised and evaluated at experiment stations in different geographical zones of the country. All this work was terminated in the early 1940s, largely as a result of political persecution led by Vavilov’s rival T.D. Lysenko. He was arrested on 6th August 1940, charged with sabotage and spying against the USSR. On the 9th July 1941 the Military Collegia of the Supreme Court of the USSR sentence Vavilov to execution by firing squad, but with the advance of the Germans on Moscow, he was moved to Saratov in the Ural and although not shot was deliberate starved to death in his cell in January 1943. However, in the 1960s he was rehabilitated and pardoned, the Institute he founded was renamed and remains the N.I Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry in 1967. His theoretical contribution to the science of plant genetic conservation and use provided a critical foundation to contemporary plant genetic resources research.
In three words or phrases how would you describe your supervision style?
Outcome-oriented - student-centred - collaborative
In one or two sentences please describe your strategies regarding the following.
Provision of training:
You will be part of a research team of 3 postdocs and 6/7 PhD students and we work very collaboratively each gaining particular skills, so although I will take overall responsibility for your technical training, I equally expect you to learn, work alongside and in turn pass on the skills you acquire to other members of our research group and undergraduate students working in our area of research.
Progression monitoring and management:
I have high expectations of all members of my research group, as we do have of each other, but I stress as group we try to provide a fostering, collaborative research environment that enables each of us to thrive and achieve our full potential.
All of the members of our research group are happy to discuss their research and collectively resolve any issues that may arise, as the leader I do not claim to have all the answers but together as a group we have always been able to provide solutions or ways of obtaining a solution to problems encountered. I think we pride ourselves on providing a supportive caring environment that will help you fulfil your potential. As regard pastoral support, most commonly more routine situations are dealt with by members of our group (whose position may be formally recognized as a ‘Mentor’ or ‘Buddy’). However, occasionally this would not be appropriate and then the group member will be referred by a senior member of our group to the postgraduate research student support team, depending on the specific issue either the Head of Postgraduate studies (Prof John Heath), welfare tutor for Postgraduate Researchers (Dr Andy Lovering), the Welfare officer (Hannah Buckley) or even the University's Student Advice and Support Services and the Guild of Students.
How often do your PhD students see you in a timetabled group meeting?
At least once a month
In year 1 of PhD study, how often do your PhD students have a scheduled >30 minute 1:1 meeting with you?
At least once per fortnight
In year 2 of PhD study, how often do your PhD students have a scheduled >30 minute 1:1 meeting with you?
At least once per month
In year 3 of PhD study, how often do your PhD students have a scheduled >30 minute 1:1 meeting with you?
At least once per fortnight when writing up
What form do your 1:1 meetings with PhD students take?
A mixture of face to face or via video chat or telephone.
Open door policy?
Yes, I am usually contactable for an instant response (if required) on every working day.
My expectation of PhD student working patterns?
The timing of work in my lab is completely flexible, and (other than attending pre-arranged meetings), I expect students to manage their own time.
Notice for feedback (e.g. on reports, manuscript drafts, thesis chapters)?
I need at least 1 week’s notice to provide feedback on written work of up to 5000 words.