Focus on Postgraduates

Background: Kew's Postgraduate Programme

The heart of Kew's postgraduate programme is the Kew Studentship scheme. Started in 1993 and financed through Kew's Board Reserve Fund, the scheme provides funding for two PhD projects each year, with PhD registration being at the university of a collaborating scientist.

Kew scientists make proposals for potential projects in October and these are subjected to internal peer review at the end of January. The two successful projects emerging from this selection process are usually advertised in New Scientist in April or May. To be successful, projects need to meet a range of criteria including being within priority areas of Kew's Corporate Strategic Plan. Inter-disciplinary approaches which involve cross-departmental research are also encouraged. The studentships featured on this page illustrate the wide range of projects funded. Expressions of interest from students can be submitted to the Co-ordinator of Graduate Studies at any time of the year.

The postgraduate body at Kew is augmented by students funded by UK research councils, overseas governments, charitable foundations and the like. Whereas Kew-funded postgraduates spend most of their time at Kew, externally-funded students spend varying amounts of time here as dictated by the project. This diverse group makes Kew a significant centre for postgraduate training: currently 50 PhD students link Kew with 25 universities worldwide.

Contact: Dr Colin Clubbe (0181-332-5637)

Phoenix theophrasti in SW Turkey, one of the areas visited by Sasha Barrow during her PhD research.

Sasha Barrow, one of the recipients of the first Kew Studentships in 1993, is now in the process of submitting her PhD thesis on the date palm genus Phoenix. For the past three years Sasha has been working towards a monograph of the genus under the supervision of Dr John Dransfield (RBG, Kew), Dr Barbara Pickersgill (University of Reading) and Dr Chris Humphries (Natural History Museum). Thirteen species of Phoenix are now recognised, including one new species. Using a combination of morphological, anatomical and molecular data, Sasha has studied systematic relationships both within Phoenix and between the genus and related genera of the Coryphoideae.

Contact: Sasha Barrow (0181-332 5224)

James Richardson collecting samples of Phylica from the Temperate House.

James Richardson is in the second year of his Kew Studentship studying the phylogenetics of the genus Phylica (Rhamnaceae) and the population genetics of some of its island species. Phylica consists of ca 150 species with the majority being endemic to the Cape Province of South Africa. Several species, however, are found on islands, including Tristan da Cunha, St. Helena, New Amsterdam, the Mascarenes and Madagascar. A generic level survey of Rhamnaceae using two DNA sequence data sets has shown that the closest relatives of Phylica are Nesiota, endemic to St. Helena, and Noltea, endemic to the Cape Province. James is currently on field work, collecting a range of species in South Africa and studying populations of P. arborea on Tristan da Cunha and neighbouring islands. The project is supervised by Drs Mike Fay and Mark Chase at Kew and Dr Quentin Cronk (Royal Botanic Garden and University of Edinburgh).

Contact: James Richardson (0181-332 5371)

Muasya & Patrick Muthoka are two PhD students from the National Museums of Kenya (NMK). Muasya (left), now in the second year of his Kew Studentship, is studying the taxonomy and phylogeny of the genus Isolepis (Cyperaceae). He is a graduate of Moi University, Kenya, and a taxonomist with specialist interests in Cyperaceae and Gramineae. His PhD work, supervised by Dr David Simpson, includes both morphological and molecular studies. As part of this he has produced the first family-wide survey of the rbcL gene in Cyperaceae. Patrick has just started his ODA-funded research on the development of seed quality in Albizia tanganyicensis and Millettia leucantha, supervised by Dr. Robin Probert. A former graduate of Kew's Diploma in Botanic Garden Management, he is now involved in NMK's Plant Conservation Programme and is responsible for developing ex-situ conservation techniques.

Contacts: Muasya (0181-332 5260)
Patrick Muthoka (01444 894088)

Jonathan Steele has been awarded one of this year's Kew Studentships to study whether plants used to treat malaria by indigenous people in parts of Tunisia and South America affect Plasmodium or act as palliatives. For the majority of people living in areas where diseases such as malaria are endemic, plants often represent the sole source of medicines yet often their efficacy remains unknown. The project will be undertaken with Dr David Warhurst (London School of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene) and collaborators in Tunisia and Brazil. It will also address the need to conserve potentially useful medicinal plants, based upon the cultivation of respect for the environment and the appreciation of the value of local biodiversity.

Contact: Dr Monique Simmonds (0181-332 5328)

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