Plastid Preview 2015

A fascinating two days, ably hosted by Christine Raines and colleagues in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex. The venue was the new, light, spacious Essex Business School, a building replete with winter garden and turf-roofed, space-age lecture hall with dire acoustics. A colleague from an ancient university remarked that the small, internal ersatz tropical forest made the building seem like a botany department. A brief circumnavigation dispelled any such comparison.

The “Plastid Preview” has evolved from an informal joint lab meeting into quite an impressive and professional mini-conference. Presentations, mostly by PhD students and postdocs, form the core of these meetings.

I was reminded of Marina Warner’s exit from the University of Essex and condemnation of what “management” seemed to have done to its original academic vision and idealism. The core of the campus is 60s architecture, surrounded with subsequent developments reflecting incremental changes in taste and sense of purpose. I suppose the opulence of the new Business School could be a sign of the times: plenty of space there, but not space designed for real academic, still less scientific, research. Possibly teaching, but there was a pervasive a feeling of being in a low-rise, while quite attractive, suite of offices. Perhaps that’s OK for people working towards MBAs. The campus had brash banners announcing that the university is now fifty years old, and declaring its positions in various league tables. Essex was one of a batch of 60s “green fields” universities. I spent four productive and life-changing years at Warwick. In comparison, Essex has topology, attractive views, and, of course, Wivenhoe Park.

I liked the location. I also liked the research being described from the people aligned with new academic appointees, including the biologists at Essex itself. I think even Marina Warner would have warmed to these people. I wish them well, and rather envy them their work environment. It would have been nice to see the laboratories.

Lots to think about.

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