The last post of my first blog

All good things come to an end, and this post indeed marks the end of this blog.

Blogging at SLU was a very nice experience  in which I was able to share what I enjoy doing with a lot of people. It has been very gratifying to read comments on my posts and realize that people are actually interested on the topics I write here, and for that I want to thank every single person that took the time to follow me.

I have to accept that it was difficult to keep up a constant writing rhythm, specially towards the end of my studies, when I was under a lot of stress due to several deadlines including my thesis and job applications. But in all, writing here was enjoyable and challenging. What else could you ask for in a hobby?

My time as a master student also came to on end. I defended my thesis and received my degree. Also got a PhD position on a very exciting topic! …Actually the PhD position will be also at SLU which means that I will continue my adventure in Uppsala.

This post is entitled “the last post of my first blog” because I want to keep blogging. However I am not sure about what direction I want my writing to take next. But you will for sure hear about me soon!

Best,

 

Hernán.

 

 

I am also learning to code on my own

Last week  I read an interesting article on WIRED about the current need of  biologists who are able to code. The article stressed how more biologists need to learn coding in order to analyze huge data sets, and how most biology curricula in universities lack such topics.

After reading it I could not relate more to it. This is because right now I am working on my master’s thesis in which I need to use R to analyze my data. For those who are not familiar with it, R is a statistics software and programming language widely used in in data analysis. The only “problem”, let’s say,  is that to work on it training is needed because is based on a specific coding language.

This is how my “work space” on R looks like.

However, during my education in Colombia and Sweden I have not had any training whatsoever in coding. From my own perspective I thought coding was a skill only necessary for hard-core software engineers, computer scientists or bioinformaticians, so I never really bothered not taking a course until now, when I face the need to learn how to code  to analyze the data I have generated during my degree project.

As said in the article on WIRED, I am learning these skills on my own -as many other biologists are doing too. Luckily, there are some courses online to learn the basics and manuals to learn  more advanced functions. I followed one online course offered by the University College of London for free .  Additionally, at the Department of Forest Mycology and Plant Pathology (where I’m doing my thesis) we are learning with a group of researchers, master students and PhD students how to use PoppR (Population genetics in R) a package of R to analyze molecular data for population ecology. We are together following the instructions and manuals with our own data sets , which has been a very nice learning experience because together we have been able to compare, discuss, read additional literature and learn topics beyond the mere coding aspect of R.

Today I honestly regret not paying more attention to coding- that I have realized is even fun!  in the past . Nonetheless it is exciting learn such a powerful skill, that will be for sure useful to answer relevant questions in biology.

Best!

Hernán.

 

University ranking season

A few months of 2017 have gone by and university ranking season has started. This week, SLU was placed in the top 10 on 2 different rankings which is not a surprise, because to my opinion it has been doing a very good at both research and education.

In 2017’s QS ranking by subject,  SLU  ranked 4th in  Forestry and Agriculture behind Wageningen, UC Davis and Cornell. I think this quite remarkable and of course makes me feel proud of studying at it.

SLU makes top five in Agriculture and Forestry. www.topuniversities.com

 

Additionally, Times Higher Education (THE) released 2017’s top small universities, in which SLU ranked 9th. As part of the release I was asked to write a small piece to be published at THE website, which makes me even prouder!

The post I got published at THE. www.timeshighereducation.com

You can read my post at THE here: www.timeshighereducation.com/student/blogs/why-going-small-university-beneficial

Best!

Hernán.

Rackarberget

Student housing is apparently not enough in Uppsala. Therefore, most of students struggle to find a place to live in  (you might like to read Accommodation in Uppsala). I have had guaranteed housing during my studies for being a non-EU citizen at [what I consider] the best location offered by SLU’s housing office: Rackarbergsgatan. This month I am moving out and couldn’t leave without writing a post about it.

Location

This is honestly what I like the most about Rackarberget. It is embedded in a superb location: close to city center, shops, supermarkets, Uppsala University Library (Carolina Rediviva) and of course student nations, where most of social student life takes place.

Location of Rackarberget in Uppsala. Map from Google Maps.

The only place that might seem a little bit further away is SLU. But that has not been a problem for me, because the biking route is very nice. Plus, 12 km (6 km each way) of bicycling a day is good exercise 🙂

Flat layout

There are different types of apartments in Rackarberget and mine is particularly small. We are only 3 people living in a 3 rooms corridor. Bathroom and kitchen are shared. That’s it.

This makes it feel comfortable in a way, because is to small to be a dorm corridor, but it has no social areas to be a real flat. So it is basically just a student flat with everything what is needed smartly arranged.

Room

The room 13 sqm, and furnished, what makes everything so much more easier for newly arrived students. It includes 2 lamps, a single bed, a desk, a desk chair an additional chair and some shelves on the wall. The closet is spacious and the room is quite bright albeit being in the second floor.

Price

My contract signed in 2015 was for 3488 SEK every month. Apparently it changes between years and rooms, so this is not a rule. I think it is an OK price for a furnished room in a nice location.

The view from my window in Rackarberget

You’ll be missed, Rackarberget.

Cheers,

Hernán.

 

 

Where north meets south

I feel very fortunate of having taken part on the European Plant Breeding College, because besides of learning many new things and meeting many interesting people I have had the chance to travel along and getting to know about the culture of the hosting city and country. This time I stayed in Ghent and traveled all round to visit other places no more that 1 hour by train. Those are the perks of being a tiny country, Belgium 😉

Belgium seems like the place where northern Europe meets southern Europe. Where snow meets rain, where Germanic meets the Latin, where beer meets wine, where tidiness meets street-art, responsibility meets spontaneity, and affordable meets expensive. No wonder why Brussels is where the European Parliament is located. I was honestly surprised by the strong cultural and gastronomic identity this place has. Besides this the country has beautiful and photogenic architecture and lively cities with cozy bars and independent stores.

Pretty houses in Ghent.

Ghent is of course my favorite. I loved to stay during two weeks Hostel Uplink, where the organizers of the course decided to locate us. The hostel has nice atmosphere and is located in the heart of the city. However, Antwerp also stole my heart. It is beautiful and authentic. I also visited Bruges, which is so photogenic and charming, Brussels with a good combination between chaos and organization and Leuven is fun town which holds one of the oldest universities in the world.

Antwerp’s Central Station.

Breeding companies in Belgium and The Netherlands

As part of the ISP in Ghent I had the chance to visit different breeding companies in Belgium and The Netherlands. It was a great opportunity to realize about the breeding sector, which is by far one of the biggest in agriculture. Before coming to Ghent, I did not know that these region was well known for hosting some of the biggest breeding companies and seed producers in Europe and the world. Most of these companies started as family companies that have been breeding new plants for generations and managed through generations by the family line.

However, competition is tough and not all companies have survived to Bayer and Monsanto – companies that are by far the biggest in the market and will be soon merged. To coup with this, the companies we visited have had to either focus on very specific niche such as ornamental plants (mostly flowers) or merge with other small companies to be relevant in such a competed field.

We visited Gediflora, a Belgian company that breeds chrysanthemum and is even commercializing chrysanthemum scented Belgian beer; Exotic Plants, a family company which has become the world leader for breeding Bromeliaceas; Bejo a Dutch company that breeds different kinds of vegetables and are world leaders in onion breeding; Royal van Zanten that have specialized in Alstromelia and Redunculus and who happen to have a large extension of their production in Bogotá (!) and Anthura, who are leaders in Anthurium and Phalaenopsis orchids.

 

Hybrid Breeding

On my last post I wrote about the Intensive Study Program In Ghent University. I came all the way from Sweden to learn more about hybrid breeding. But, why is hybrid breeding important?

The whole concept is based on what is known as hybrid vigor. It happens when two parents cross and their progeny is more vigorous than themselves.  For breeding new varieties is extremely helpful due to a few reasons: it is easy to register a new variety created this way, characteristics are easy to stack, it is reproducible, but most importantly it obligates the farmers to buy new seeds every time they want to plant them. That is basically why seed companies have succeeded on making money out of plant breeding.

To make and hybrid it is necessary to create Inbred lines, which are plants mostly homozygous. After two parents are crossed (F0) the resulting seeds (F1)will be completely homogeneous, heterozygote  and hopefully vigorous. These seeds are those that the breeder will sell to the farmer. Why does the farmer have to buy seeds every year? the seeds of the F1 generation (F2 seeds) will be completely different to each other!

 

Intensive Study Program at Ghent University

As part of the European Plant Breeding College (read EPBC: European Plant Breeding College), I got the opportunity to join another intensive course similar to the one at LaSalle Beauvis in France ( read ISP in France: an overview). This course is about Hybrid Breeding and takes place in Ghent University in Belgium, which by the way is such a beautiful city!

Afternoon in Ghent. The hostel is on he picture hast a superb location!

I arrived earlier this week and have had different lectures covering topics such as chromosome engineering, polyploidy, reverse breeding and hybridization. To be honest I did not know that there were such advanced techniques to create new plant varieties. Like, I thought most of the technologies in plant breeding were just marker assisted selection or transformation techniques, but is interesting to know how many different biological alternatives there are to create new varieties.

As in France, students from different universities are attending the course. We are all staying at Upplink Hostel, which has a very good location a very cozy atmosphere. This makes the stay here very nice, because there are many different landmarks at walking distance and interesting people coming every day to the hostel. I have liked it very much so far.

Playing board games in the Hostel after lectures

The course lasts for two weeks and there are going to be many exiting thing coming along the next few days! I will definitely  write about it here 🙂

Cheers,

Hernán.