Planet PhD
Bruna Abreu: Green chemistry and drug synthesis

Bruna Abreu: Green chemistry and drug synthesis

June 24, 2019

In this weeks episode we chat to Bruna Abreu from the University of Nottingham about her research in the synthesis of analogues of the antimalarial drug Artemisinin using flow chemistry techniques.

Bruna obtained her bachelor degree in Chemistry at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, where she did research in the synthesis of natural products. She then did a placement at Cambridge University where she learned about flow chemistry.

Listen to hear Veronica and Gigi struggle to grasp even the simplest chemical jargon, all about green chemistry and why it's so important and some pretty crazy stories which are bound to arise when you work with highly flammable chemicals...


The Importance of a PhD Community

The Importance of a PhD Community

June 18, 2019

Today we're talking about the importance of being part of a PhD community during a doctorate, in our second themed episode. 

Our guests are experts on this theme - Karolina and Abi are both Research Hive Scholars at the University of Sussex, where they work to build the PhD community. We discuss what makes a community, why being part of one is so important during your doctorate, and how this can help to counteract isolation and other issues that can often cause mental ill-health in PhD students.

The Hive Scholars tell us how they work to build a community at Sussex through (e.g.) various events, a series of peer-led talks on common issues, and maintaining a social media presence. They tell us what they've found to be most successful and why; and we also get a bit Grand Designs-happy and plan the dream PhD community space...


Follow the Hive Scholars on Twitter @sussexreshive and read their brilliant blog


Veronica Wignall: Garden centres & pollinator-friendly planting - a missed opportunity?

Veronica Wignall: Garden centres & pollinator-friendly planting - a missed opportunity?

June 10, 2019

This week we mix things up a bit and Gigi interviews Veronica about pollinator-friendly planting, following the publication of some exciting new research1 last week. The research is mainly exciting because it's V's first ever published paper... but the findings are pretty interesting too.

In the new study, Veronica and co-authors (omg) aimed to find out how people currently feel about bees and other pollinators, and whether they're interested in pollinator-friendly planting. They simultaneously wanted to discover if garden centres, huge hubs of plant retail, are playing an active role in facilitating planting for pollinators. No spoilers.... but you might have already guessed that most people LOVE bees. 

Find out why gardens are massively & increasingly important for pollinating insects, how you can help pollinators, and join in on our call to action for garden centres to help everyone's outdoor space become more pollinator-friendly.

We also speak about the fun fun publishing game, and V uses her (obviously vast) experience to pass on some advice on how to make the whole process marginally less painful.


1. Wignall et al. (2019) Garden centre customer attitudes towards pollinators and pollinator-friendly planting. Peer J 7:e7088. 10.7717/peerj.7088

Vanessa Hennessy: Modifying memories & preventing PTSD

Vanessa Hennessy: Modifying memories & preventing PTSD

June 3, 2019

Our special guest this week is a PhD student with University College London’s Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit, and also Gigi’s mum! Vanessa researches how biological, physiological and behavioural factors can affect susceptibility to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); as well as how modifying memory formation can prevent or reduce the distress that comes with PTSD.

We talk about the prevalence of PTSD in war-torn areas and the need for new therapies, the surprising ways in which susceptibility to developing PTSD is affected by the female menstrual cycle, the trials Vanessa conducts to investigate vulnerability in healthy participants including her husband, and what and who inspired her to complete her under- and postgraduate studies following her first career. Stay tuned for the outtakes in which Veronica accidentally offends Vanessa - and Gigi and Veronica both experience (positive) intrusive memories.

Vanessa is funded by the charity Find a Better Way, founded by Sir Bobby Charlton, who work to assist people affected by conflict, in particular the damage caused by landmines. Follow FABW on Twitter: @FindABetterWay

Joe Millard: Pollinator biodiversity in a changing world

Joe Millard: Pollinator biodiversity in a changing world

May 26, 2019

In this episode we chat to Joe Millard all about his work on pollinator biodiversity. Don't worry, it's not just about bees!

Joe is a computational ecologist based at University College London and the Institute of Zoology, studying the causes and consequences of global pollinator biodiversity change.

We discuss what biodiversity actually means, all the crazy different pollinator species (spoiler, Justin Bieber is apparently not a pollinator), and you can hear a room full of pollinator PhD students struggle with some key important facts. 

We don't just cover Joe's PhD topic but he gives us some tip tips about working before starting a PhD and how to save the big bucks on tinned tomatoes. 

Joe's PhD is funded by the London NERC DTP, with a contribution from the RSPB under a CASE studenstship.


Follow Joe on twitter @millard_joe 

Elle Whitcroft: Race, dreams and childhood in children’s comics

Elle Whitcroft: Race, dreams and childhood in children’s comics

May 19, 2019
Today we interview Elle Whitcroft about her work on children's newspaper strips.

Elle Whitcroft is a PhD student at the University of Sussex, researching how race, dreams and childhood are represented in children's comics. Working between literary history, cultural studies, and word-image theory, her thesis investigates the role of race and dreams from mid-nineteenth- and early twentieth-century newspaper comic strips. 

Not only do we discuss her PhD topic but she also gives us some tips on how to save coffee money, the pros of weightlifting and uncover her paranormal side...

Elle has also delved into the language of coding and has created an interactive game, which you can play here:



You can contact her on and follow her on twitter @ellewitchcraft 

Daniel Hajas: Human computer interactions

Daniel Hajas: Human computer interactions

May 13, 2019

Today we speak to Daniel Hajas, a second year PhD student at the Sussex Computer Human Interaction (SCHI) Lab. We talk to him about his work on the intersection of mid-air haptics, science communication and Human-Computer Interaction.

We discuss the use of tactile experiences for purposes of provoking personal responses, which are known to be relevant in science communication, such as interest or enjoyment and how he hopes his research will make science more tangible, more 'real', and therefore more digestible for the public. 

In this episode you are even lucky enough to hear Gigi and Veronica's fun facts about their work! 


To learn about some of the work Daniel goes outside of his PhD check out his company Grapheel LTD

Zak Romaszko: Quantum Computing

Zak Romaszko: Quantum Computing

May 6, 2019

Today we speak to Zak Romaszko, who studies something about quantum computing.

Zak explains what quantum means, how ion trap technology can help develop the next generation of computers for massively enhanced processing power, and how he works with something called a 'Pringle' that isn't a delicious potato-based snack.

We discuss the future of environmentally-friendly computing, and Zak gives us each a gift! Veronica has a cold and struggles to get her brain round anything; Gigi takes a premature leap into parallel universes. We also chat about quantum dishwater tablets, quantum speakers and quantum bullshit.


Follow Zak and the Ion Quantum Technology's work on Twitter: @Ion_busters

Mental Health during your PhD

Mental Health during your PhD

April 29, 2019

In our first themed episode, Mental Health during your PhD, we chat to the wonderful Sophie Valeix and Josh Hutton, both previous PhD students, about mental health and wellbeing during the doctorate*.

As well as sharing their personal experiences of mental health issues during their PhD, our guests talk to us about why they think doctoral students are particularly vulnerable to developing problems with their mental health. We ask them to share their advice for anyone who is currently concerned about their wellbeing or someone else's, and we discuss protective factors such as changing supervisor, integrating a 'self-care day' into your week, and creating manageable goals. 

*We remind our listeners that Sophie, Josh, Veronica and Gigi are not mental health-trained professionals. 


This episode was originally recorded on University Mental Health Day 2019 - the theme this year was "Use your Voice", so we recorded a live episode with an audience of PhD students, to open up the conversation. Sadly that recording was lost! This is our second round, so thank you to Sophie and Josh for joining us again.

Sophie and Josh both now work on Project U-Doc, a project that aims to understand the mental health of doctoral researchers throughout the UK. The project also works to provide innovative solutions at the University of Sussex, where it is based, such as mandatory supervisor training and opportunities for Sussex doctoral researchers to fund their own mental health and wellbeing initiatives

(1) Levecque et al. (2017) Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy, 46(4): 868-879. 

This study on IFL science :


Follow Project U-Doc on Twitter:



Planet Bee-hD #4: Solitary Bee Storytime

Planet Bee-hD #4: Solitary Bee Storytime

April 22, 2019


Today we're talking about some weird and wonderful aspects of solitary bees in four short 'bee stories'. Tune in for a mega Bee Quest (and a moral dilemma), Tear-Drinking Bees, Mating Mess-Ups in which bees are tricked into mating with with flowers and beetles, and some of our shiniest and strangest solitary bees.


Follow us on Twitter: @PlanetPhD