Jennifer Stephens

Thanks everyone, it was a blast!

Favourite Thing: My iPad is my favourite thing, and finding apps that I can use in my work is one of my latest hobbies.



University of Dundee (1998-2005)


BSc (Hons) Botany, PhD Plant Biotechnology

Work History:

I was working as a Secretary/PA before deciding to go to University as a mature student to study Life Sciences

Current Job:

Research Scientist


The James Hutton Institute in Dundee, Scotland

Me and my work

I switch plant genes off and on to see what happens

I’m lucky enough to work with lots of scientists from all over the world. In my lab we make transgenic plants using DNA from their favourite gene. This means we can switch the genes off and on to see what they are doing. The scientists will do lots of experiments on the transgenic plants to see how they compare with normal plants. This may involve crushing up parts of the plant to extract DNA, looking close up at plant cells with a microscope, or running samples through a machine to identify all the different chemicals inside.

We use embryos from barley seeds for some of our experiments. You can see the embryo in the top right of this photo. It is about 1.5 mm in diameter. This photo was taken with a microscope. myimage1

The embryos are mixed in liquid with bacteria that contains the gene we want to change. The embryos are then grown on petri dishes in clear gel until they grow into little plants. This takes about 10 weeks. myimage2

The next photo shows what happens when we put a gene called GUS into our barley embryo. Once the new plant grows we can mix it with a chemical that recognises GUS in the plant and makes it turn blue where the GUS gene is switched on. myimage3

My Typical Day

Lots to do

First thing in the morning I have a meeting with my team over coffee to catch up on what everyone is doing. Throughout the day I will spend some time on the computer checking results from our latest experiments, working on a report, or preparing slides for a presentation. I will answer emails and deal with questions from other scientists as well as browse the web for new publications of interest. At the moment I am learning all about Synthetic Biology and writing proposals to get funding for some new experiments. Some days I have lab work to do, mainly cloning, and the odd seminar or project meeting to attend.

What I'd do with the money

‘Shadow a Scientist Day’

I would use it to develop closer links with local schools by starting ‘Shadow a Scientist Day’ where students could come, put on a white lab coat, ¬†and spend a day in the lab with a real Scientist.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Life-long student

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Amy Winehouse, although my lab mates would probably say the Bee Gees since that’s what I put on to re-energise after a few hours slumped over the PC.

What's your favourite food?

Italian – love pasta.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

The coolest thing I ever did was a Firewalk, second coolest thing was being rescued by firemen when I almost burned my feet.

What did you want to be after you left school?

I wanted to join Pan’s People (ask your parents)

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Oh, yes!

What was your favourite subject at school?

Art and Design

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Getting the opportunity to travel to conferences and meet other scientists working on the same things as me.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

Initially I was going to study medicine but our Botany lecturers were so enthusiastic that I switched to studying plants. I now try to pass that enthusiasm on to my students.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

I would be developing apps for the iPad.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

I would marry George Clooney, live to be 120 (so I can learn about all the things I want to know) and win the lottery. But I’d settle for the first one.

Tell us a joke.

I was reading a book about Helium last night. It was so good I couldn’t put it down!

Other stuff

Work photos:

Photo of xylem vessels for all at Mary Webb School myimage6

Photo of a trichome on leaf surface myimage7

This is a picture of plant cells with Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) visible under UV light myimage5

This is a knitted cactus for Doha College in Qatar myimage4