Emma Sofie Timm Aller, UC Davis, 2019-2020

Emma Sofie Timm Aller is a Ph.D. Fellow at Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at University of Copenhagen. She recieved a Fulbright Grant to do research at University of California, Davis (UC Davis) in AY 2019-2020. This is her experience.

My PhD project is about plants and their ability to succeed in ever changing surroundings including day-to-day, seasonal and year-to-year weather changes causing fluctuations in temperature, water accessibility, and nutrient availability in the soil. Changing environments further lead to changes in pests, as suddenly the environment is advantageous to different herbivores. On a field – in this seemingly idyllic scenery, which is actually quite chaotic – the plant is bound to where its seed landed and has to deal with all of these factors.

My project addresses the question whether a plant, when facing different environments, produces seeds with various properties. Will some grow to be more heat resistant? And others better at fighting pests? And can this be exploited when sowing out future crops, potentially decreasing the need for pesticides and water use.

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"At UC Davis, I sowed out >1000 plants that I closely monitored and tested"

- Anne Sofie Timm Aller, Fulbrighter 2019-2020

Finding answers to these questions requires analysis of large populations of plants. At UC Davis, I sowed out >1000 plants that I closely monitored and tested under challenging conditions. I additionally extended my skills in bioinformatics, learning to process and analyze the large datasets I generated. Finally, I was introduced to amazing researchers and got a lot of great advice and support. 

Fulbright has helped me financially, but also with all the paperwork required for the travel. They provided me with contacts in the US, and thereby made me feel more connected to the country and safer as I could always contact them with questions. When COVID-19 hit, they made sure to keep contact and advised me on how to deal with the situation. 

Due to COVID-19, I left US one month earlier than expected. This meant leaving running experiments unfinished. With my deadline for handing-in my PhD thesis approaching, I will unfortunately not be able to go back and finish these experiments. The data I have obtained are, however, an asset to my project.

Despite the unfortunate ending to my stay, the trip has been extremely valuable on both a scientific and also personal level. If others are considering embarking on a similar exchange, I really hope they grant themselves this great experience.

"The trip has been extremely valuable on both a scientific and also on a personal level."

- Emma Sofie Timm Aller, Fulbrighter 2019-2020