Prior to transfer of the CONNECTED Network to new hosts in September 2023, CONNECTED was set-up, developed and run from the University of Bristol in collaboration with Newcastle University. Day-to-day running of the Network was managed by the Network Team, with decision-making led by the Network Executive, and governance provided by the Management Board.

The Executive Group was made up of Network Directors Professor Gary Foster (University of Bristol), Professor Neil Boonham (Newcastle University) and Dr Andy Bailey (University of Bristol). The Network Managers were Dr Diane Hird and Dr Nina Ockendon-Powell (University of Bristol).

The Executive Group designed and planned the CONNECTED programme activities, performed sifting, shortlisting and reviewing of competitions/calls for applications, and developed key programme documentation and publications. Executive Group outputs were reviewed and approved by the Management Board.

Prof Gary Foster (Director)

Professor Gary Foster

Emeritus Professor Gary Foster is a leading Professor of Molecular Plant Pathology at the University of Bristol, UK. He has authored over 100 scientific papers, reviews and books. He established the international multidisciplinary journal Molecular Plant Pathology and served as its Editor-in Chief from 2000 – 2012. His research is focused on a range of interconnecting themes that include plant virology, plant pathology, plant molecular biology, molecular mycology and biotechnology.

He has delivered highly applied work internationally, such as identification and test development work for viruses that cause Cassava brown streak disease, one of the most devastating plant diseases for smallholders in East and Central Africa. His cassava research was highlighted as a major breakthrough by the UK government. He has also been involved in the production of guidelines for international safe movement of vegetative germplasm, relevant to root and tuber crops.

He has served as President of the British Society for Plant Pathology and on a range of BBSRC Committees and Network Groups. Additional roles have included Panel Member and Chair of a wide range of international funding bodies and agencies, including Member & Chair of a subgroup of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV), and GM adviser to the Food Standards Agency, UK. These  roles  have  afforded  him  an excellent  overview  of  the  research  landscape,  policy  needs, biotechnology  opportunities  and constraints,  as  well  as supporting him  to  develop  first-rate  networks. Twitter: @Prof_GD_Foster

More about Professor Gary Foster

Prof Neil Boonham (Director)

Professor Neil Boonham, Chair of Applied Crop Science, is a  molecular  plant  pathologist  at  the Institute  for  Agrifood  Research  Innovations  (IAFRI)  at University of Newcastle, UK.

In recent years he has specialised in the development of  novel  methods  and  approaches  for  the  detection  of pathogens  and  the  identification  of  pests.  He  has  a  particular  interest  in  the  development and  deployment  of  field  tests  as  well  as  the  development  of  highly  parallel  laboratory diagnostic  techniques,  based  on  microarrays  and  next  generation  sequencing.

His plant  pathology  research group works on the application  of  post-genomic  technologies  to  provide solutions  to  detection,  identification  and  diagnosis  of  plant  diseases.  This  includes  work  in  Sub-Saharan  Africa  on cassava  brown  streak,  cassava  mosaic  disease, maize  lethal  necrosis  and sweet potato  viruses.

More about Professor Neil Boonham

Dr Andy Bailey (Director)

Dr Andy Bailey has authored a significant number of key plant virology publications and co-supervised numerous plant virology-based PhD students. At the University of Bristol, he runs a thriving group of staff and students who oversee research on plant virology, fungal genomics and biotechnology.

Since the earliest days of CONNECTED, Andy has been there to provide support, guidance and advice. He has also managed two successful CONNECTED pump-priming funded projects, working with overseas partners at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Tanzania, and National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI), Uganda, alongside UK partners at Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich.

Network Team

Dr Diane Hird, Network Manager

Diane is a plant molecular biologist by training. In her previous role she established and ran the editorial office of the scientific journal Molecular Plant Pathology. She has extensive experience of scholarly publishing and has built up a large international network of scientists. In 2012 Diane carried out an audit of plant pathology teaching and training in the UK for the British Society for Plant Pathology and has been involved in several plant pathology science communication and outreach events.

Dr Nina Ockendon-Powell, Network Manager

Nina trained in cellular and molecular biology and gained her PhD in comparative transcriptomics. She brings significant research project management experience to the CONNECTED Network Team. In recent years she project managed an international research collaboration at Public Health England, coordinating research activities across England, Sweden, France, and Estonia. Her most recent role at BBSRC saw her lead the delivery process of the 2016 Institute Assessment Exercise, which granted over £300M to BBSRC’s Strategic Institutes for tackling global challenges in bioscience.

Soňa Reale, Executive Assistant (currently on career break)

Soňa has gained administrative experience working in a variety of sectors, for example financial services, and the NHS, and she has worked in higher education for several years.

Christa Muller, Executive Assistant

Christa previously worked within an International Department at Reading University, and more recently at the University of Oxford supporting a Doctoral Training Programme for NERC funded Environmental Research students.

Heather Child, Senior Communications Officer

Heather has over 15 years’ experience in marketing and communications, mainly in the non-profit sector. She has worked as a freelance consultant, and has run communications campaigns for a large health and social care charity and a global sustainability NGO.

Summer Students


Emma Lau

Lucy Serjent


Alice Bullard

Read about her work on plant health and climate change here

Bridget ‘Bee’ Scoular


Katie Stevens

Read about her experience

Zoe Anderson

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