Charlotte Nellist works as a junior group leader at NIAB, the UK’s fastest growing crop science organisation. 

Charlotte’s work focuses on investigating plant-pathogen interactions, and her research sits within the broad area of improving plant health and resilience, with the ultimate goal of ensuring global food security. 

Charlotte attended the 2018 CONNECTED Africa Launch Conference in Uganda, along with an early career researcher training course. She subsequently led a CONNECTED pump-prime funding research project focused on cabbage and kale, and worked in teams on two other funded projects, studying maize and cucurbit. She also formed part of a CONNECTED discussion panel at The Royal Entomological Society, UK Ento19 Conference. 

Charlotte says she found it helpful to meet other early career researchers from across the UK and Africa to establish new contacts at the 2018 Africa Launch Conference. “It was really empowering to be amongst the delegates,” she says. “I really enjoyed hearing about the solutions people are implementing to combat the devastating crop diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa.  

“It was also a great opportunity to visit The National Crops Resources Research Institute, seeing the diversity of great science being carried out there.” 

Early career researcher skills 

Reflecting on the early career researcher training course from the same event, she says how much she appreciated the training on  

  • writing funding proposals 
  • effective writing for scientific and less-expert audiences, and  
  • managing projects and the project cycle.   

“I’ve put all the new skills to good use since my return,” she says. “They certainly helped when it came to writing funding proposals for the CONNECTED pump-prime calls and since then, calls for UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) funding.”  

She adds that the conference triggered collaborations with those with whom she successfully applied for pump prime funding in the 2019 CONNECTED call.   

Learning from funded research projects 

Looking back on what she learned from the pump-prime funded projects, Charlotte says: “I gained valuable experience in project development and management, as well as working with groups in diverse environments that differ from UK working practices. I’ve learnt it takes longer than you think to get contracts and payments set up. 

“Having the experience of costing and managing a budget for a discrete project from start to finish has been really useful.  My project management skills have flourished too, and I’m certain these experiences will be really valuable for my future career as an independent research scientist,” she adds. 

Since those projects ended, she has had more funding successes, which she directly relates to the training and opportunities through CONNECTED: “Myself and my collaborators in Zimbabwe, Dr Charles Karavina and Dr Tsitsi Nyamupingidza, have won further pump-prime funding from an internal NIAB Agri-Tect call to continue our work on investigating viral problems of small holder cucurbit farmers in Zimbabwe.  We were also awarded a British Society of Plant Pathology Incoming Fellowship Award for Dr Karavina to visit the UK to learn high throughput sequencing techniques.” 

New responsibilities and looking to the future 

“Current collaborations arising from CONNECTED are with Dr Miriam Otipa in Kenya, Dr Emmanuel Ogwok in Uganda and Dr Charles Karavina and Dr Tsitsi Nyamupingidza from Zimbabwe.” 

Having transitioned in recent years from a postdoc to a junior group leader, she says: “Being part of the CONNECTED community has enabled me to build my international connections.  

“I’m very grateful for the connections that I have made through CONNECTED, and the opportunities I have been given.  I think a lot of other early career researchers would benefit from the network and funding opportunities. 

“CONNECTED reaffirmed my career goals of wanting to deliver impact and it gave me the opportunity to collaborate with amazing researchers from across Africa.”