‘Mycorrhizal necklace’ of sand adhering to sticky fungal exudates on a 12-week old root system of Sea Wheatgrass, grown from a 5 cm node cutting, in natural beach sand. Lynda Hanlon, PhD student and IMNIS mentee in the MedTech-Pharma Pilot 2016 – University of Melbourne (VIC) [Image: L.M. Hanlon]

“…be prepared to ask questions, heed the advice given, and use the time of their [your] mentor wisely”

My PhD study investigated the obligate symbiont, arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi, and its role in the rapid spread of an invasive, exotic sand dune grass, Thinopyrum junceiforme (Sea Wheatgrass). The fungi exchange nutrients and water for carbohydrates, in some 90% of terrestrial vascular plants. Natural Resource Managers are concerned that Sea Wheatgrass is out-competing the native Spinifex sericeus (Hairy Spinifex), but how or why is not currently addressed in the literature. One of my hypotheses is that Sea Wheatgrass roots have more AM fungi than Hairy Spinifex,  enabling a greater root mass to grow in the invasive species (Figure 1), than in the native grass. Highlights of my research include papers I have published in internationally recognised journals and presented at The International Coastal Symposium (NSW, 2016) and The Mycorrhizas in Agriculture and Natural Ecosystems Symposium (Perth, 2016).

During my PhD, I was awarded five scholarships, which funded my research and attendance at Symposia: The Elizabeth Ann Crespin Scholarship (University of Melbourne) 2013; The Bill Borthwick Scholarship (Victorian Environmental Assessment Council) 2014; The Dawson Bursary (The University of Melbourne) 2015 and 2016; and The Post-Graduate Global Environmental Sustainability Award (Balwyn Rotary Club) 2016. I am very grateful for the generosity of these organisations for their support of my research. I am now writing my Thesis, for submission in August 2017. I hope to use my research in the restoration and conservation of coastal sand dunes.

Why did you participate in the IMNIS program?

I participated in the IMNIS program as I do not intend to work as an academic when I have completed my PhD. I would prefer to use my expertise in a more practical environment.

What was the most important aspect of this professional relationship for you?

The most important aspect of the IMNIS program was the hands-on advice I received from someone ‘out in the real world’.

 How often did you meet with your mentor and did you prepare for these meetings? What was the best piece of advice you received?

I met with my mentor once every 6 or so weeks, at my instigation. The best piece of advice I received was to have an ‘elevator speech’ and business cards made, for my attendance at Conferences.

Would you recommend participating in the IMNIS program to your peers?

I would recommend the IMNIS program to anyone not intending to work in academia, however they would need to be prepared to ask questions, heed the advice given, and use the time of their mentor wisely. This is not a passive journey.

What was the most rewarding aspect of the IMNIS program for you?

The most rewarding aspect of the IMNIS program was having questions answered from real-life experience, rather than a text-book response.