#BUCblog

Feedback about #BUC2022

We’d very much like your feedback, whether you were cone of the contestants or a member of the audience (live or recorded). Please help us by completing this anonymous feedback form? Click on the picture below or scan the QR code. Thanks!

23 February 2022: #BUC2022 Round 2

The final rounds of Botanical University Challenge in 2022 let us see and hear the 8 teams as they decided on their answers. There was tension as they talked around the topic until the chair asked for their final answer, and then revealed whether it was correct or not.

This time the chairs were Dr Sandy Knapp, Merit Researcher at the Natural History Museum, London, Professor Lena Struwe, Director of the Chrysler Herbarium at Rutgers University, USA and Dr Raj Whitlock, Senior Lecturer at the University of Liverpool, UK.

The event can be seen on YouTube.

At the end of the contest, the team from the Botanical Society at University of Nottingham Sutton Bonington campus were the overall winners, with Manchester Metropolitan University close runner-up. Both teams were given copies of The Green Planet book signed by Sir David Attenborough, along with gift tokens and more guides from the Field Studies Council.

Members of all the teams competing on Day 2 were given some additional guides from the Field Studies Council.

16 February 2022: #BUC2022 Round 1

It was so exciting! After months in preparation, the 18 teams faced questions from Professor Emerita Honor Prentice, Lund University, Sweden and Dr Chris Thorogood, Deputy Director and Head of Science at the Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum. The questions were multiple-choice but the answers wern’t easy.

The questions ranged across botanical topics asking about identification of plants, their growth and nutrition habits, technical terminology and about their uses as foods. The entire event can be viewed on YouTube.

After 6 rounds of 10 questions 8 of the teams were ahead, although only by a few points. These went through to Round 2 on 23 February. They were from the Universities of Cambridge, Durham, Liverpool, Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan, Nottingham Sutton Bonington, the Open University and RHS Wisley.

Souvenir t-shirts and some guides from the Field Studies Council were given to members of all the teams that entered.

14 February 2022: Radio interview about #BUC2022

Listen to this interview with Jonathan Mitchley on the Phil Kennedy show on BBC RADIO BERKS 14th Feb 2022 to hear about the excitement building for Botanical University Challenge. The first round is on Wednesday 16th February, with free tickets available through Eventbrite.

8 February 2022

The deadline for teams to enter the competition was 31 January 2022. There are a record number of teams, 18 from the UK and, for the first time, Ireland. The preparations of the technology needed continues as well as final checking of questions. Excitement about the event on social media is becoming greater as we introduce the teams to the world.

There will be five distinguished scientists asking the questions during the event this year. On Wednesday 16th February, in the multiple-choice knock-out round, they will be Professor Emerita Honor Prentice from the University of Lund, Sweden and Dr Chris Thorogood, Deputy Director and Head of Science at the Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum. The following Wednesday, 23rd February, the remaining 8 teams will be questioned by Dr Raj Whitlock, Senior Lecturer University of Liverpool, Professor Lena Struwe, director of the Chrysler Herbarium at Rutgers University and Dr Sandy Knapp, Merit Researcher at the Natural History Museum, London.

11 January 2022: More preparations for #BUC2022

Preparation for #BUC2022 is advancing! University teams have decided that they will compete. Questions are being written and checked. Invitations have been accepted to chair and ask the questions on 16 and 23 February. Social media is promoting the event, and plants in general. The Zoom and internet question platforms are being tested. Students have been recruited to help with preparations and events on the day. It is gradually coming together!

4 November 2021: At Botanical Society of America 2021

Guest blog by Dr Min Ya, Harvard University, about the Botanic Trivia quiz at the #Botany2021 annual meeting of the Botanical Society of America in July 2021.

The idea of hosting an American version of the Botanical University Challenge started when Prof. John Warren contacted me in 2020, while I was one of the Society’s student representatives. Following the success of the virtual annual meeting of the Botanical Society of America #Botany2020, despite taking it online at short notice, it became obvious that #Botany2021 would also have to be a completely virtual conference. This time, though, we would know what to do to host a good online conference. Also, the organizers had the time and energy for more events to improve the participants’ online experience, and so included a Botanic Trivia quiz.

John Warren, Dr. M (Jonathan Mitchley), and I had zoom meetings to finalize the plans. We agreed that they would be responsible for the questions and I would be responsible for the logistics. The #Botany2021 conference was in July and the Botanic Trivia was scheduled on the final Friday to give the conference a strong end. It was 12:00 to 13:30 US Eastern Time so participants from as many time zones as possible could join in. A call for participants was sent out after the conference program was out, so all participants could ensure that the Botanic Trivia would not conflict with their talks, or the academic sessions they were attending.

To capture the interest of participants from a variety of academic backgrounds, John Warren and Dr. M decided on six rounds of questions, three picture question rounds and three verbal question rounds.  I also discussed with the conference organizers about the prizes and we decided: 3rd prize – free conference T-shirts, 2nd prize – free one-year membership from any of the participating professional societies for all team members (this annual Botany conference is joint between several societies), and the grand 1st prize for the champions – a delicious 50% discount off #Botany2022 registration in Alaska!

I made a poster for the trivia and the call for participants went out on Twitter with special encouragement for professors to team up with their students. I imagined that students might be interested but also intimidated, since it would be easy to think “I do not know enough Botany to not make a fool out of myself”. Teaming up with their advisors would boost the students’ confidence as well as increasing the bond between them. By the sign-up date we had 55 participants in a total of 20 teams.

It came as no surprise that the most challenging part was how to host the quiz in a virtual environment because we wanted:

1) available to all conference participants so that they could watch, be entertained by the questions, and root for the teams;

2) hosts to be able to communicate with all the participants; and

3) the participating teams to be able to communicate amongst themselves.

To solve the first issue, since the conference platform was on Zoom, we used an external platform from www.socialpoint.io to run the trivia, and then the screen sharing function on Zoom to show all the conference and quiz participants the progress of the game.

The second and the third points turned out to be more difficult to solve. After considering all possibilities, I told the teams about the communication options, and most teams chose to use their own ways to communicate amongst themselves since they already knew each other.

Finally, the last day of the conference arrived and it was time for the quiz. John Warren and Dr. M made a short introduction about Botanical University Challenge and the idea of this Botanical Trivia. I did a quick welcome to everyone and an introduction to the rounds, teams, and prizes. Then I opened breakout rooms for teams to enter, shared my screen, and the game started.

Of course, who would really think that our first ever virtual trivia game would run perfectly without any hiccup? We already knew there would be unanticipated challenges during the game, and we soon discovered the first one, which was probably also the biggest challenge.  The questions were set to run automatically with a fixed time for the answer. Good though the platform was, there was no timer or count down for each question so teams missed their opportunity for the answers! Noticing that, I stopped the “automatic run” function and started to manually count the time on my phone, then spoke “beep-beep” as a 10s reminder.

Once I started to say “beep-beep”, I saw the number of chat notifications go crazy. I ended up multi-tasking between keeping the time, “beep-beep”, and transitioning between the more than 50 questions and answers. John and Dr. M did fantastic commentaries on each question and answer. I wished that I had been able to just sit down and do nothing but listen to them talk. On my side screen, I could see a few participants with serious faces when discussing with their teammates, and their reactions when they got the answer right or wrong. The excitement showing through the little zoom windows was encouraging, and I then knew that the game was going well.

A few rounds into the game, the 10 teams with the highest scores were neck and neck with each other. By the end of the 4th round, although team Chrysler Herbarium was clearly in the lead, the competition between the top 5 teams was fierce. By the end of the last round, team Let’s Botanize seized the second place with a narrow lead over team Auropurpurea. Chrysler Herbarium was only a two-people team: Prof. Lena Struwe and her student, Megan Ryan. Let’s Botanize was a team of junior scientists, including graduate students Benjamin Goulet-Scott and Jacob Suissa from Harvard University, and Ellie Mendelson, who is a technician at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. The third-place team, Auropurpurea, consisted of Prof. Laura Frost, Prof. Laura Lagomarisno and Laura’s students, Janet Mansaray and Laymon Ball.

Despite the minor technical hiccups, I was glad to hear that people had fun in the first trivia game at the #Botany conference! Without a doubt, it would be more fun if held in person, and it’s already on the agenda of the organizers for future #Botany conferences.

I would like to acknowledge the support from the Botanical Society of America, especially Heather Cacanindin, Johanne Stogran, Melanie Link-Perez, and to Steven Bornhoeft for all the technical support. I really appreciate all the people who helped to promote this event via social media and all the people who tweeted about it during and after the event. Of course, it would not have happened without John and Dr. M, who are fun, professional, easy to communicate with, and made the quiz so enjoyable for all the participants.  It was such a pleasure to work with them. This was a fantastic start to bring the Botanical University Challenge to the US and go global!

18 October 2021: New logo, old name

Plans for #BUC2022 are starting to come together! Writing questions, inviting distinguished scientists to ask them in the contest, getting the word out to UK and Irish universities, students becoming involved ….

Two developments – a new logo thanks to Mica FI. See it now on this site and the video below (about the topics in the 2022 contest). It will also be in the design for the souvenir t-shirts given to all the student teams.

Also – the contest is back to the name Botanical University Challenge!

3 September 2021: In Spain for LBULE 2021

Guest blog by Professor Carmen Acedo Casado, Universidad de León, Spain

In May 2021, my research group and I organised LBULE 2021 – La Liga Botánica de la Universidad de León, España at our university in Spain.  We wanted to disseminate and share our love for botany with our students. The contest was inspired by Botanical University Challenge in the UK so was a way to link with botanists around the world. The name La Liga, of course, came from sports like football. We were delighted that many more students participated in the first LBULE than we expected.  It was really exciting that some 70 students from Universidad de León formed 12 teams in response to our call.

The LBULE 2021 organisers at Universidad de León

We were able to hold the competition in person but we had to adhere to Covid-19 health precautions, as well as schedule the event to avoid teaching times. It was held over three weeks with an initial elimination round and then a semi-final and final. We streamed the question rounds on our YouTube and Facebook channels since the student audience had to be very small due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The semi-finalist team leaders in LBULE 2021

The questions set were about plants, fungi, lichens and algae, including their names, parts, foods and medicinal uses as well as conservation, history and famous botanists. The students are regularly taught these topics so the competition gave them an opportunity for revision as well as for fun! The students were excited and happy with the contest. Most described the experience as very enjoyable, allowing them to avoid the usual final stress of the end of the academic year and to build relationships with their instructors. They also liked the fact that LBULE 2021 was a way to discover more about botany.

Some of the student contestants in LBULE 2021 at Universidad de León in Spain.

We now planning LBULE 2022, which will be held in May 2022. The final schedule will be decided nearer to the time, but it will be similar to LBULE 2021.

Winners of LBULE 2021 – teams (1) Alazar (2) The Botanic Crew (3) Strezlitchia
14 August 2021: First announcement of #BUC2022

We’ve started contacting people about competing in #BUC2022. Several have already said that their institution plans to enter a team in February 2022, including University of Edinburgh, University of Lancaster, University of Liverpool and University of Reading (of course!). If you are a student and want to be in your university’s team next year, or want to organise a team,https://twitter.com/0_minyaaa why not make contact email Jonathan Mitchley (j.mitchley@reading.ac.uk) for more information?

22 July 2021: #BUC goes to USA!

Two of the people behind Botanical University Challenge, John Warren and Jonathan Mitchley, have taken the #BUC concept to the Botanical Society of America annual meeting. Through the wonders of the internet, and Min Ya, a student representative from the American society, they are hosting a botany trivia quiz for the conference delegates on 23rd July. They promise to report back on how it went!

2 June 2021: Meet #wildflowerhour

Botanical University Challenge 2022 will certainly include questions about the names of flowers that can be found in the wild around the UK. How to learn them? So many different ways! Sometimes starting from parents in childhood; teachers at school; friends during walks in the town or countryside; courses at university or other organisations; books about plants. The internet has opened up so many more ways. Many, many pictures; videos of plant-filled landscapes; apps that aim to identify plants from pictures for you automatically; websites and social media where volunteers will try to identify plants.

One social media site that takes you through the year with gorgeous pictures is #wildflowerhour on Twitter. From 8 – 9 pm every Sunday there is a stream of hundreds, even thousands, of named photos of flowers seen the previous week. If you are into social media, it is well worth following to see the changing common and rare plants that bloom through the seasons around the UK.

21 May 2021: #BUC inspires LEBULE 2021 in Spain

Inspired by Botanical University Contest 2021, Carmen Casado and the University of León in Spain have been organising their own botanical challenge among their students. It began in early May and reached the semi-final on 20 May 2021.

30 April 2021: After #BUC2021, meet #BUC2022!

So, after the success of #BUC2021, what’s happening about #BUC2022? Well, the team that brought you #BUC is already working on the 2022 contest. It will be held using Zoom, which lets university teams from everywhere in the UK compete without having to arrange travel.

The dates are fixed: Wednesday 16th February 2022 for the heats to decide the teams for the quarter-finals. Then Wednesday 23rd February 2022 for contests up to the final. Save the dates!