Ask A Mentor: Bridget Murphy

For our second Ask A Mentor Spotlight feature, we have Bridget Murphy.

Get to know a little more about Bridget:

My name is Bridget Murphy - I’m a molecular plant physiologist currently pursuing my PhD at the University of Toronto. My research is investigating how trees respond to future climate change events such as droughts and heatwaves. However, before I decided to pursue plant research, I wanted to become a medical doctor, so I began my bachelor’s in medical sciences at Western University. Through my bachelor, I took a combination of medical science courses (like human anatomy and microbiology and immunology) as well as biology courses (like advanced plant physiology and animal physiology). I ultimately found my love of plant biology, obtained my bachelor’s in science with an honour’s specialization in biology, completed my MSc at Western then began my PhD at the University of Toronto Mississauga campus. I also have a variety of volunteer experience as a student volunteer with Trillium Hospital and as a R.E.A.D mentor with the London Public Library. I’m excited to share my love of STEM with my future mentees!

Thank you to everyone who submitted a question. Don't forget to check out our Instagram page (@girlsystem.mentor) as we will be posting some of the Q&A responses on our Instagram stories too (watch her day in the life video).

Questions and Answers

Question 1. Why did you want to further your education and pursue a MSc and PhD in molecular plant physiology?

- I discovered my passion for plant biology late in my undergraduate degree so I really felt like I was just scratching the surface of what I could learn. There is something uniquely satisfying about designing an experiment, running it, then working with the data you collected to make a tangible piece of work that other scientists will read and learn from. I also pursued my MSc and PhD to learn as many coding languages and technical skills as possible in the hopes that I will be a competitive hire once I enter the workforce postgrad.

Question 2. What is something that you have discovered in your research?

- A large concern with climate change is that frequent droughts cause high rates of tree death in forests (as seen with increasing forest fires in BC, California, and Australia). My findings from my MSc experiment showed that even when tree seedlings are well-watered such that drought is not a concern, they can die from high air temperatures alone. So, both drought and heat need to be considered when predicting the effects of climate change on forests.

Question 3. What is it like working in a lab?

- For me, working in a lab offers a lot of flexibility and variety. In the lab where I am working on my PhD, I got to spend the first two summers of my degree outside in the field doing measurements and collecting samples. Now that I have all my samples, I get to work in the lab with those samples through a variety of techniques. For example, I can extract pigments (the little molecules inside leaves that give them their colour) and see how these change under heat and drought. Learning different scientific techniques is both fun and challenging. On the flip side, doing the same protocol over and over again with hundreds of samples can be monotonous – but that’s what podcasts are for!

Question 4. What is it like being a student volunteer with Trillium Hospital?

- I enjoyed my time as a student volunteer with Trillium Hospital. I was a volunteer in the cardiology department for my first year at Trillium then I was a team leader for subsequent years where I oversaw other student volunteers. When I was there, volunteers generally did patient support (i.e., bringing fresh water, chatting with patients, and mealtime assistance) or ran information desks (i.e., helped family members and friends locate different wings in the hospital). As a team leader, I tried every position and found them all very rewarding.

Question 5. Any key advice you would give young girls wanting to pursue STEM?

- Don’t let fear or nerves hold you back! Most of the opportunities I’ve had in STEM have been from asking for help or reaching out to people who I thought would be good mentors. I had a cool female professor who taught the plant portion of my organismal physiology course in third year, so I emailed her for a meeting to chat about plants and she became my master’s supervisor. Most professors and graduate students in science are happy to help the younger generation – you just need to ask!

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