Mara Breanne McHaffie

Profile

  • Time Zone
    Eastern

  • Organization
    Bruce Trail Conservancy

  • Role
    Scientist Mentor: I will mentor teams of students online

  • Research Interests (300 words)
    I'm interested in plant ecology, and in particular how principles of plant ecology can be applied to restoration, conservation and management practices. I have an interest in interactions among different species/groups of plants and between plants and other organisms. I recently completed a Masters thesis on roadside restoration and its impacts on native plant diversity, bee communities and soil.

  • Profile Question 1
    What is your favorite plant? Why?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 1 here (300 words):
    It changes almost every day, but one of my favourite plants is the sassafras tree, Sassafras albidum. Sassafras has its range within the Carolinian zone (often called the Eastern deciduous forest in the United States). Where I live in Southern Ontario, I am at the northernmost tip of this zone, so I am lucky enough to see plants like sassafras which aren’t found anywhere else in Canada. One of the reasons sassafras is one of my favourite plants is its highly variable leaves. Some leaves are entire, others have two lobes and are mitten-shaped, and still others have three lobes and look like a dinosaur’s footprint (at least I think so)! The new leaves are also often soft and fuzzy, and I love to rub them between my fingers. Sassafras also has interesting bark. The bark of young shoots is a brilliant shade of green. The bark then turns orange and then greyish-brown with orange stripes as it ages. I also love the citrus-y “candy shop” smell of the crushed leaves and flowers. In fact, sassafras has been used to flavour candy and other foods, and it was originally one of the main ingredients in root beer. While most root beers don’t contain sassafras anymore, there is a brewery by my house that sells root beer containing sassafras, and it is the best root beer I’ve ever tasted! All in all, sassafras is a very cool plant and spotting it always puts a smile on my face!

  • Profile Question 2
    What is tough about being a scientist?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 2 here (300 words):
    Being a scientist requires a lot of patience. Often, the first, second or even fifth time you try an experiment, something will go wrong and you have to make adjustments and try again. Scientists also have to be patient because it often takes a long time to collect the data required to test a hypotheses. There are many examples of long-term studies that last a scientist’s entire lifetime, or even longer! So scientists must be patient in answering their questions, because other life often doesn’t operate on the same timescale that we do.
    Being a scientist is also tough because it requires adaptability. It is quite rare to conduct a study or experiment where everything goes exactly as planned. Scientists must be able to take everything in stride and problem-solve when they hit an obstacle. Scientists must also adapt to new ways of thinking when their hypotheses are rejected or new theories are proposed. Finally they must adapt to new technologies that change the way research is conducted.
    Finally, being a scientist is tough because it requires good communication. It isn’t enough to just do science – scientists must then communicate their findings to a wider audience if they want to make a real contribution. Personally, I find this even more difficult than actually conducting studies. Particularly when communicating with the general public, it can be difficult to communicate results in a way that people can understand, and even more importantly, in a way that is interesting to people. When scientists are excited about their findings, they want everyone else to be excited about them too. Scientists must be up to the challenge of communicating about their science effectively.

  • Profile Question 3
    Can you describe your attitude toward science when you were in high school?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 3 here (300 words):
    When I was in high school, I loved my science courses. However, at the time, most of what we did in science, and especially in biology, was memorize information and facts about the natural world. I happened to be very good at memorizing information, and so I thought I must be good at doing science. While we did complete some experiments in my high school science classes, the focus was on using experiments to understand the concepts/information we were learning, rather than on the process that scientists use to make new discoveries. While I understand that it was important to have a good background from which to build off of, I know now that science really isn't about memorization. In fact, while science is aimed at collecting information about the world and furthering our understand of how everything works, I now think of science as the process we use to obtain that information. Science is really about making observations, forming hypotheses about the underlying mechanisms that lead to these observations, and then testing our hypotheses with experiments or studies. This is definitely a lot harder than memorizing facts, and I am still far from mastering it! While my attitude towards science in high school has expanded into a better understanding of what science is, I'm certainly glad that it was a positive one. Loving science in high school is what encouraged me to pursue science and become the young scientist that I am today!

  • Help represent the outreach efforts of your societies. Please click all those organizations you are a member of:
    (not set)

  • Availability
    I am NOT available, please temporarily remove me from the available mentor list

  • Capacity: How many teams at a time are you comfortable working with?
    2

Recent Posts

Group 15 - STARS Mara Breanne McHaffie

I see that you've wrapped up your experiment! Are you surprised by the results? Why do you think the plants in white/natural light grew the biggest?

Group 15 - STARS Mara Breanne McHaffie

Sounds good! How many plants will you be growing under each light? How many days will you be observing them?

Be sure to post pictures of your plants if you can - I would love to see them!

Group 15 - STARS Mara Breanne McHaffie

Hi everyone,

It's great to see that you've added to your project info! So it sounds like you're going to try growing mint plants under different colours of light. Is that right? That's very neat!

How many plants will you be…

more

Skills & Endorsements

  • Encouraging
    Eleanore Ritter
  • Experienced
    Eleanore Ritter
  • Knowledgeable
    Eleanore Ritter
  • Responsive
    Eleanore Ritter

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NSF_Logo.jpg This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant #2010556 and #1502892. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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