Marine Biology student excels at sharing science

- December 18, 2012

Grace Murphy in the lab. (Danny Abriel photo)
Grace Murphy in the lab. (Danny Abriel photo)

Grace Murphy knew what she wanted to do at the age of six. Now, at 25, she’s winning awards for following through on it.

Murphy, a Marine Biology PhD student at Dalhousie, was recently awarded one of two L’Oreal-UNESCO Canadian Mentoring Fellowships, an award valued at $5,000 dollars, to help fund her doctoral research. It also allows her to participate in Actua’s National L’Oreal Mentoring Program for Young Girls.

“I always knew I wanted to do research, but I also want to involve myself in teaching kids about science,” says Murphy. Luckily, this fellowship allows her to do both.

Discovering science

As a child, Murphy and her family went on many camping trips around North America, igniting her interest in the natural world. Taking part in Junior Park Ranger programs on these trips sparked her ongoing passion.

“The reason I’m in science is because my parents had the opportunity to introduce me to it,” says Murphy. “They exposed me to the world of science and biology.”

Her passion is precisely the reason she’s well suited for her role in the Actua program. Actua is a financial supporter of Dal’s SuperNova program, with summer camps, weekend and after-school programs to help youth connect with science.

Actua will be another way for Murphy to diffuse her love for science to others, something she’s well accustomed to: for the past four years, she’s worked as a marine biology instructor at Mini University, a youth summer camp run through Dalplex.

Understanding ecological change

As part of the application process for the fellowship, Murphy was required to write two proposals about her research: one written as if it was to be read by someone in her field, and the other in a way that an eight-year-old could understand.

And what is that research? In her festively decorated biology lab, Murphy has 72 miniature rock-pool ecosystems that she uses to study the “patterns of species loss resulting from human-caused disturbances,” such as species invasion, habitat loss and climate change. She manipulates these experimental ecosystems and over time, monitoring the species present in them to see how the community is changing. She will then use a combination of statistical analyses and computer modelling to compare how these different human-caused disturbances alter ecosystems.

“My research will help to uncover the ecosystem level changes that can occur from global change, as these aren’t yet completely understood, and in the future this work may be able to aid in creating conservation priorities,” she says.

Murphy said she begged her parents to let her to make the trek out east from Windsor, Ont., to attend Dalhousie for her undergrad. It’s now been three years since she graduated with that degree and she’s still incredibly happy with her decision: she says she’d even like to work here someday and continue sharing her love of science as a faculty member.


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