TA Spotlight – Haley Branch

Haley Branch
Photo source: Haley Branch

Haley Branch completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto (UofT), where she double majored in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Forest Conservation Science. Her passion and interest in plants began in her second year when she first took a plant form and function class. This led her to complete a Master’s degree in Ecology and Evolution at UofT in Rowan Sage’s lab, on the effect of high temperature on reproduction in a desert plant, Trianthema portulacastrum. Upon completing this degree, she worked as a field research technician for Prof. Dave Moeller’s lab in the Sierra foothills in California. She then came to UBC for her PhD in Amy Angert’s lab. Haley is currently researching trait differences of geographically distinct populations of Mimulus cardinalis (scarlet monkeyflower), and how these differences affect rapid evolutionary potential to severe drought.

In addition to her research, Haley is an enthusiastic teaching assistant (TA) at UBC. She has TA’d BIOL140 twice and BIOL418 at UBC, as well as a couple of courses at UofT. Haley loves to mentor and engage in scientific discussion with her students and is looking forward to TAing BIOL210 in the winter 2020 semester.

Haley is also the founder and head of the Botany and Zoology Wellness Initiative, advocating for mental and physical wellbeing of her graduate community, and across campus with the Graduate Student Wellness Network.

What do you enjoy most about being a TA?

I have always loved sharing my enthusiasm, knowledge, and experience to help others learn new things. I get excited to TA, as it gives me the opportunity to step away from my research and talk to a different group of inquisitive minds. The thing I probably enjoy the most about TAing undergraduate students is watching their improvement and growth from the first tutorial or laboratory to the last. They don’t necessarily see it, but I can always see how far they have come in just a few months.

What opportunities have you been a part of in your time at UBC?

I am the head and founder of the Botany and Zoology Wellness Initiative. I started this in June 2018, following my recognition of how limited the resources were for graduate students on campus. We have really blossomed from the beginnings of this initiative to where we are today, having successfully been awarded funding from AMS, and the organization of our committee members. We host monthly community get-togethers, art therapy, and workshops, and we have compiled easily accessible wellness resources on our website: BotZooUBCwellness.com. I am hoping to bring in-house wellness resources to graduate departments across campus during my degree at UBC.

What is something that you are currently doing at UBC that you are excited about? 

I am excited to start my next round of experiments. I completed a large greenhouse experiment two summers ago with Daniel Anstett, a post-doc in the Angert lab, but this next round of experiments will be on fewer individuals and will be the main focus of my thesis. Here I’ll get to examine more specifically the different physiological and anatomical adaptations of northern compared to southern populations of scarlet monkeyflower.

What strategies do you use to support your own wellness as a graduate student? 

I try to make sure that I have spent time each week doing something that I love to do, that does not have to do with my research or my teaching responsibilities. This is something that I advocate for all of my friends, colleagues, and students. Take time that day, that afternoon, or that hour for yourself. Whatever works for you. It will help enormously in the long run. For me, it’s textile art. I love crocheting and embroidery. I also love to take breaks just to hug or walk my dog. Also, I always encourage others to reach out to someone if you are struggling or just need to talk.

What are your plans following graduation?

There are so many unanswered questions about the ecology and evolution of plants that I would love to continue to research after the completion of my PhD. I hope to continue in academia, researching first as a post-doctoral fellow and then one day have my own laboratory, where I can continue mentoring those passionate about the botanical world.

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