Hi everyone! I just wanted to introduce myself a little bit today. My name’s Mackenzie and I’m one of the undergraduate research fellows working at the Morton Arboretum this summer. In the fall I will be a senior at Northwestern University majoring in Biological Sciences - which is basically just a fancy way of saying biology with a little extra physics and chemistry thrown in - with a concentration in plant biology. This is actually a pretty uncommon concentration at my school. I am one of only two plant bio concentrators in my class. So how did I wind up here? Well it’s sort of an interesting story...
A few years ago Ford Motor Company ran an advertising campaign focusing on “AND not OR”, and used examples like “sweet AND sour chicken, not sweet OR sour chicken” and “rock AND roll music, not rock OR roll music”. For me, plant biology is also a lot of “and not or”. Like just about every college student, I have spent quite a bit of time trying to decide what to study. When I started, I thought I wanted to focus on genetics - until I took some classes and decided I wasn’t interested in making it a future career. Then, I thought I wanted to focus on ecology. So I spent four months studying abroad in the Costa Rican rainforests (which was a truly amazing experience!). I liked it enough, but again, I wasn’t interested in ecology as a future career.
I found myself stuck in a “grass is always greener” sort of situation - when I was studying genetics, I wanted to be doing ecology. When I was studying ecology, I wanted to be doing genetics. I was searching desperately through the biology department’s website, trying to decide which concentration to declare, and stumbled upon an option I had never heard of - plant biology. This involves learning about plants at every level - from the big (looking at how they work in their environments) to the small (the stuff that goes on at a molecular level). In a nutshell, ecology AND genetics. I didn’t have to choose “or”, I got to pick “and”!
That’s where the Morton Arboretum fits in. This summer, I’m also lucky enough to have both. Here at the Center for Tree Science, I am working with genetics AND ecology, not genetics OR ecology. Because conveniently, in science there is a lot of “and”. Everything is about collaboration and integration of different fields these days. I’ll be doing lab research on the genetics of a weird oak species (it’s called Quercus havardii, but I’ll talk more about it another time) and looking at its conservation by bringing that information together with the plant’s ecology - so looking at how the plant works and interacts with its environment. I’m so excited for a summer of not having to choose one “or” the other; unlike what people say, sometimes you can have it all!