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Career Profile

Thomas Graham

Research Scientist, Space Farming
University of Guelph
Thomas Graham
Thomas Graham
Location Born
Location Now
Education Pathway

Thomas Graham is a Professor at the University of Guelph.

About me

I was born/grew up in: I was born in Moncton, New Brunswick but grew up just outside of Woodstock, Ontario.

I now live in: Guelph, Ontario

I completed my training/education at:   I completed a BSc, MSc, and PhD all at the University of Guelph

What I do at work

I do a variety of things during my workday. That is part of what I love about my job; there is always something new. I spend part of my day checking in on the various experiments that our lab is running. I get to chat with graduate students about their research. If needed, I will make suggestions on how to perform certain tasks or how to analyze certain things. I also spend a lot of time reviewing research and helping students to publish their research results so the world can see what they have discovered. As a side note - If you are interested in becoming a professional scientist I would like to point out that you will also need to become a professional communicator. Writing is a big part of that (so practice!).

I use many STEM skills every single day in my job. I am constantly learning new skills and reading what other researchers are doing. This helps me stay up to date with the happenings of the scientific community. This continuous learning also helps me with the different decisions that I have to make everyday. These decisions include what sort of experimental design to use, or how to best analyze data. Other decisions include  how to build the systems we need to conduct experiments. Conducting research is a challenging job! It takes a dedicated team to be successful. It is both rewarding and sometimes challenging to work in such lively team environments. I have learned that having your own ideas and preconceptions challenged is the best way to grow and succeed. On our team, everyone’s input is important. This includes the most junior team members to those most advanced in their careers.

My career path is

In high school, I was sure that I wanted to be a scientist (or rock star!). But, is what I do now what I thought I would be doing then? No, not really. I didn't even realize that what I do now was even a real thing. Part of my job is 'Space Farming', and that is just awesome!

Looking back on how I got to where I am I realize that I simply went where my interests (and opportunities) took me. I did not have a plan to go from A to B. I took my time (perhaps a little too long in some peoples’ view) and explored as many of the opportunities that came my way as I could. For example, I spent 10 years (well, summers anyway) in the high arctic as part of a space science project.

I did complete three formal degrees. Again, I took my time and dabbled in lots of research areas. In fact, I completed my PhD part-time (9 years in the making) while working on other research projects. Eventually I wandered off to NASA for a few years to continue to help humanity reach the stars or at least other planets in our solar system. (By the way, rockets are cool!). Once my time at NASA was done, I came back to Canada and eventually became a professor. I continue to study neat things like space farming and ways to adapt to the implications of the climate crisis that we all face.

I am motivated by

Making new discoveries and finding new things to study (and eventually understand) is what motivates me. Making a difference in the world is truly what excites me. The opportunities that I have to interact and work with smart and interesting people are very rewarding. These professional relationships often become valued friendships. This brings a deep satisfaction to the work that I do. The combination of doing work that I think will make a positive difference in the world, helping to develop the next generation of researchers, and finding excitement in the challenges that my career presents, is what makes my career right for me and ultimately personally rewarding.

How I affect peoples’ lives

I get to guide and mentor the next generation of scientists who will themselves contribute to a better world. I am also adding to our collective knowledge in both Earth-based and space-based agriculture. I believe that my career matters because I am helping to make sure that, even in the face of a global climate crisis, we will continue to be able to feed ourselves in a sustainable way. I am also helping to make sure that as humanity strives to establish itself beyond Earth that those explorers will be healthy and productive (and well fed!).

Outside of work I

Outside of my 'day job' I distract myself with such things as sports (hockey and soccer mostly, but I do like other sports as well). I like building stuff (woodworking/construction/landscaping), and playing music (guitar, mandolin, violin, and anything else I can make noise with). I also coach my twin’s soccer team and generally goof off with them when I can.

My advice to others

Be open to new ideas and opportunities! Take a range of courses and don't underestimate the importance of self-directed learning. Don't be in too much of a hurry (but don’t go too slow either)... a career is a journey full of lots of stops, detours, and side trips, it is not a destination. Try to take advantage of as many of the opportunities that come your way as you can.

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Art
  • Geography
  • History
  • Music
  • Science
  • Technology
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Enjoyed doing things on my own
  • Liked helping people
  • Played on a sports team
  • Enjoyed working with my hands
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades
  • Wasn't sure what I wanted to do
  • Liked to design or build things
  • Liked to take things apart to see how they worked
  • Enjoyed activities such as fishing and playing in the wood.

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