His father was a printer and his mother was a baker. "Growing up, I really didn’t have any scientific mentors.” Despite this, Tom Noland says he always had a strong interest in plants, especially their physiology and biochemistry. "Essentially, nothing happens in the growth and development of a plant without biochemistry.” Tom developed his understanding of biochemistry by completing an undergraduate degree in forestry, a master’s in forestry, and, finally, a Ph.D. in plant science. All this led him to his position with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources as a Tree Biochemist.
Today, Tom splits his time between the office and the field. In winter, he can be found working primarily at his desk writing proposals, crafting research papers, and analyzing data. During summer, Tom spends more time in the field collecting samples or measuring tree growth or development on forest plots. Tom enjoys being able to work outdoors, despite having to be out in some harsh weather. "A bad day out in the field is still better than a good day in the office.” Tom also thrives on the diversity and challenges his job offers. "This week alone, I’ve been interviewed by the media about a new bio-refinery being built in Ottawa and then I’ve been in the field helping with an environmental audit.”
Juggling the responsibilities of several projects is something Tom is used to. "I usually have two to three major projects and about one to two minor ones all going at any given time.” The average length of each project is three to five years. One of the biggest drawbacks of Tom’s job is finding the funding necessary to continue work on his projects. As a scientist for the government, Tom is constantly faced with a shrinking research budget. "I spend a lot more time than I used to trying to acquire funding.”
Having to look externally for research funding takes away from Tom’s research time, which is the backbone of his work. However, he’s not discouraged—he realizes how important his work is. "As a government scientist, I don’t work for myself. I work for everybody else because the implications of my research can affect the lives of everybody else. It is essential.”