Thomas Merritt - Professor

CurioCity Careers
12 July 2016

This profile was updated 12/07/2016. Let’s Talk Science appreciates the support of this volunteer in providing the most up-to-date information about their career and career path.

Thomas Merritt

Full Professor, Laurentian University, Canada Research Chair in Genomics and Bioinformatics

Thomas was a DNA Day expert - learn more at letstalkdna.ca

I was born/grew up in: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, and grew up in Danbury, Connecticut, USA.

I now live in: Sudbury, Ontario, about 4 hours North of Toronto

I completed my training/education at: I was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina, a MSc student at Oregon State University, a PhD student at University of South Carolina, and a Post-Doctoral Researcher at Stony Brook University in New York.

Describe what you do at work.

A nice thing about being a professor is there really isn't a "typical". My days do have some recurring themes however. I have lots of email to answer and I have some teaching duties. In my teaching I prepare lectures, grade assignments, etc. Some days I will be working on a manuscript for publication or writing a grant proposal to get funding for an investigation I want to do. I regularly have meetings with students from my research group about their research project. On really good days I get to examine data from a project! I organize events that promote STEM and diversity in STEM and in the people involved with STEM.

A few years ago, I founded an Art in Science art show. This yearly event is coordinated with the campus research week and showcases artwork by students, staff, and faculty that have a scientific theme. We have engaged local schools in this project and high school and middle school students have presented works of art – sculpture, paintings, dance, and spoken word – exploring scientific themes. I’ve also recently organized discussion workshops addressing the lack of diversity in STEM researchers including public discussion panels on issues of women in STEM and First Nations and STEM.

When I was a student I enjoyed:

How does your job affect people's lives?

I am part of a large community working together to understand and explain the world around us. I'm part of this exploration and the teaching that goes along with it. I get to discover new things and to teach people about the work that we are doing.

What motivates you in your career?

Being a professor allows me to ask, and answer, interesting questions about the world around us. It is exciting to actually find answers to complex biological questions that really do help us to better understand our own biology and the biology of the world around us. It is also exciting to train students, undergraduates and graduate students and watch them discover the excitement of doing science and being a part of research. The freedom to direct my own research program, and the opportunity to stay involved in undergraduate education, makes this the right career path for me.

When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:

Describe your career path to this career.

I have completed degrees at the undergraduate, masters, and PhD levels. After I completed my PhD, I was a postdoctoral researcher for 5 years. For one year I had a job as professor at a small teaching university in New York. After that I took a 3-year contract position here at Laurentian University. I was hired on a "spousal hire" program, a program designed to allow LU to hire the spouse of a faculty member as a way to recruit or retain faculty. The hire was a way for LU to retain my wife, a professor in the Biology Department. I've turned that 3 year contract into a tenured position as a full professor and Canada Research Chair.

What activities do you like to do outside of work?

I run an accessible sport program that offers rowing and paddling programs to people with disabilities. For 5 years, I was the board chair of a local non-profit organization that built a fully-accessible boathouse and water sports training facility located close to campus. One of the athletes I trained competed in the Beijing Paralympics and recently graduated from medical school.

What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?

The road to being a professor is long and twisted. It took me 18 years from my last day in high school to my first lecture as a professor. This is not a profession for someone just looking for a job. If you want to do this, you have to love science and love the journey. Those 18 years were not always easy, but I loved what I was doing.

CurioCity Careers

We hope you enjoyed learning about this great STEM career! The information in this career profile was provided by this individual especially for CurioCity. We hope it helped give you a sense of what this type of job is really like.

Let’s Talk Science is pleased to provide you with this information as you explore future career options. Many careers require a background in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Even jobs that don’t use specific STEM concepts on a day-to-day basis benefit from the skills gained through a study of STEM. People with a STEM background are very much in demand by employers across all career sectors. If you would like to learn about more careers that have a STEM connection, visit http://www.explorecuriocity.org/careers.



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