Tom Booker joins UBC Forestry as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Forest & Conservation Sciences. His research draws on population and quantitative genetics, bioinformatics, statistics and ecology.
Tell us about yourself and your background!
I’m an evolutionary geneticist working on forest trees. My main research interests up to now have been trying to understand how we can study evolution by analyzing patterns of genetic variation in natural populations. The work that I do incorporates genetics and genomics, evolutionary biology, statistical analysis, bioinformatics and conservation.
I grew up in rural communities in Australia and Scotland, and moved to BC in 2018. I enjoy woodwork as a hobby, so I’m quite excited by the possibility of getting access to the CNC machines down in CAWP!
What drew you to your work?
I have a bunch of answers to this question. I think basic research is extremely important, it underpins pretty much everything in the modern world. Simple questions about the how the world works lead to major scientific breakthroughs and technological advances.
It’s very hard to predict exactly where basic research will lead in the future, but it is the scaffold from which we build everything. I enrolled as an undergraduate in a conservation biology program, but I quickly realized that ecology is the foundation of a lot of conservation.
Through that degree, I began to get interested in the genetic underpinnings of ecology. That led to an interest in population and quantitative genetics, which were the topics I focused on for graduate school. My Masters and PhD were both on evolutionary genetics, particularly on how we can use genetic data to study natural selection.
I’d also have to give some credit to the X-Men and Metal Gear Solid for sparking an early interest in genetics.
What do you hope to achieve through your work here at UBC?
My interest in evolution and desire to contribute to conservation efforts have merged into my work. Clearly, the world needs solutions to the many problems that climate change has brought and will continue to bring. My deepest hope is that I can make a meaningful contribution to conservation by pursuing a program of basic research. I also would like to contribute to making graduate school a fairer, more equitable and more diverse environment.
What attracted you to UBC and UBC Forestry?
It’s hard not to be drawn to the extreme natural beauty surrounding UBC. I am extremely privileged to have lived and worked in BC for the last 5 years as a researcher and uninvited guest on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the Musqeum, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh nations. One of the draws of UBC Forestry was certainly that it meant I got to stay here! Besides that though, UBC is renowned within evolutionary biology and the faculty in Forestry, in particular, have made huge contributions to my field of research. I’m hoping to work alongside researchers with a deep understanding of the many facets of conservation and restoration.
In addition to research, what are you most looking forward to in the Faculty of Forestry?
Building a deeper understanding of forest ecosystems. As a geneticist, I have spent most of my time focussing on DNA rather than on whole organisms, so while I have a deep appreciation for the natural world I would definitely benefit from a greater understanding of it. The depth of knowledge and diversity of perspectives that the students and my colleagues in the Faculty of Forestry have is clear, and I’m hoping some of that will rub off on me.