This month The Professional Edge chats with Scott Noble, P.Eng., an agricultural engineer working with the University of Saskatchewan as an associate professor in mechanical engineering.
Tell us about your personal and professional background.
I grew up in southern Ontario on an acreage near London. I went to the city of Aylmer, ON for school. I did my undergrad studies at the University of Guelph, my master’s at the University of Saskatchewan and received my Ph.D. from Guelph.
Why did you choose to go into engineering, and agricultural engineering specifically?
My earliest memories as a kid were that I wanted to be some sort of scientist or inventor. As a kid, I didn’t know what engineering was but in high school it became clear that was what I wanted to do.
Agricultural engineering came to me in a roundabout way. Growing up on an acreage, I was surrounded by farms and agricultural life. I worked at dairy farms when I was in high school. So, the agricultural aspect was always in my blood. My undergrad degree was in Engineering Systems and Computing but as I started to work in that field, I came to see how electronics and computers can be applied in agriculture.
What was your biggest challenge in college?
I found math increasingly difficult as it became more abstract. I still do. I need to be able to visualize what the math means but as things get more theoretical and abstract I have a harder time with it.
I was in school for a long time so finances were certainly a consideration, but I was pretty fortunate on that score. I enrolled in the work-study co-op program during my undergrad studies and was fortunate to receive a series of scholarships and stipends through my post-grad studies.
What was your first job after college?
I’m not sure I ever left college! I did post-doctoral work at the University of Lethbridge and then took a faculty position here at the University of Saskatchewan. I’ve been working here for almost 12 years.
During my co-op work terms, I did some terms working in technical support and as a research assistant but, in one term, I managed to convince them to let me start my own business building acoustic guitars. It was a money-losing venture but it gave me an opportunity for reflection. Those long lonely hours in the guitar shop were where I decided I might be better off as a university professor.
What do you feel is your single greatest accomplishment as an engineer?
One that stands out in my mind is a project a colleague of mine and I worked on at the University of Lethbridge. We built remote sensing implements which caught the attention of the US Navy Research Labs. Building one for them was definitely an experience.
Other than that, it may sound like a cliché, but as an educator, I continually get a kick out of seeing our students become successful, whatever that looks like for them.
What are your interests outside of work?
My son and I do Taekwon-Do for our physical activity. Aside from that, after a long hiatus, I’ve picked up the guitar again recently – playing for my own enjoyment as well as fixing them up.
I’m not sure if you can call home renovation a hobby but it seems like I’m always working on something around the house.
Have you ever met anyone famous?
Not famous so much but important. I was part of a group of Canadians on an International Visitor Leadership Program tour a few years ago, sponsored by the US Department of State. We were sitting on the patio in Springfield, Illinois when a guy comes in dressed in full camouflage clothing, followed by a couple of guys in dark suits talking into their wrists. It turned out he was the governor of Illinois and it was open season on doves. He was a very friendly, personable guy. It was a weird, chance encounter.
What is your favourite vacation spot?
We usually stick close to home or go east to visit family. But in terms of my broader travel experience, I’ve been to Montpellier, France a couple of times for work. There is a major agricultural research centre there. I have always felt quite charmed by that city.
What is your favourite book or book you are reading now?
I don’t read much for pleasure anymore. I read so much for work that reading for fun doesn’t seem so fun. But my all-time favourite book is The Lord of the Rings. I enjoy the enormous amount of world-building detail that Tolkien put into his work.
The thing some people don’t like about the book – the excessive amount of description – is what I like. I also enjoy the theme of a forgotten history, where some knowledge or technology that was once known is lost.
What do you do for continuing professional development (CPD)?
One of the perks of being a professor is that you cover most of the professional development requirements in the course of the job – speaking at and attending conferences, writing papers and so forth.
One of the more challenging parts of the new CPD requirements is the ethics piece, but we’re seeing more courses being offered at the university on topics like diversity and indigenization that should cover that area. I also get opportunities to visit the places former students now work, which is another way I get to expand my professional knowledge.
Who has had the greatest influence on your life and career?
My dad was probably my biggest influence both personally and professionally. Any common-sense, problem-solving and troubleshooting skills I have come from him. Dad trained as a draftsman and spent most of his career working on locomotive design.
While not an engineer, he worked closely with them. He was heavily involved in the introduction of CAD systems into his workplace.
In terms of workplace mentors, it’s hard to narrow down but I’d say Valerie Davidson, P.Eng. and Ralph Brown, P.Eng. at the University of Guelph were influential for much of my career trajectory. Trever Crowe, P.Eng. here at the U of S was very helpful for my master’s degree and beyond.