Islander heading to Oxford on scholarship worth $280K

Christian Norton, who graduated with his honours biology degree from UPEI in 2016, will head this fall to Oxford University on a full scholarship.

Christian Norton will study plant ecology for his PhD

Christian Norton of Annandale, P.E.I., will finish his master's at the University of Montreal before heading off to Oxford University in the fall. (Submitted by the University of Prince Edward Island)

Christian Norton says he was always interested in learning about plants.

First, from his great uncle Howard growing up in Annandale, P.E.I. Then at UPEI, where he graduated with an honours degree in biology in 2016. Then it was on to the University of Montreal, where he's currently finishing his master's.

But it's what's coming this fall that has Norton still "in shock a little bit."

He recently received the Clarendon Scholarship to study plant ecology for his PhD at Oxford University in England. It covers tuition, college fees, living costs and research costs for four years — valued at about $280,000.

"I think I read the email seven times before I believed it," Norton told CBC Radio's Island Morning. "Without the scholarship I wouldn't be going."

Habitat conservation

For his master's, Norton is studying how certain plants are used for food and medicine.

At Oxford, he said he'll be working more on habitat conservation and how plants play a role in maintaining species through habitat connectivity — making sure there's enough space for animals and organisms to live.

Biology Prof. Christian Lacroix, who taught Norton at UPEI, said he's thrilled for his former student.

"He is a talented researcher who is destined to make significant contributions to plant science," he said.

'Science is incremental growth'

Norton said he can only promise to do his best. He said research scientists who work on something for years don't get as much credit as the scientist who might tweak something that leads to a major breakthrough.

"Science is incremental growth, not so much these one-off breakthroughs, so if I can be one of those scientists that has a breakthrough, amazing, and if I'm one of the scientists that incrementally increases our knowledge about something, I'd be equally satisfied."

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With files from Island Morning