Dr. Martin Adamson, Professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of British Columbia retires today, June 30th, 2020. Martin was initially hired as through the NSERC University Research Fellowships program to help Canada retain talented young PhDs. Together with Dr. Dan Brook, a professor in the UBC Department of Chemistry, Martin upheld the department's long tradition in parasitology. He served as the Biology Program Director when the program was just first year biology and a handful of other courses. This happened at the time before the upper level Zoology and Botany courses were folded into the Biology Program.
Martin’s research in his own words “concerned evolutionary biology of parasites with particular, but not exclusive reference to nematodes, and was a marriage of ecology and phylogenetic systematics." His recent projects explored the origins of possible multiple origin of parasitic forms, differences among sympatric sibling species to determine factors that may be involved in speciation, and the study of interspecific and intraspecific effects that govern community structure. His studies on the pinworm community of the American cockroach demonstrated intraspecific mechanisms that permit species packing in the absence of niche diversification.
Later in his career, Martin focused his energy on teaching and administration. In mid 2000’s Martin was heavily involved with the Faculty Association through the Sessional Faculty Committee as well as the outreach Shad Valley Program. He taught History and Philosophy of Biology (Biol 446), a course that examined the history of conceptual change in Biology from the ancient Greeks to the present day. This course was geared to explore conceptual change in Biology in the context of the ways human beings interact with their world.
The Department of Zoology wishes Martin all the best and heartfelt thanks for his dedication to teaching, mentoring and support for his students, and colleagues.
We reached out to some of Martin’s past lab members and colleagues and these are their memories:
From Shannon Bennett, PhD student at the Adamson lab and current Chief of Science, Harry W. and Diana V. Hind Dean of Science and Research Collections at California Academy of Sciences
Martin was a very innovative scientist (traditional nematode systematics and evolution meets mathematical biology) whose irreverence (astrological work-ups for department head candidates) and outside-the box thinking (music as a mechanism to teach math and biology) plus great sense of humor brought a lot of joy and fun to my graduate experience, and furthermore attracted and helped mentor many many unconventional undergraduate (and beyond) students. His lab environment was great for students, always very non-intimidating. As a woman scientist, Martin’s lab was an extremely positive, supportive and confidence-building experience. Martin was a big promoter of diversity in STEM.
Traditionally, Martin spent hours setting up and cooking for the annual Christmas party - in the Biosciences building breezeway, roasting a pig and sometimes a lamb, stuffed with bratwurst, marinated all day (starting at 5am) with beer, singing/guitar/drinking all day, then loading into a departmental pickup truck to cart the vittles to some fancy place, where we continued to entertain the department with more Christmas carols.
Memorable anecdotal moments of Martin during his time at UBC
- Lab meetings at the Pit pub.
- Many exciting and gory parasite stories, especially when the woman across the hall that ran the vertebrate museum got a tapeworm (Diphylobothrium latum) from eating home-caught & -prepped salmon. He was giddy over getting proglottids...
- Once when there was a search for a department head, Martin, whose mother was an avid astrologist that also worked up moon signs, posted full astrology charts for each person.
- The chalk board in the hall with kooky words for the week that we made up definitions for.
From Lance Barrett-Lennard, PhD student at the Adamson lab and current Director Marine Mammal Research Program Ocean Wise Research
Marty retiring…hard to believe. Anecdotes. Hmm. I remember him bringing the HD in an ancient PC in the lab to life by picking the whole computer up and twisting violently at the waist with the thing in his arms---worked amazingly well a few times, until he threw his back out. I remember him absolutely refusing to go to Starbucks because they “deliberately burn their beans”. I remember him counseling students to tell their professors that “they get paid way too much” and should “smarten up”. I remember him purging almost every instance of the word “the” from my thesis (I still do a “Marty ‘the’ purge” from time -to-time when writing anything sciencey).
Mostly, I remember and appreciate him letting me--an interloper from a distant part of the department--use his lab, take up bench space, disturb the cockroaches and distract his students year after blessed year.
From Ross Shaw, PhD student at the Adamson lab and current Assistant Professor at Department of Biological Sciences at MacEwan University
I still talk about Martin in my classes today and have many fond memories of him.
For anecdotes, I have three classic ones I remember. Martin was sitting at the Unix computer one day, and I was at the other computer. I had only recently arrived as a new graduate student. Martin started swearing vigorously at the Unix system, and after several minutes went silent - then looked over sheepishly at me and said "Oh my, I hope I haven't offended your virgin ears with that". My reply was "I don't even know those words, as my mom never taught me that vocabulary so I'm ok". Martin burst out laughing and went on to continue swearing at the computer.
Another time was at the annual Christmas party. I was standing chatting with Martin and a bunch of other professors for a few minutes. I can't remember the others but I think they were his usual crowd. Martin's face started making some major contortions - that I think signaled him trying to wink at the other professors. I was oblivious to what the signal was for, but then Martin finally came out and said "Ross you have to leave now." I was of course surprised. "I and the other faculty are going to go over into that alley there to “smoke” and I'm assuming you don't want to come and “smoke” with us?".
The last memory is Martin always complained when I submitted for reimbursement for expenses that I was too healthy and making him look bad. I still remember one time when he submitted close to $80 most of which was alcohol for a dinner with another person and myself - and said I needed to claim more beer rather than healthy food items.
From Allyson Miscampbell, MSc student at the Adamson lab and current Staff Member at the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at UBC
What I remember about Martin is that he's just really curious about, and interested in, almost everything, whether its nematode systematics, molecular biology, music, the best way to roast a lamb, or Jane Austen novels. He's not interested in winter camping though, and was appalled when he learned I had slept out in the snow one weekend. 😊 On purpose.
When I first walked into his lab, and met the graduate students there, I knew I had found the place for me. He had gathered a friendly and interesting group of people with a wide range of research interests. He welcomed and supported us all, and fostered our independence as researchers (Martin is not a micro-manager!) while at the same time encouraging us to help each other. His lab was a friendly place, welcome to all. He believes in equality, and was happy to learn from his students. He also believes in sharing resources, and his lab and equipment was open to other lab groups to use most of the time. The lab cockroaches were memorable both as study "hosts", while some were pets (and even featured on an X-files episode!). I remember going for coffee as a lab every day (but NOT Starbucks). This camaraderie kept me going when my project or life didn't go as planned.
Thank you Martin (and my wonderful former lab-mates) for everything I learned in the Adamson Lab!
From Stephen Connor, PhD student at the Adamson lab and current Instructor at Langara College
As for Martin, lucky for me, he's, um, free thinking. Yeah, that's the phrase. And, as I said, lucky for me, 'cause nobody in their right mi...er....who wasn't free-thinking would have taken me on as a student. So I owe him a big debt of gratitude for that. And the swell parties in his original tiny house (another of his traits - always on the cutting edge!). And, of course, all that I learned during those years, from Martin, and from all of you. Fascinating stuff that's led, subsequently, to a constant stream of ever more fascinating stuff. Which, over the ensuing years, I've tried to convince my own students is fascinating. From Martin, to us, to new kids - one long, enriching chain. Nifty, huh?
From Amanda Brown, PhD student at the Adamson lab and current Assistant Professor at the Department of Biological Sciences, Texas Tech University
But here are a few of my Martin memories:
Martin's lab was unconventional, to an extreme! I gained absolutely no training in most of the things I need to do in my present job as a professor, but in lieu of that formal training, Martin gave me total freedom to study and learn in great leaps forward and dreadful flops.
Before accepting me as a PhD student, Martin asked about my grades, but then he emphasized that this didn't matter and that creativity matters more in science. I share Martin's lesson about the importance of creativity in science in every class and to all my students. I will hold this value to my grave!
I met Martin through his PhD student, Steve, who was my first year biology TA. Steve, skipping in the hall, said "that's swell that you're joining Marty's lab," setting the tone of an accepting, ultra West-Coast vibe, while I continued to call Martin "Dr. Adamson" for many more months, in my conservative non-West Coast way.
One of the first tasks Martin assigned to me was to sort his publication reprints that were stacked many feet high all over his office, and toppling over. I diligently spent a week crawling on his dusty office floor, spreading out stacks of reprints from his 76 publications from the previous few years, reading snippets of his wisdom and wonderings on evolution, phenotype, and genotype. I could say I was "floored", to be punny, but that's not true. I experienced the opposite. The process "brought me down" from the clouds of my imaginations of where science comes from, down to the incremental, dusty, microscopic things upon which we build ideas.
Martin hated phone calls, but he loved the people on them. He hated many things, and didn't mind saying so.
I think he hated being wrong, and this made science difficult. Yet, he didn't hate intellectual challenges and he bravely walked into new topics, techniques, concepts, and welcomed and supported people.
His presence in the department was loud: loud tie-dye shirts, loud voice, loud laugh.
These specific expressions of his freedom were not infectious among his students, for some reason. Nor was his love of nematode morphology.
Reflecting on what Martin passed on to his trainees... I think he infected us with the courage to rise up to become ourselves, despite our self-judgement and the judgement of others. None of us ended up becoming like Martin*, but arguably, Martin's influence drove us forward through challenges to our current successes.
One of the few times I saw Martin "tone it down" was when he introduced Lynn Margulis before her talk at UBC.
I vaguely recall that as usual, he made some jokes and got audience laughs, but what I remember most was his tone of genuine honouring of not just Lynn Margulis, but equally honouring all the people in the room who would be sharing ideas and debate on evolution and biology.
From Shona Ellis, Professor of Teaching at Department of Zoology and Botany at University of British Columbia
What sticks out in my mind about Martin is that not only is he great to have as a labmate (in the teaching labs), but he has a great sense of fun. When BioSoc asked me to enter the faculty talent show a few years ago I said only if Martin Adamson will do it with me....thinking he wouldn't and I'd be off the hook....well...he said he'd only go in if I did and so we were a match. I didn't realize he was a musician....plays a mean guitar and I sing and play a moderate kazoo. We decided that the only way we could do this was as a comedy routine. Patsy Slime and the Holdfasts was born!! Our first year we did "Collecting after Midnight"...about collecting algal specimens for class in the dark......we wore hip waders and headlamps and showered the audience with Porphyra-wrapped rice crackers as the grand ending. We were a hit and asked back the next year....comic relief.... this time we donned bumble bee costumes, bright yellow and black with wings made of coat hangers and pantyhose. We also had stingers duct-taped to our rumps.....the song was La Bombas (the bumble bee) and it ended with "on its bumba" which of course required us to do the bee waggle.
Martin was always great not just to goof around with and have a few laughs, but his wit and insights were something I will truly miss.