Queen's University Queen's University

Dr. Nancy Martin

[Nancy Martin photo]

Associate Professor
Microbiology and Immunology

Nancy Martin has been at Queen's since 1995. Her warm, light-filled office is filled with some unusual artwork - not everyone has a single bacterium, magnified 60,000 times, hung on their wall! But then again, Martin is a microbiologist who spends a great deal of time exploring the molecular structure of cells.

Not that Martin always knew that she would be spending a lot of time with bacteria. "Right out of high school I wasn't sure what I was going to do and actually applied to two music programs [she plays keyboards] and one marine biology program. I went with marine biology because I really was interested in how cells worked and what was happening at the molecular level."

Being a very visual learner, Martin was captivated by the teachings of one of her professors. One of the world's best electron microscopists, he had very visual perspective of the work. "He used electron micrographs to show different types of cells and stains with emphasis on the cellular architecture. He didn't just put lecture notes up on the screen, so I came out of his classes feeling like I knew so much more."

Martin eventually got a summer job working with that professor, and learned to prepare specimens and to culture organisms. That same professor suggested she go to grad school, and off she went.

It was at grad school that Martin discovered just how much she likes to teach. "I did some TA work, and realized that I liked helping the undergrads and mentoring people who came into the labs. I also really like research, not for all the paperwork, but for that moment when the light comes on!"

I like to show how information can be applied to many situations, and that the things I am teaching don't just end in the classroom.  

Examining real-life problems...

These days, one of her most challenging offerings is her Microbial Pathogenesis course. "I have students work in groups of four and five and give them a specific scenario. They might have to pretend they work for a food inspection agency and have to set the criteria for bringing food into Canada - stringent enough to prevent outbreaks of food borne disease. This involves risk assessment and lots of policy work. Or they might have to be part of a government agency overseeing the deployment of finances and resources in Haiti. They might have to examine the cholera outbreak and determine what could have been done better. The students do the research and report back as a group. It gets them working together."

"In another assignment, I present students with a disease caused by an organism resistant to antibiotics. Their task is to invent a new antibiotic and then present their solution to the whole department. In one instance, a group contacted a researcher in the US for more background on their approach, and it turned out that the approach they were exploring was actually being patented by that particular researcher. I knew for sure then that they were really on the right track!"

Students are also tasked with writing and illustrating a children's story book about a problematic disease. The goal is to be able to explain to a child what the disease is and what the doctor is going to do. It has to be something they could give a child who was experiencing the disease.

Martin's students have also been looking at the "bugs" around us in our everyday lives. They make five minute videos about home hygiene and healthy living that could benefit incoming university students.

Krista Cook recently took Martin's Microbial Pathogenesis course and loved it. "Dr. Martin effectively highlighted and made connections between key concepts and topics. This helped to clarify, among a myriad of protein pathways, the underlying themes and how to illustrate them using various examples she provided. She also facilitated excellent discourse on current political and global topics pertaining to bacteriology."

When not examining that microscopic world, Martin herself spends time golfing and making pottery. "It is a nice change. Sometimes it is fun to create something - a physical thing rather than information."

But whether creating, researching or teaching, Martin still gets inspired by the very students she teaches. "I like interacting with each of them individually rather than just having a mass of faces in an audience. I like encouraging them to ask questions. I really like hearing what they are thinking because it's often not the things I would have predicted. I learn something new every time I do this course."

Profile by Patricia Henderson