Passionate and inspirational professor earns national honour
John Klironomos remembers the first time he looked through a microscope and saw the magical, mysterious, and oddly beautiful world that most of us never see.
As a third-year undergrad student at Montreal’s Concordia University, Klironomos was drawn into the world of microbiology. It became his passion, changed his career, and led the scientist to international recognition for his research. This week the UBC professor was named a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada; one of the highest accolades a Canadian academic can achieve.
“I remember looking through the microscope and seeing the beauty of all these tiny things that are around us all the time but not visible to the naked eye,” says Klironomos. “And I was just floored by what I could see. They are so important, and they are all around us, they affect us all day long. The world would be so different without them.”
Klironomos was hooked. His professor was so passionate about microbiology Klironomos followed down the same research and career path. The humble professor, who has been at UBC Okanagan since 2009, is a strong believer in hands-on learning and research-based teaching.
“Research creates new knowledge, and is a vehicle for learning,” says Klironomos. “When you see a student get it, that’s really powerful. You can lecture all you want, but if a student works in a research environment, engagement and learning are greatly enhanced.”
Klironomos teaches biology at UBC’s Okanagan campus and is currently the Associate Dean of Research with the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences. He credits his career choice to that professor at Concordia. He was engaging, encouraging, and enthusiastic.
“He was so passionate about what he was teaching. He was the type of professor that if he had been a neuro-surgeon, I would have studied neuro-surgery.”
Things have come full circle. Klironomos, engaging, encouraging, and enthusiastic, has the same effect on his students. Graduate student Jennifer Forsythe won several research awards while studying under Klironomos. Now entering into the medical science field, she still turns to her favourite professor for career advice.
“Prof. Klironomos has not only shaped my career as a scientist, but profoundly changed the way I look at and solve scientific problems across disciplines,” says Forsythe. “I am actively pursuing a career in medical sciences, and am able to approach this new journey with a strong foundation in scientific curiosity, passion, and critical thinking, all credited to Prof. Klironomos.”
For his part, Klironomos says he simply teaches his students to be critical thinkers, to take risks, and to never stop asking questions.
“You have be persistent and be prepared to take risks,” he says. “The few papers of mine that have received attention were from high-risk projects. Even if you follow your lead and go down the wrong path, you are still discovering something, and still learning.”
Barbara Rutherford, acting dean of the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, says Klironomos is an inspiration to all faculty, staff, and students.
“His commitment to working with others to develop new and innovative ways of thinking and operating has created a ‘snowball effect’ of achievements that is drawing faculty and students alike to the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences,” says Rutherford. “His fellowship of the Royal Society of Canada is yet another indicator of the inspiration that he provides to all of us at UBC Okanagan.”
But Forsythe says there is a lot more to Klironomos than academic brilliance and profound research. He is an all-around good guy and someone she is proud to call a teacher, a mentor, and a friend.
“He is both an exceptional researcher and an exemplary supervisor, always making time to push me beyond what I ever thought I was capable of and challenging me to become an innovative, critical, and creative scientist in any field that was of interest to me,” she adds. “So much of who I am today, both personally and professionally, is due to his inspiration and guidance. I can’t think of anybody more deserving of this honour.”
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