Passionate about parasites, people, and places

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Dr. Tim Goater sports a one-of-a-kind parasitophile shirt, with the artwork provided by students. He is holding the textbook he co-authored with his brother and his mentor. In the other hand is a Giardia-shaped stuffed toy.

April 6, 2022 - 8:30pm

 By Aly Winks, Internal Communications Specialist

Dr. Tim Goater is one of those fortunate people who is doing what he was born to do. His commitment, enthusiasm, confidence, and pure love for teaching and research, specifically about parasites and other invertebrate animals, radiates from his person with such strength that those around him cannot help but be drawn in.

Tim went to high school in North Bay, Ontario, and studied Biology at the University of Waterloo. However, by the end of his first year, the shine had already worn off the glow of his entry.

“I was a number. I didn’t know my professors and they didn’t know me. I was bored and wasting scholarship money. So, I took a year off. During that time away from school, my folks had moved to Brandon, Manitoba, and I followed them there,” Goater explains.

Not sure what to do next, Goater applied to Brandon University – a much smaller school. At Brandon, he met a professor in the Zoology Department whose influence would become life changing.

Dr. Al Bush introduced Goater to the topic that would claim his career – parasitology.

“He knew he’d lit the candle for me. He encouraged me to pursue a master’s degree in ecological parasitology, and even knew where I should go,” he says.

The small, private Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was the home of Dr. Gerald (Gerry) Esch, whose ability to challenge and inspire his students would ensure Goater pursued his PhD to become Dr. Tim Goater.

In 1990, Goater was a newly minted Dr. looking for a place to do research and teach. He sent out some applications and landed some interviews. Nothing was coming together and he began to despair he’d never land a job. Then his mother sent him an advertisement she read while at Tim Horton’s in Parry Sound, Ontario. Malaspina University-College needed biology professors to develop third-year courses for their new degree program. Goater was not sure where Nanaimo was; however, he was thrilled to discover the spectacular scenery in the place he would be calling home when he landed the position.

That was 31 years ago. Since stepping into his first lab and lecture, Goater has taught thousands of students, from first-year students who need a science credit, to fourth-year students conducting research that launch their own careers in parasitology. He has overseen field trips to Piper’s Lagoon, Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, and Belize, to name a few. He has helped to raise thousands of dollars for Biology Department scholarships. He has volunteered his time sitting on committees of all types and helped to mentor several professors who have taught in the Biology Department, and in other science departments at VIU.

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Photo: Instructors and students at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre.

His commitment to contributing research in his field is as robust as his commitment to his students, publishing in peer-reviewed journals, and publishing a highlight of his academic career and his opus – Parasitism: The Diversity and Ecology of Animal Parasites – which he co-authored with his brother, Dr. Cameron (Cam) Goater (also a long-time parasitologist and professor at University of Lethbridge) and their mentor, Dr. Gerald Esch.

“People always laugh when they find out about my brother – two of us studying parasitology due to the influence from the same mentor at Brandon University. It’s not such a common family occupation,” Goater says, explaining that no, neither of his parents had careers in biology. They did, however, inspire a life-long passion for the natural world, especially a love of animals and ecology.

“The book is a special accomplishment, not only because publishing a textbook in your field is a big thing, but it’s even more special when it is written with your brother and includes contributions of many VIU students,” he says. The result is lauded as “superb” by colleagues from around the world.

Goater’s list of accolades is as long as his career. In 2021, both Tim and Cam were awarded together the Distinguished Alumni Award for Career Achievement from Brandon University. Tim also received the 2021 VIU President’s Award for Community Engagement in Community Leadership. However, the genuineness and humility of Goater, along with his sense of humour, casual nature, boundless energy, and ability to put those around him at ease demonstrate his true motivations. He simply cares.

He cares about his students. He cares about igniting the spark. He cares about studying parasites, biodiversity, and ecology. He cares about his colleagues. He cares about making VIU the best place it can be.

Even in his retirement, he is not stepping back. He continues his work as an Academic Emeritus, which is awarded to retiring professors to maintain an ongoing relationship with the University so that the institution, the professor and the students continue to benefit. As Goater lists his plans for this continued relationship, one begins to wonder if he would have actually gone through with retirement were it not for the Emeritus designation. Already a guest lecturer, he will supervise students in their Biology 491 research course next fall, and, along with his close friend and colleague, Dr. Eric Demers, he has committed to reviving the popular Belize Tropical Biology Field School.

“Tim is a gifted educator whose devotion to VIU is inspirational to all his students and colleagues. Lectures, laboratories and field trips with Tim are engaging and rigorous, yet his unique humour and delivery are legendary among the thousands of students who were taught by Tim over the years. Countless students have discovered a passion for natural history and the worlds of invertebrates, insects, herpetology and parasites through his unique expressions, including his most famous cry, ‘holy spectacular biodiversity, Batman!’” states the overview of his Emeritus nomination, which was submitted by Drs. Eric Demers, Jamie Gorrell, and Caroline Josefsson.

Although his classes are known for their fun, their rigour cannot be denied.

In another nomination package, former student and now Dr. Naomi Macrae enthusiastically shared how, in graphic detail only reserved for describing human illnesses caused by parasites, she was the most well-prepared medical student in a first-year infectious diseases course thanks to Dr. Goater’s classes.

“I was practically jumping out of my seat yelling ‘MALAAARIAAA’ as the patient’s symptoms were described.” She ends the note stating, “This week has brought back fond memories of VIU and parasitology. I hope all is well on the Island and this story has brightened your day (it made mine!).”

The note was included in a successful 2015 nomination for the Provost’s Awards for Excellence in Teaching: Experiential Learning. In the package, Goater goes on to state, “One of my graduate school mentor’s favourite expressions was ‘how much I enjoy basking in the glory of my students’ success.’ Now that I am a teacher and mentor to my own awesome students I know exactly how he felt. I am immensely proud of the many positive impacts my colleagues and I have had on our students, whether in the classroom, in the field, or in life in general. My students’ success is the result of their hard work and devotion to their studies, and I may have helped by providing opportunity and knowledge.”

He is particularly proud of the ongoing relationships he maintains with students for many years after they become alumni, which makes the note from Dr. Macrae not unusual.

Sara Skotarek, a Senior Anatomy Technician at the University of Calgary, recalls the fun times in Belize with Tim: “A personal favourite was ‘herping’ at night – going out with headlamps and looking for amphibians and reptiles that could not be seen during the day.”   

Hundreds of students accompanied Goater and his Labrador dogs at Piper’s Lagoon – a favourite local example of coastal biodiversity, the uniqueness of which he has shared with many community members beyond VIU students.

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Photo: Dr. Tim Goater displays a large, orange ribbon worm at Piper's Lagoon during Grandkids University.

“A friend of mine works for an outreach program for young people at risk and whenever I can I bring a group of them to Piper’s. Their enthusiasm is incredible. As a scientist of the topic, these places can seem commonplace because they become so familiar.”

Goater has similar experiences leading a “biology major” for VIU’s Grandkids University, taking grandparents and their grandchildren to Piper’s to experience invertebrate biodiversity. “These kids are often blown away, saying they had no idea this was all right here. These are always really special days,” he says.

Another favourite and not-so-local field trip that was briefly mentioned above is the Tropical Biology Field School in Belize, which Goater has co-taught since 2003 with close friends, Drs. Eric Demers, Jane Watson, and Wendy Simms.    

The course comes up repeatedly from both professor and student alike as transformational. And Goater does his best to ensure the trip is a success.

Watson explains that prior to the trip, which requires hiking fitness and river/ocean swimming confidence, Goater runs what can be described as a bootcamp of snorkeling and hiking trips to ensure everyone has the skills required to safely snorkel the Belizean coral reefs and paddle the rivers, and the proper hiking gear so “they can get the absolute most out of their tropical biology experience.”

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Photo: A cohort of the Tropical Biology Field School in Belize gathers around an iguana. 

One of Goater’s Biology department colleagues, Dr. Sue Sanders states, “Tim is a core member of the Biology Department and has given so much of his energy and time ensuring we are, and remain, a cohesive, collegial department where everyone feels included. This is not just limited to colleagues as Tim is an advocate for involving students, both past and present, in biology events. In this regard, Tim has fostered a culture of ‘family’ within the Biology Department…”

Up next, Goater has some research papers he wishes to publish with students. Cambridge University Press has also requested that the Goater brothers write a new edition of the Parasitism text. This new edition will involve one of Tim’s former students, Dr. Kayla King, now a world-renowned evolutionary parasitologist.

He has other plans for retirement that do not include VIU. He is working to train his black Labrador named Bo to be a service dog. He has travel plans with his wife, Mary Anne, and he wants to go on an extended wilderness canoe adventure to the Northwest Territories with his brother. A return trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, and a vacation to Hawaii are also possible in the not-too-distant future. Perhaps a potential holiday to Australia to reconnect with a former student.

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Photo: Dr. Goater is working to train his black Labrador, Bo, to be a service dog.

Dr. Aaron Jex is now a researcher at the University of Melbourne, which is renowned globally for its parasitism studies. He credits Goater with providing the encouragement he needed, as a Vancouver Island kid who had never been on an airplane, to accept a scholarship to the University of Queensland. Jex named a parasite he discovered after Malaspina and Goater, calling it Malaspinanema goateri – a most fitting tribute to his mentor.

Of his Emeritus status, Provost and Vice-President, Academic Dr. Carol Stuart shares the following about Dr. Goater and his impact at VIU:

“Dr. Goater’s career at VIU embodies what the University values. His dedication and enthusiasm for his students and their education goes beyond what can be achieved in a classroom. He has helped raise thousands of dollars over the years that have made education more accessible for many VIU students. His ability to ignite his students’ passions has helped them express their own potential and build fulfilling careers in the sciences. He has opened doorways by teaching rigorous research methodology and publishing student work. His own research career is exceptional and one any scientist would be proud of. I am grateful Tim continues to support VIU as a very active Academic Emeritus.”

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     Photo: A celebration at the Student Pub after Dr. Goater's last lecture.

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 Photo: Dr. Goater's last parasitology lecture was attended by many of his colleagues. 


Tags: Teaching and Learning