Bldg-73-tisThis blog is part of the ‘Blog a Book project entitled: The Inside Story –– a history of the Microbiology Department (University of Otago) from 1950 – 2010. Blogs are usually shown in reverse chronological order (from newest to oldest). For a ‘Blog a Book’ the posts are changed to be chronologically displayed (from oldest to newest) as one would in reading a book.  Click on the building image in the upper left corner of this blog post to navigated to the beginning of the ‘The Inside Story‘..

I can remember the time and the place when I decided to move to New Zealand to an academic position, but I don’t specifically recall when or how I decided to become an academic in Science. Growing up in a well-to-do middle-class family in the wheat growing area of Saskatchewan, there never was any doubt that when I finished High School I would go on to university. Such was the expectations of my family and the friends of my family. I had a flare for chemistry and English literature and even did some acting in High School plays. When it came to choosing direction — arts or science, it became a problem that led to a somewhat checkered academic beginning. I attended the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon in 1958 taking English and Chemistry — putting off the decision of becoming a scientist or a writer. By the end of that year I was no further ahead in choosing what direction to take so I chose the glamorous route of being a poet and I headed off to the jazz scene in Vancouver. I spent a winter there doing poetry. During that time I met Lorene who would later become my wife and we put together a couple of self-published poetry books. The first one was called ‘Garbolish’ which is available as an ebook.

After running out of money for coffee, German Black Forest cake, poetry readings and rent, I decided to give journalism a try. I moved to Ottawa and enrolled at the Journal School at Carlton University. At that time Carlton University was pretty much a finishing school for the children of the civil servants that populated the city. After a while it didn’t suit my dissidence and anti-establishment temperament. I dropped out of University and got a job as a lab technician in a government research facility — primarily based on the chemistry courses I had taken. The work involved studying exotic animal viruses and the facility was the reference laboratory for the whole country. Working with viruses I became fascinated with the question of: where does chemistry end and biology begin? Viruses seem to sit somewhere on the boundary.

 

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After working for two years as a lab technician, I enrolled (1962) for a BSc in Microbiology at the University of British Columbia and was clever enough to get a Canadian government scholarship to do a PhD. I found a compatible PhD supervisor, Jack Tremaine, at the on-campus Agricultural Research Station. I embarked on the studies of a plant virus and an insect virus using the biophysical tools of the day. Along the way I acquired a wife, a house and two kids and a PhD. I managed to finish the PhD in 18 months, the minimum time allowed. During this time I became interested in Raja Yoga meditation and Eastern philosophy as expounded by Alan Watts in  “The Way of Zen”. Although these interests were somewhat peripheral to my studying ‘Science’, they greatly aided me in clearing my mind and focusing on getting things done.

ARS lab

ARS lab

At the end of my PhD studies there was the usual problem of ‘finding a job’. Fortunately, this was delayed, in the short term at least, by being awarded a no-strings-attached post-doctoral fellowship again courtesy of the Canadian government.  This was now the late sixties and my choices were either Mill Hill in London or the Molecular Biology lab at Berkeley, California. Needless to say the ‘flower power’ of Berkeley won.

In the autumn of 1968 we sold the house and bought  a VW Combie van that my father-in-law and I modified to provide camping facilities and we headed south along the coastal route to California. In the background there were the strains of Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco’ and the whiff of marijuana smoke.

VW-van

Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco”

 

(Aside: more pictures to be added)