Simon Gadbois awarded Dal's top teaching award

'Everything is in examples and anecdotes'

- May 25, 2011

(Nick Pearce Photo)
(Nick Pearce Photo)

As a child, Simon Gadbois could spend hours in the woods, peeking into rabbit holes, poking around beaver dams, stalking squirrels. He’d return home with salamanders and frogs spilling out of his pockets and looking forward to the next day’s adventure.

“Like any kid, I was interested in animals—I was a sponge—and that enthusiasm never went away,” says Dr. Gadbois, an expert on wild “canids,” wolves, coyotes and red foxes. “How lucky is that?”

His passion for wild animals is matched only by his passion to teach about them. A senior instructor of psychology and neuroscience, he has been awarded Dalhousie’s top prize for teaching, the 2011 Dalhousie Alumni Association Award of Excellence for Teaching.

While he’s pleased with the award, he admits to being a bit baffled, too. Because, along with teaching the second-year class, Animal Behavior, he also teaches a research methods course, a required class for psychology and neuroscience majors.

“You don’t win a popularity contest with this one,” he says, describing himself as a straight-ahead lecturer, not a showman. “It’s one of those classes no one wants to take.”

And that makes it all the more challenging to teach. “Everything is in the examples and anecdotes,” he explains, “including telling them about the mistakes I’ve made. When you’re designing a research study, there’s always that one variable you haven’t thought of. Because, in psychology and neuroscience, we’re not studying something that’s static, that’s just sitting there; we’re studying something dynamic.”

A little later in the conversation, he comes up with an illustration of the “missing variable.” When doing his PhD in the mid-1990s on why the insubordinate wolves in a pack don’t breed, Dr. Gadbois was required to collect wolves’ urine—which contains metabolites of a common stress hormone—for study. What he didn’t count on was that the winters would be so mild and, without snow, finding the urine was next to impossible. Becoming known as “yellow snow guy,” he even considered renting snowmaking equipment from a ski hill and blanketing the woods as a way of solving his problem.

“The mistakes are really where we learn,” he says, with a laugh. “Plus, you’ll always get a good story.”

Faculty of Management

  • A. Gordon Archibald Teaching Excellence Award - School of Business Administration - Lei Huang 
  • 1st Year MBA Professor of the Year (2011) - Jim Power
  • 2nd Year MBA Professor of the Year (2011) - Shamsud Chowdhury
  • Commerce Professor of the Year - Joan Conrod
  • Outstanding Graduate Advisor -  Jenny Baechler
  • Outstanding Undergraduate Staff Advisor - Carrie Hunter

Faculty of Medicine

  • Dalhousie Medical Alumni Association Residency Teaching Award: Colin van Zoost
  • Lea C. Steeves Award for Excellence in Teaching of Continuing Medical Education: Douglas E. Sinclair (2010)    

Faculty of Dentistry

  • Dalhousie Dental Students Society Dr Wayne Garland Award 2011: Bruce Friis
  • Dalhousie Dental Students Society Honour Award 2011: Mark Vallee
  • Dalhousie Dental Students Society Honour Award 2011: Gorman Doyle
  • W.W. Wood Award Fall 2010 for Excellence in Dental Education: Rick Raftus   

Faculty of Law

  • Hanna & Harold Barnett Award for Excellence in Teaching First Year Law: Graham Reynolds
  • The Dalhousie Law Students' Society and Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Teaching: Constance MacIntosh    

Faculty of Engineering

  • Faculty of Engineering Professor Appreciation Award (First Year): Edward Yao  
  • Faculty of Engineering Professor Appreciation Award (Second Year): Sergi Iakovlev 
  • Chemical Engineering Annual Professor Appreciation: Stephen Kuzak
  • Industrial Engineering Annual Professor Appreciation: Claver Diallo

Faculty of Science

  • Dalhousie Association of Psychology Students Excellence in Teaching: Heather Schellink
  • Earth Sciences Award: Martin Gibling    
  • The Faculty of Science Award for Excellence in Teaching: Andrea Fraser 
  • Dr. Forbes Langstroth Memorial Award, Physics & Atmospheric Science: Jordan Kyriakidis    
  • Dalhousie University Excellence in Teaching – Neuroscience: Benjamin Rusak
  • Dalhousie University Undergraduate Neuroscience Society Professor of the Year: Jennifer Stamp  

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

  • The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Award for Excellence in Teaching: Roberta Barker

Faculty of Computer Science

  • Srini Award for Teaching Excellence in Computer Science: Alex Brodsky

Faculty of Health Professions

  • Faculty of Health Professions Teaching Excellence Award – Anne Marie Whelan (College of Pharmacy)
  • College of Pharmacy Jessie I. MacKnight Teaching Award – David Gardner
  • Nurse Educator Appreciation Award – Colleen Kiberd


  • Dalhousie Alumni Association Award of Excellence for Teaching: Simon Gadbois
  • Dalhousie Sessional and Part-Time Instructor Awards of Excellence for Teaching: Erin Wunker (English & Canadian Studies)   
  • Outstanding Graduate Advisor:  Jenny Baechler
  • Outstanding Undergraduate Staff Advisor: Carrie Hunter
  • Outstanding Undergraduate Faculty Advisor:  Peter Wentzell
  • Outstanding Peer Advisor: Sarah Bouchard
  • The President's Graduate Teaching Assistant Award: Cheryl Watts (Sociology and Social Anthropology)
 Rachel Dingle (Department of Psychology) 
Victoria Walker (Department of Chemistry)

DISCUSSION: Do you have a favorite prof at Dal whom you believe is deserving of a teaching award? Give him or her a shout out by telling us why us why you thought he or she was such a good teacher.


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