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Climbing Personal and Academic Mountains

Biology Featured Grad Student

Gavin Martin has had many research opportunities, such as traveling to Peru as an undergraduate to study firefly nomenclature.
Gavin Martin (front, left) has had many valuable research opportunities, such as traveling to Peru as an undergraduate to study firefly nomenclature.
Photo by Gavin Martin

Statistically speaking, Gavin Martin, an entomology PhD student in the College of Life Sciences, shouldn’t have earned a bachelor’s degree, let alone a master’s degree and a PhD.

Growing up, Martin did not live in a stable home. As a child, he moved often and had a strained relationship with his mother and stepfather. His circumstances were far from consistent, coming to a head in his teens when his mother left. Moving in with his grandmother, Martin was the first in his family to complete high school. He joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during this time and then served a full-time, Spanish-speaking mission in California before beginning his undergraduate studies at BYU-Idaho.

As an undergraduate, Martin studied organismal biology and proceeded to receive his master’s degree at Brigham Young University. His research focused on visual system evolution and bioluminescent evolution in fireflies. Martin’s current research for his PhD program focuses on the evolution and systematics of fireflies, including making important discoveries about the “family history” of fireflies and how to protect vanishing populations.

Martin’s specialized firefly research has taken him to a variety of locations, including the Amazon in Peru. The opportunity to participate in a research trip was invaluable for Martin and served as a foundation for his fascination with firefly nomenclature.

“One night, while boating down the river a little while after the sun went down, the fireflies started to flash on both sides of the river,” Martin recalls. “It looked as if the stars had fallen to earth.”

With the approaching conclusion of Martin’s PhD program, he looks forward to mentoring and teaching students as a professor, a career choice in which his own professor and mentors expect him to find great success.

“Gavin is a gifted educator and excels at designing student-centered pedagogy,” says Dr. Jamie Jensen, BYU professor of biology specializing in pedagogy and developing biology curricula for undergraduate students. “I look forward to watching the many lives he will touch in his career as a professor.”

Taking time to reflect on the journey that brought him to this point, Martin expresses gratitude for his colleagues at BYU as well as his wife and children.

“My experience at BYU has been a rollercoaster of emotions and learning experiences. With the successful acquisition of my degrees, as well as the births of my children, I have experienced some of the highest highs of my life. However, I have also experienced some of the lowest lows of my life.”

Martin's peers, professors, and mentors admire his drive and determination to persevere and overcome challenges.

“When you really take into account the odds that Gavin overcame to make it this far, he has climbed mountains most of us will never have to climb,” says Gentri Glaittli, graduate program manager for the Department of Biology. “He’s risen way above everything put in front of him.”