The Joan Marsden Lecture in Organismal Biology

Joan MarsdenJoan Marsden was a remarkable woman who made important contributions to the advancement of Biology at McGill. Her association with McGill spanned a full 60 years, from her undergraduate education, completed in 1943, to her job as Director of the Bellairs Institute in Barbados, a position she held at the time of her death, in Barbados, in 2001. After earning a Ph.D. at Berkeley, she returned to McGill to take up an appointment as lecturer in the Department of Zoology. She proceeded to work her way up the academic ladder, teaching comparative anatomy to legions of pre-med students and conducting research on marine invertebrates.

Shortly after the opening of the Bellairs Institute, in 1961, she and fellow zoologist John Lewis were the first McGill professors to exploit its research opportunities. She became strongly attached to the people and life style of Barbados, and travelled there almost every year for research and personal renewal. Her favorite research subject was a polychaete worm, which she studied from ecological, physiological, and neurobiological perspectives.

Joan Marsden was Chair of Zoology in 1969 when the Department of Biology was formed by fusion of the departments of Zoology, Botany, and Genetics. She was not only instrumental in creating the Biology Department, but she played a major role in shaping its future through her unfailing judgment and strong character. When she retired in 1987, her colleagues established a fund to perpetuate her memory by means of the Joan Marsden Lectures in Organismal Biology.

Her accomplishments as scientist, teacher, and administrator are especially noteworthy for having been achieved during an era when there were few women academics at McGill. As a pioneer and role model, she led the way for the many women who followed and who today enrich our department. That too is part of her legacy.

Seminars in the Joan Marsden Lecture series

Year Speaker Title
2022-2023 Scott V. Edwards
Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology | Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University
Wings, feathers, flight: using comparative genomics to link genotype and phenotype in birds
2021-2022 Dr. Robert Holt
Department of Biology, University of Florida, Gainesville
COVID-19 Meets the Hutchinsonian Niche
2020-2021 Cancelled due to Covid-19 N/A
2019-2020 Cancelled due to Covid-19 N/A


Dr. Ruth Shaw
Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior
College of Biological Sciences, University of Minnesota
Studying the adaptive process in the wild: purple coneflower and partridge pea
2017-2018 Dr. Mark Q. Martindale
The Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, University of Florida
Developmental constraints and the origin of the “Cambrian Explosion"
2016-2017 Dr. Axel Meyer
Department of Biology, University of Konstanz, Germany
Genomics of extreme speciation and adaptation in cichlid species flocks
2015-2016 Dr. Daniel Simberloff
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee
Nature as profit center: The new conservation science and the devaluing of biodiversity
2015-2016 Dr. Michael J. Ryan
Department of Integrative Biology, University of Texas
Cognitive Aspects of Mate Choice: The Túngara as a Case Study
2014-2015 Dr. Armin P. Moczek
Department of Biology, University of Indiana
On the origins of novelty and diversity in development and evolution: case studies on horned beetles
2013-2014 Dr. Russell D. Fernald
Stanford University, California
How does social information change the brain?
2012-2013 Dr. Sarah P. Otto
Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia
The Evolutionary Enigma of Sex
2012-2013 Dr. Michael Doebli
Department of Zoology and Department of Mathematics, University of British Columbia
Adaptive Diversification
2011-2012 Dr. Jonathan B. Losos
Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology
Lizards in an evolutionary tree: Ecology and adaptive radiation in anoles
2010-2011 Dr. David Tilman
Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota
Diversification, coexistence and the universal trade-off hypothesis
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