Graham Bell’s Exit Seminar

Published: 25 May 2023

Just shy of 100 faculty, students, and friends packed the Redpath Auditorium on May 12th to celebrate the retirement of Graham Bell, James McGill Professor in the Department of Biology at McGill. For the occasion, Bell delivered a “final “seminar to the audience, which included his wife and three sons, surveying his career as an evolutionary biologist.

Having first begun at McGill in 1978 as an Assistant Professor, Bell was Director of the Redpath Museum from 1995-2005 and Chair of the Biology Department from 2011-2016. Over his career, he authored six books and published more than 170 research papers.

Beyond McGill, Bell received numerous prizes, including the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, the Prix du Québec (prix Marie-Victorin), the Léo-Parizeau Prize, the NSERC Award of Excellence, and the Flavelle Medal of the Royal Society of Canada. He was President of the Royal Society of Canada from 2013-2015 and was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 2016. Bell also played a founding role in the creation of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution, serving as its President in 2006.

“Despite being a world leader in Evolutionary Biology, Graham was and is always open to scientific collaboration with his peers,” said Gregor Fussmann, Chair of the Biology Department. “He is genuinely interested in the contributions and opinions of his colleagues. Many in the Biology Department, including myself, have enormously benefitted from and enjoyed working with him.”

“Graham has made remarkable contributions to Evolutionary Biology and indeed when I first met him, he was introduced to me by a colleague as the ‘21st Century’s Charles Darwin,’” said Bruce Lennox, Dean of Science. “But he also has been a great citizen, which, in addition to his McGill roles, included serving as the President of the Royal Society of Canada.”

During his talk, Bell paid homage to his early career studying newts and fish, his family, and time in Canada having been born and raised in England, and his lifelong dedication to science. “All the time, I’ve been teaching biology, publishing books,” said Bell, who plans to continue writing in between periods taking care of a newly acquired, energetic pet dog.

Several humorous anecdotes peppered Bell’s talk, complete with pictures of the research that highlighted his illustrious career. Sandwiched between pictures of ecological samples and vegetation there were pictures of his family, friends, and colleagues.

Despite his own full career, Bell spent most of the talk highlighting the findings and work of his colleagues and contemporaries who defined his own learning journey. In this “final seminar”, Bell passionately engaged the audience in the evolutionary phenomena that occur all around us and celebrated his time at McGill. He delivered the talk with the vitality that defined his teaching career, seeming to enjoy fully every word of his lecture.

“The Biology Department has been a complete joy to work with,” he concluded.

The seminar was followed by a cinq à sept in the Redpath Museum, where attendees took turns congratulating Bell on his career and exchanging stories.

Back to top