Dr. Jeremy McNeil
Biology Department, University of Western Ontario
Type: Career Profile
Biology, Ecology, Ecosystems, Environmental Science, Science
I really like that my job has so many different parts and I really love teaching and research. As a teacher, I enjoy seeing students succeed. I am also proud of my role in helping graduates who go on to establish themselves in their chosen careers. From a research perspective it is very satisfying being able to contribute to basic knowledge in the field of chemical ecology. There is also the added bonus when the information helps develop more ecologically sound programmes for the management of pests and the conservation of beneficial species.
I was a very bad student in high school (although I had ambitions of being a surgeon). After I graduated high school, I worked for a year as an orderly in a hospital. Following this I worked for another year as a wine merchant in the UK before going to University. I started a BSc in Zoology at Western just before my 21st birthday. I continued my record of bad grades during my first two years. In my third-year, I took an entomology course and got a summer job at Agriculture Canada. This got me hooked on insects! After graduating I went to the USA where I completed a PhD. I worked with a Prof. Bob Rabb, a true scholar and gentleman who served as an amazing mentor for many years. After I completed my PhD. I was hired to teach at Laval, a francophone University, in Quebec City. This was somewhat ironic, as when I was younger I had turned down a permanent job with the wine merchant in the UK because they required French. In school, I had failed all my French exams so I felt I would not be able to cope. However, I became bilingual and taught at Laval for 30 years before becoming a prof at Western.
The biggest challenge has been to finding funding to cover the costs of the research and to support all the members of the lab. Sometimes one is successful while there are other times when that is not the case. For me the key has been to keep faith and keep trying!
Do not rush into things! Be sure it is something you are really passionate about, as this makes the good times wonderful and certainly helps one get through the tougher times.
When I was younger, I used to fence, run and play squash. Now my physical activity is limited to long daily walks. However, I am fortunate to travel extensively for work and I always try and find time to hike with my trusty cameras in hand. In addition, when I am at home, I spend a lot of time gardening and cooking.
As an insect ecologist, I study the reproduction, migration, and the relationship between plants and insects. My work helps us have a better understanding of the basic biology of both pests and beneficial insects. This helps us create ways to control insect pests other than insecticides.
Much of our research is done outside the lab (i.e., field work). We use different ways to attract to trap insects. Some traps use light and others use pheromones. We also do experiments under controlled environmental conditions. In this way we are able to describe the effects of factors such as the length of the day, temperature, relative humidity, atmospheric pressure and food quality on different insects. We use many types of equipment to study the way the insect’s body systems respond to different things. We also student the chemical processes that control the behaviours we are studying.
I also work with undergraduate and graduate students who are part of my research group. We have discussions every day on such things as experimental design, analyzing our data, problem solving, and celebrating successes.
I am also working on a number of international projects. As a result I spend time doing field research in places like Mexico and Brazil. This is very rewarding as I learn about very different ecosystems and cultures.
Over the years, I have taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses. As a result, on certain days during term preparing and giving lectures is a big part of my day. It is very important for my teaching, as well as for research, that I am up to date on activities in my field. To stay up to date, I spend a lot of time reading and I attend scientific meetings. I enjoy these meetings because I have the chance to discuss ideas with other researchers from around the world.
I also have other duties in addition to my teaching and research. For example, I may have to review manuscripts for scientific journals or grants for funding agencies. I also serve on different committees at the university or for national/international organisations. I have been engaged in the public awareness of science for over 40 years. In this role I give talks, both nationally and internationally, at a variety of venues including schools and libraries, as well as gardening and nature clubs.
The bottom line is that my days are certainly not routine, and this is something I really enjoy.
I was born/grew up in: I was born in Tonbridge, Kent, England but my family moved to Corner Brook, Newfoundland when I was 6 months old. I lived there until I was 10, at which time I was send to boarding school in England. After high school I worked for two years (as an orderly in a hospital in Chichester, and then as a wine merchant in London) before returning to Canada to attend university.
I now live in: London, Ontario
I completed my training/education at: I received my Hon. BSc in Zoology at The University of Western Ontario (London, Ontario) and then completed my PhD in Entomology/Ecology at North Carolina State University (Raleigh, North Carolina, USA)
When I was
- Literature and English language arts
- Physical Education/Health
- Always wanted to be outside
- Liked helping people
- Played on a sports team
- Enjoyed working with my hands
- Liked being given free range to explore my ideas
- Liked reading
- Felt at home in the outside, natural environment
- Never wanted to be in the classroom
- Didn't really care about grades
- Engaged in activities such as fishing, berry picking and hunting