John Donald McPhail as Curator of Fishes


In 1963 the School of Fisheries received permission from the UW Board of Regents to establish a new position for a Curator of Fishes.  In addition to curating, maintaining, and expanding the Fish Collection, duties called for teaching and research, supervision of graduate students, and “to supervise the development of a collection of invertebrates.”51

John Donald McPhail (1934-) joined the School of Fisheries as Assistant Professor and Curator of Fishes in August 1963.  Don McPhail (Fig. 15) was a Canadian citizen who received his university education in that country (B.A. 1957, M.Sc. 1959, University of British Columbia; Ph.D., 1963, McGill University).52  He was hired to “take charge of the large fish collection of the School of Fisheries which for some years had not been used effectively and had been deteriorating in quality as a result of lack of competent attention.”53

McPhail, a systematic ichthyologist, was highly recommended to the UW.54  He was the recipient of several scholarships and research grants during his years as a graduate student.  McPhail published papers on the systematics of both freshwater and marine fishes, and analyzed distributional patterns of the near-Arctic fish fauna.55

In addition to supervising the Fish Collection, McPhail undertook an active teaching role.56  UW course catalogs list him as teaching a course on Biogeography of Fishes as well as an Undergraduate Seminar.57  He instigated a research program and received a National Science Foundation grant in 1964 to study morphological variation in the three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus.  McPhail published several papers from 1963-1966 (e.g., McPhail, 1963, 1966).  He supervised the research of two graduate students (Appendix) and was active in the School, serving on various academic committees.  McPhail was recommended for promotion to Associate Professor in January 1966.58

McPhail, however, was apparently eagerly sought by the Institute of Fisheries, University of British Columbia.  He accepted a position there in 1966 as Associate Professor in the Zoology Department, after serving only three years at the University of Washington.59



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