Professor Diarmaid Ó Foighil is the new chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, following Professor John Vandermeer, who was interim chair for the 2013-2014 academic year. Ó Foighil became acting chair May 1, 2014 and officially stepped into the new role July 1, 2014.
“Diarmaid will be a great chair,” said Vandermeer. “He has already shown great leadership skills as director of the museum, taking the time to seek out everyone's advice on issues concerning them. During these trying times, with the university engaging in some complex and difficult issues such as the famous Administrative Services Transfer (AST) and the department looking at a future in a new building, he is exactly the sort of person we want running the ship. If he were running for president, I would vote for him.”
Ó Foighil obtained a B.Sc. (honors) in zoology from the National University of Ireland, Galway, in 1981 and a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Victoria, Canada, in 1987. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Friday Harbor Laboratories, University of Washington; Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, B.C.; and a research scientist at the University of South Carolina prior to joining the faculty at the University of Michigan in 1995 as a member of the then Department of Biology and the U-M Museum of Zoology. He served as director of the U-M Museum of Zoology from 2011 – 2014.
Ó Foighil’s research interests are in invertebrate evolution and systematics, with an emphasis on Mollusca, the second largest animal phylum. They are enormously diverse, have an excellent fossil record, and play central roles in almost all of the Earth’s ecosystems. “Outstanding exemplar molluscan taxa can be targeted for most primary questions in the overlapping disciplines of evolution, systematics and biogeography,” he said. “Although my background has been in marine systems, since moving to Ann Arbor I have also become very interested in freshwater and terrestrial taxa and presently have research projects on marine, freshwater and terrestrial taxa.” These include speciation of open-ocean surface plankton (neuston), the role of commensalism in promoting marine speciation and the conservation biology of highly endangered Pacific island tree snails.
“Diarmaid is an inspiring teacher and an empowering mentor to individual students,” said Professor Deborah Goldberg, who was EEB’s chair for 11 years. “But, in addition, he has had and continues to have an influence on the biology curriculum that reaches thousands of students, well beyond what any individual instructor can achieve. The College of LSA recognized his extraordinary achievements with an Excellence in Teaching Award in 2008.”
Jingchun Li, who recently graduated with her Ph.D., said of her advisor, Ó Foighil, “He cares about his students very much, and not just about our academic roles -- he cares whether you’re happy or not -- he’s really good at that. He asks what’s wrong and sees how he can help.”
“EEB is lucky to have Diarmaid coming in as the new chair,” said Goldberg. “He is completely committed to further increasing EEB's already stellar reputation for outstanding research, continuing to improve our teaching and expand our major, while making it a supportive and balanced place to work. He is highly collaborative and has wonderful people skills and I couldn't be more optimistic about the future of the department.”
“I’d like to pay tribute to my predecessors, John Vandermeer, who served as interim chair for the past year, and Deborah Goldberg, our founding and long-time head of department,” said Ó Foighil. “John has been a faculty member at the U-M since 1970 and he embodies the sense of intellectual drive and enthusiasm that lies at the heart of EEB. Deborah has guided and shaped the department since its very beginning. I simply cannot imagine the EEB Department without her input and she deserves the lion’s share of credit for the vibrant and inclusive academic community it has become. Those very qualities are what persuaded me to serve as chair of EEB. I’m profoundly impressed by our talented faculty, graduate students and staff and look forward to working closely with them over the next three years. We have much to do but our future is indeed bright!”