In honour of the birthday of one of the most influential minds in biological sciences, Charles Darwin, students of Dr. Scott Lovell’s Biology 377 class and other members of the St. Mary’s community were treated to a guest lecture by Dr. Stephanie Blais.

Dr. Blais’ discussion on how palaeontologists identify transitional forms in fossil records and why these forms are, in fact, not ‘links’ in some greater chain, but branches on an even greater ‘tree’.

For Dr. Blais, Darwin’s influence has had a larger impact on her palaeontological career the further she progresses.

“He was obviously an influence as the guy who kind of figured evolution out, but later on as I started to learn more about him as a human being it sort of had a new influence on me,” said Dr. Blais. “In terms of recognizing that someone who has made such a contribution was also someone who was very insecure, took a long time to process things and was very hard on himself, and that was very reassuring to me.”

It was the ability to try and understand how everything fits together that drew Dr. Blais to her career in palaeontology, though it is a subject matter that Dr. Blais admits had sparked her curiosity at a very young age.

“I don’t remember a time when I was not ever interested in palaeontology. A lot of kids go through ha dinosaur phase at some point, but mine never really stopped,” explained Dr. Blais. “I really like trying to figure out where stuff came from and how it got to the way it is, as well as getting into the origins of things.”

Charles Darwin remains a compelling figure to this day because the ideas that he came up with were so revolutionary. His desire to understand ‘why’ something in nature worked the way it did set the ground work for generations of curious individuals. For the students at St. Mary’s, Dr. Blais’ guest lecture provided a different point of view on some of Darwin’s theories as well as supporting evidence from her own PhD work that highlighted the fact that our understanding of transitions in the fossil record has expanded greatly since Darwin’s time.