Research Opportunities

Are you interested in aquatic organisms? The Wilson Tox Lab is recruiting now! 

We are a team-based research group located in the Department of Biology at McMaster University in Hamilton ON Canada.  We are recruiting for several positions in two of our three core areas of interdisciplinary research.  Strong collaborative and communication skills are essential.  The Wilson Tox Lab currently has 2 technicians and 1 PDF, PhD and MSc student; we typically train 8-10 undergraduates per year (including 2-4 senior thesis and experiential course students, 2-4 summer researcher students and some volunteer positions).

FALL 2021 Undergraduate Research Experiences

We are prepared to increase our undergraduate training back towards normal levels.  If you are interested in a volunteer position in our lab (sorry, our paid and experiential learning course positions are already full), please contact me with your resume and transcripts. Training takes longer with our current protocols, please understand these are ~10 hour a week positions for the full academic year.  I will be meeting to discuss opportunities with students at the end of August and into the first week of term.

2021-2022 Recruitment for Graduate and PDF positions

Priority Area 1. The impact of temperature on fish development and developmental plasticity.

We examine the impacts of elevated incubation temperature on the development of important native species such as lake whitefish, round whitefish and yellow perch.

We are recruiting 1 post doctoral fellow and/or one graduate student (MSc preferred) to start before spring 2022field season to work with yellow perch. The expected start date for the graduate student would be January 2022.  The PDF could start at any time before February 2022.  The project is funded and an NSERC Collaborative Research and Development Grant.

This research is a collaboration between the Wilson lab at McMaster University, the labs of Drs. Richard Manzon and Chris Somers at the University of Regina, and with Bruce Power, through the Nuclear Innovation Institute (NII).  We are currently focused on yellow perch, a spring spawning species, and are determining the impacts of elevated chronic and seasonal temperature regimes during embryogenesis. Fish reared in common garden conditions in the post-hatching stage will be used to assess developmental plasticity and the long-term implications of different incubation temperatures.  Experimental time frame may include fish reared up to 1 year of age.

Field sampling and embryo rearing of perch is typically shared for the Manzon and Wilson labs; we are a highly integrative team and candidates should be prepared to work across the groups and coordinate experiments/experimental design. We have the interest and capacity to investigate whole organismal, tissue, cellular and molecular responses to temperature in embryos and larval fish.  The trainee(s) will have significant interaction with our industrial partner, regulators and stakeholders; this project involves knowledge translation activities to a variety of audiences.

This research is for people with an interest in the impacts of climate change and/or industrial thermal emissions to aquatic receiving waters, fish physiology, and development.  Spawning season is in spring, so we would need positions filled in time for Feb 2022 field season.

 Priority Area 2. The function of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes in aquatic organisms.

We use a variety of aquatic species to study the capacity for contaminant metabolism and better understand toxicokinetics.  Key species are zebrafish and the polychaete Capitella teletaWe are recruiting 2 graduate students (PhD preferred) in 2021-2022 to work on projects related to the function of cytochrome P450 enzymes, supported by an NSERC Discovery grant.

We are recruiting one student to study the function of CYPs (CYP1, CYP2 and/or CYP3 family) in zebrafish and their role in toxicokinetics. CYPs in these families are thought to play a major role in xenobiotic metabolism and chemical defense. Students may be interested in working either in vitro (with expressed proteins) and/or in vivo (with embryos or adults) to assess the role of CYPs in xenobiotic metabolism.  We have data from high throughput screening of substrates for CYP1A, CYP3C1 and CYP3A65 to support this project. Studies in our lab have included bioinformatics (genome annotation, phylogenies, promoter identification), in vitro expression of proteins, high throughput screening for substrates and in vitro assessment of function.  Candidates with an interest in molecular docking studies or genetic manipulations (e.g. gene knock down or knock out) are particularly encouraged. Candidates may have a background in biochemistry, molecular biology, physiology, or toxicology.

We are recruiting one student to study CYP function in the marine polychaete Capitella teleta; we have a culture established at McMaster University to support this project.  Our current research has focused on the estrogen receptor pathway in Capitella.  Candidates may be interested in further studies on estrogen and endocrine disruption or in studies related to xenobiotic tolerance as this species is well known for surviving in highly disturbed environments.  We have previously identified all the CYPs in the genome and have data to support which genes are likely under the regulation of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor and may mediate metabolism of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Generating knock outs may be useful in this research and candidates with an interest in genetic manipulations are encouraged.  Candidates may have a background in invertebrate biology, physiology, or toxicology.

Interested? please contact Joanna Wilson via email:

with your CV and a statement of interest; potential graduate students should also include a copy of their transcripts.

Closing date will be until these positions are filled.  Graduate students must apply to the Department of Biology prior to a formal offered in the lab. Application deadlines for January 2022 admission will be Nov 15, 2021 (domestic students only).  International students will have an application deadline of Jan 31, 2022 (for Sept 2022 admission). Graduate candidates are encouraged to discuss research interests in advance of the formal application process.

Information on the graduate program and admissions in Biology at McMaster is available online.

More general information about Research Opportunities in the Wilson lab for undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral investigators.

Post-doctoral Opportunities

Post-doctoral opportunities are available in my lab, although they typically require that you obtain fellowship support (e.g. NSERC PDF).  Please contact me directly to discuss your interests.  Specific post-doctoral opportunities are posted below and commonly advertised through appropriate society job boards when I have a fully funded PDF position that includes stipend support.

M.Sc. and Ph.D. Opportunities

I am looking for students with a strong interest in research science and a solid background in biology or related fields.  Students in my lab have science backgrounds in physiology, zoology, biochemistry/chemistry, molecular biology, or environmental sciences.  Students that have completed undergraduate theses or have prior research experience are particularly encouraged to contact me.  If you are considering graduate school, you are strongly encouraged to apply for OGS, NSERC or other appropriate scholarships.

Potential graduate students are welcome to contact me directly regarding research opportunities.  Please include your resume (CV) and an electronic copy of your transcripts when you email.

Information on graduate applications is available through the Biology Department’s web pages for graduate students.  There is plenty of information available through the website for prospective graduate students.  Students typically start in summer (May) or fall (September) terms.

Undergraduate Opportunities

Undergraduate students are welcome in my lab for summer research projects and senior theses.  Most of these students are from the Department of Biology and thesis students are typically enrolled in Biology 4C12.  Preference is given to students with a strong interest in science research and in a biology or biology (physiology specialization) degree program.  Interested students should contact me with information on your research interests, a resume and an electronic copy of your transcripts.

My lab does have a limited number of undergraduate volunteer positions each year.  These students are typically involved in our fish care program and support our research initiatives.   Please contact us in August, or no later than the second week of September, regarding possible volunteer positions for the academic year.  We typically meet with students in the first week of term.  For summer volunteer positions, please contact us in April.  Volunteers should email a resume and electronic copy of their transcripts when they contact me.

Interested students should contact Dr. Joanna Wilson at:

Recent Posts

Recruitment begins

I’m not sure I can adequately describe the size or scale of the impact in our lab over the last year+ but this pandemic was dishing things out left, right and centre.  I feel like we are at a nexus of where the pandemic really delayed and harmed our research program.  The personal impacts for many in my group have likewise been large and the largest goal was to try to keep all of us upright, in science, and keeping our heads above the water.  In that regard, we need to reassess and redefine success over the last year.  We have survived (!!) and this was largely from the resilience of our group, as much as I think that is an overused term.  But we did get through this year together, pivoting efforts, helping each other, focusing on what we could do, taking things one step at a time.  Now we are starting to see progress in projects again and productivity is starting to leap back up.  That provides some space to look forward and plan for the future.  Let’s start with some lab success stories.  I’ll add in where we will be recruiting in the upcoming year in these projects.  A detailed outline of our open positions in 2021-2022 will be posted, so please check them out and get in touch if you are interested in our research program.

When the pandemic shut down McMaster, yellow perch were spawning and we were about to launch into working with a brand new species.  Waiting a full 12 months to restart was very hard but spring 2021 saw us undertaking the experiments we canceled the year before (and then some!) with very good outcomes.  The lab (especially Shamaila Fraz) came roaring back with ambitious plans that were very fruitful and lots of experiences in testing new protocols to help move research plans forward.  I am quite excited to see the data collection from our new samples and the analyses from the data already collected.  It will shape the direction of our research into developmental plasticity and impacts of temperature on fish development.  Much of our work this year focused on embryogenesis and immediate post-hatching periods while we work on the juvenile rearing stages. Perch are definitely a bit tough to rear post-hatching, compared to the other species we have worked on.  No surprise but we certainly learned some things not to do to keep them happy.  We are looking to recruit for this project in the upcoming months so we are ready to take on spring 2022 spawn.

While we graduated two graduate students from the lab in 2021, clear success stories, these were students who were done data collection prior to university shut down.  Other graduate students in the lab faced much bigger challenges. With major lost experiments and one totally new project later, we forged a new plan to get back on track. I’m really excited about these new directions.  Andrea Murillo has a freezer full of samples taken from our culture of the marine polychaete worm, Capitella teleta, and she is now extracting those samples to get geared up for gene expression and steroid hormone analyses.  Shemar Williams has completed a suite of experiments in zebrafish embryos and on track to finish his MSc.  Its great to see these project humming along.  This also means it is time to think about new graduate students in 2022 interested in the function of cytochrome P450 enzymes using either zebrafish or Capitella as a primary species of interest.

Success, of course, has also been obvious in more traditional ways. We have been so happy to celebrate Oana Birceanu’s success this year as she starts her new role at Western’s Physiology and Pharmacology department as an Assistant Professor. I look forward to continued collaboration and engagement with her research group in the years to come.

**  If you are interested in our lab, please check back under “Recruitment Opportunities” for more details in the upcoming days. I will be posting specific information there.  The much needed refresh of the lab website is just beginning.


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