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 1 each of technologist, research associate, 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). For 2021-2022, we have 3 thesis students, 1 independent research project student, and 1 volunteer during the academic year.

2021-2022 Recruitment for Graduate positions

Priority Area is in 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, a statement of interest, and a copy of your 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.

Undergraduate Research Experiences

We are increasing our undergraduate training back towards normal levels.  If you are interested in a volunteer position in our lab, please contact me with your resume and transcripts in late summer. 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 first week of term.

If you are interested in a research course (e.g. BIO3IR3, BIO4IR3, MOLBIO3IO3), please note that the vast majority of students undertaking these in my lab have a prior or established  position (volunteer, summer work student, work study) in my lab already. This is because the health and safety and animal care courses take so long to complete prior to starting any work in the lab. I only supervise 1-2 students in these courses per year.

If you are interested in a senior thesis (BIO4C12) or project (BIO4F06), please contact me in fall about your interests for your thesis.  I typically supervise 2-4 students per year, mostly in the thesis course.

Paid work placements are possible in summer and most are to support work study students; international summer internships are through MITACs Global links programs.  Some years we have additional funds to support summer researchers.  Students with competitive applications should consider applying for NSERC USRA awards for summer research.  The biology department provides information to all Biology students about USRA applications.

Note that I regularly attend the Biology Thesis and Research Opportunities Night and Biology level II Welcome events.  Please come chat with me about research opportunities, if you are at these events!  I am happy to talk about how undergraduates can join my lab.

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.

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 may be placed here and commonly advertised through appropriate society job boards when I have a fully funded PDF position that includes stipend support.

Interested students should contact Dr. Joanna Wilson at:


Recent Posts

Research Leave is where?

Research leave has rolled around and again, it seems to follow family catastrophe.  I *thought* we would be in Bergen, Norway right now but new elder care duties seriously cancelled that plan. So now I am local.  Research Leave in Hamilton!!!  At the end, it looks like COVID might have cancelled things anyways because I am not sure relocating in the middle of the largest wave of the pandemic would have been so attractive.  Still, it was Norway and I am missing the sea.

My priority for research leave has always been to do something significant for my research program.  For my first, I spent 13 months in Sweden and this was where I fist started doing behavioural research with fish.  I also learned to experiment with primary hepatocytes, although this hasn’t been incorporated in my lab in the same way.  That is mostly because the results of the experiments were a bit blah and unexciting for the compounds we were testing in hepatocyte culture.  But the behavioural research is a different story.  Now we have added in a suite of behavioural assays in different life stages.  For juvenile and adults, we have used courtship, aggression, behavioural choice experiments with odorants and thermal preference tests. For larval fish, we now do a whole range of swimming (general swimming, light:dark response, thigmotaxis), startle responses and feeding behaviour.  My year away pushed us in a new direction that has been rewarding.

So what is on the table this year?  Planning is still an active process but one thing is for sure is that I have some training and planning to do. First, is training to work with human subjects as we have some projects that will cross into social sciences.  The other major training need is to brush up on transcriptomics analyses and R so that we are better equipped for some of the new data we will be generating in the next few years.  Second, is planning for both the lab and field for our perch embryo experiments. We learned so much from last year’s experiments and have to adjust. We will adjust the lab for better rearing protocols and really minimize some of the labour issues we encountered last year. We are adding  new lights to help with feed training the larval fish too. We are also adjusting our field sites and I need to get new permits in place. This is really exciting and I already have new Windermere traps under construction with the engineering lab.  I can’t wait for perch spawning.

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