Fall 2014 Newsletter | Biology | Marquette University



Dr. ROBERT THOMSON– MU Faculty from 1960 – 1992

Dr. Robert Thomson

Dr. Robert Thomson first came to the Marquette Biology Department in 1958 as a graduate student after graduating with a double major in Botany and Zoology from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Right away, Dr. Thomson began serving the department as a teaching assistant for laboratory courses.


Dr. Thomson wanted to begin his graduate studies at Marquette in Botany, but decided to begin his Master’s degree under Fr. John O’Brien, with a thesis in Radiation Biology. After completing his Master’s in 1960, Dr. Thomson was offered a faculty position as an Instructor, along with the opportunity to work on his doctorate at the same time. Dr. Thomson was one of the first students in the newly re-formed Doctoral Program. Dr. Millington advised Dr. Thomson on his thesis, “Regulation of the cataphyll-foliage leaf transition in sugar maple”, which was completed in 1968. Directly after this, department chair Dr. John Saunders, promoted Dr. Thomson to Assistant Professor, and Dr. Thomson assumed responsibility for the Introductory Laboratory Course. He was appointed Assistant Chair in 1973, a position he served in until 1985.


Dr. Saunders identified Dr. Thomson as a “great asset to the Department” in his 1960-1961 annual report. Even then, Dr. Thomson’s enthusiasm and connection with students was obvious. Dr. Thomson determined early on that his passion lay in teaching, and spent his career developing innovative laboratory exercises, and in Department and University service roles. Looking back on Dr. Thomson’s tenure, Dr. Peter Abramoff wrote, “Dr. Thomson has been an outstanding teacher who has introduced thousands of students to biology techniques and procedures in his Biology 90, Principles of Biological Investigation. He designed and implemented this course when our whole undergraduate curriculum was restructured in 1971… His popularity among undergraduates is unmatched in our department because of his availability for guidance and counseling. He takes great pride in his teaching and works very diligently to make his courses both interesting and challenging."


Dr. Robert Thomson





During his career, Dr. Thomson authored and coauthored 12 college laboratory manuals and instructor’s handbooks. One of these manuals, Laboratory Outlines in Biology, was published for more than 30 years, and in its time was considered to be the foremost introductory laboratory manual in the country.


Beyond the Biology Department, Dr. Thomson has left an important legacy in the education of all students at Marquette. He worked for years as a promoter of the importance of student advising, and he helped the University to overcome two important obstacles to quality student advising: faculty training, and giving all students an opportunity to receive advising opportunities. As Associate Dean, Robert R. Neuman put it, “Dr. Thomson has been a primary planner, developer, and promoter of advising programs in the College…Advising in its most general application is often thought to be need-based. Those students who need help can get it. But if one insists that advising is a universal need of all students, one is implying that the whole student body is deficient, something which a quality institution would never want to admit… If academic advising is defined as a special service, that service must be learned by those who advise. Since Marquette’s advising services have been mainly faculty functions, faculty would have to learn how to advise, something (many) are reluctant to do.” Dr. Thomson convincingly demonstrated that advising is essential to a good learning environment, and a good learning environment affects the retention of students. As a promoter of advising, he convinced many faculty that good advising takes more than just listing an advisor’s name next to a student’s. Dr. Thomson showed that advising is a skill of interaction where both advisor and advisee must be knowledgeable and proficient. Dr. Bob Fitts wrote that, “Dr. Thomson was always willing to take the time to advise a student or work with me or other faculty in developing the best program of study for a given undergraduate. Success of the department’s advising program can be directly attributed to Dr. Thomson.”




Biological Sciences Department

Marquette University, Wehr Life Sciences
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P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201-1881
(414) 288-7355