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The Shape of Life HomeGlossary
The EpisodesExplorations and ScientistsThe AnimalsImage GuideActivities and ResourcesAbout the Series
Cristina Diaz
Mitchell Sogin
Jack Costello
Bruce Robison
Whitey Hagadorn
Leslie Newman
William Shear
Robert Full
Geerat Vermeij
Peter Ward
Gail Kaaialii
John Pearse &
Don Wobber
Rudy Raff
Damhnait McHugh
Jennifer Clack
Kristi Curry-Rogers

Dr. Damhnait McHugh
Damhnait McHugh, Biologist
Damhnait McHugh, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Biology at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. She received a B.Sc. in Zoology from University College Galway (Ireland) in 1983, a M.Sc. in Biology from the University of Victoria (Canada) in 1987 and a Ph.D. in Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1994.

McHugh studies the ecology and evolution of marine invertebrate animals, particularly the diverse and beautiful polychaete annelid worms. Her other main research interest is in reconstructing the branches of the evolutionary tree of life that led to the major animal groups like annelids, arthropods, and molluscs.

As a teacher, McHugh emphasizes the relevance of biology in our everyday lives. Her courses include Genetics, Animal Evolution and Animal Systematics and Phylogeny.


Explore the world of worms with Dr. McHugh

Career Questions & Answers
How did you choose your present profession?

I grew up on west coast of Ireland, playing in tidepools where I became intensely interested in marine animals. After high school, I took a year off before attending university to make sure I really wanted to study marine biology. In that time I found that yes, indeed, I really did want to study marine biology, so off I went.

In my senior year, I did a benthic survey in the south of Ireland measuring the impact of effluent from a chemical factory on the surrounding marine life. This work involved taking loads of mud samples and comparing the species diversity. I ended up analyzing the worm fauna for over a year with the help of a post-doc and from there I was hooked (no pun intended.)

What would you recommend for students wanting to pursue a similar career?

I would suggest going to university, studying biology and getting into a research project as soon as you can. Try all sorts of different projects, including field work, lab work; sample different kinds of research.

What do you like best about your profession?

I love the variety. I get to teach, to do research in the lab and field, interact with lots of people, collaborate with lots of people. I do a lot of writing and reading. I very much enjoy being able to pursue a question over a number of years and trying to formulate a question more clearly. There is a general need for people who understand diversification of animals from an evolutionarily point of view to understand how diversity arose. Understanding that pathway helps inform conservation decisions and helps prioritize which species may be the most pivotal in order to preserve biodiversity.

What web sites and references would you recommend for viewers interested in your work that was featured in The Shape of Life series?

Annelids from the University of Arizon's Tree of Life

Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology






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