Associate Professor of Biology
At Knox Since: 2001
James Mountjoy joined the Knox faculty in 2000, accepting a shared
appointment with Jennifer Templeton. He received his bachelor's degree
at the University of Guelph-Ontario, his master's degree at Queens University,
and his doctorate at McGill University. Mountjoy is a field biologist who
researches sexual selection among birds.
Aside from the obvious qualities of Knox that everyone knows, the College's openness to hiring academic couples and the very reasonable approach to job shares was a huge plus. Also, the Green Oaks Field Station is a great place for me to do research, as well as an excellent place to go birding and to explore nature.
What is your most memorable moment at Knox?
We started off as visiting professors, so the day that we were offered tenure track jobs here was pretty memorable. But moments later, we were asked if we would like to go to Tanzania on a faculty development trip with some other Knox faculty. Since visiting East Africa has been a dream since childhood, the combination of offers was almost too good to be true!
Please describe your current research? What is most interesting about this research?
I am interested in sexual selection, and the main focus of my research is on how variation in bird song can signal the quality of the singer. I have previously studied European Starlings and found that males keep learning new sounds each year (unlike many bird species), and the most complex songs are sung by older males in good condition. When I came to Knox, I started studying Indigo Buntings, a bird with a simpler song that was thought to be pretty much fixed throughout life. In fact, my students and I have found that older buntings do add some new sounds to the end of their songs, and that birds in good condition sing longer songs. When you start to see patterns like this in quite different species, it makes you think you are really starting to understand some small part of how the world functions, and that is deeply satisfying.
If you weren't a professor, you would be a . . . ?
A park naturalist is one possibility.
What is your favorite thing about Galesburg?
It is farther south than Canada. (I HATE winter.)
What were the last three books you read?
Bob Hellenga's The Fall of a Sparrow, Mary Doria Russel's The Sparrow (I didn't teach FP this fall, but heard a lot about the book), and Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion.
What did you do to celebrate receiving tenure?
Dinner at Chez Willy's (without worrying about the bill) was the first step. I am sure the celebration will be continuing for a while.