[Photo of Julian Szeicz]

Julian Michael Szeicz

Assistant Professor

Department of Geography and Planning

In Memoriam

People Directory Affiliation Category

Julian Michael Szeicz, B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D., January 12, 1965 - April 16, 1998

Julian Szeicz, Assistant Professor of Geography at Queen's University, lost his life in a snow avalanche near Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory on the afternoon of Thursday, April 16, 1998. The accident happened while he was conducting field research. The loss of one so talented, so full of warmth and friendship, and with such a zest for life brought deep sorrow to us all.

Julian was born in England but was raised in Ontario where his parents taught Geography (his father) and Biology (his mother) at the University of Toronto. From his parents Julian acquired a life-long love of nature and learning and it was fitting that he combined their disciplines in his own chosen field of biogeography. 

Following his graduation from the University of Toronto with a B.Sc. (Hons) degree in Biogeography, Julian went first to McMaster University, where he received his PhD in 1994 for research on long- and short-term climate change and its impact on the subarctic tree line in northwestern Canada, and then on to the University of Cambridge as an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow. For his postdoctoral research, Julian travelled to southern Chile where he pioneered the use of tree-ring analysis to study one of the most remote tree-lines in the world. In 1995 he took up his first full-time academic appointment in the Department of Geography at Queen's and continued his research on tree line climate and vegetation dynamics in both Chile and northwestern Canada. Julian very quickly established himself as a gifted teacher and in 1997 was awarded the Geography DSC Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Julian loved the outdoors and delighted in travel and exploration. Much of his research involved fieldwork in remote and wild corners of the planet; the Canadian Arctic, northern British Columbia, the Yukon, the extreme southern tip of South America and eastern Siberia. Julian combined excellence in scholarship with a delightful and engaging personality. He was instantly likeable, a kind, thoughtful and gentleman with a wry and self-deprecating sense of humour. Julian's personal qualities combined with his deep, but humble, intelligence made him much sought after as a teacher, friend, and colleague. Julian was most at home in the field, and it is fitting that his life ended doing the fieldwork that he always loved in one of earth's wild places.

Given his comparative youth, Julian had already achieved a significant international reputation in the field of paleoenvironmental reconstruction and analysis. His combination of fine­-resolution pollen work and tree-ring analysis at the same sites was original and distinctive. His life was short but full. He was a remarkable scientist and a wonderful human being and his was truly a life well-lived. We may not see Julian again, but we will never forget him.

Since Julian’s passing, there have been two awards named in his honour at Queen’s University. Ironically, the first Award listed below was renamed in Julian’s honour following his death by our undergraduate Department Student Council (DSC). As paragraph three above states, Julian himself won this Award under its previous title. There is also an award bearing his name that is granted by the Canadian Association of Geographers. See details on all three of these awards below.

The Julian Szeicz Award for Excellence in Teaching

Awarded annually by the Geography and Planning Departmental Student Council for teaching excellence and innovation on the part of a professor within the Department. The award is named in honour of Julian Szeicz, internationally respected biogeographer and award-winning teacher, who was tragically killed doing fieldwork in 1998.

The Julian Szeicz Memorial Prize

Established by friends, colleagues, and students of Julian Szeicz, internationally respected biogeographer and award-winning teacher, who was tragically killed doing fieldwork in 1998. Awarded annually to a graduating honours student in Geography, on the basis of academic excellence, who has applied to a graduate program in a field of environmental studies for the following academic session.

The Julian M. Szeicz Award for Early Career Achievement

The Julian M. Szeicz Award honours the memory and achievements of Dr. Julian M. Szeicz (1965-1998). The award is presented annually by the Canadian Association of Geographers in recognition of research achievement and career potential by a Canadian geographer at an early career stage. The purpose of the award is to foster the development of geographical studies of Canada and to provide recognition of recently established geographical practitioners.