Western University BiologyWestern Science

A Short History of the Friday Philosophicals

by Paul Handford and Jack Millar

The origins of today’s Ecology-Evolution “Friday Philosophicals” stretch back at least to the early-mid 1970s; maybe there was something even before that, but nearly forty years is as far back as Jack Millar can remember.

Back then, there were two weekly Collip events, which have since become crunched into the one that now happens on Fridays. The Friday event (the “Philosophical”) was simply an end-of-week beer-in-the-fridge session; it originally took place in Collip 104 (since migrating to 208, then to 112 – where we also had a dart board!), with supply duties rotating weekly among the lab groups. Anyone wanting a beer and a chat on a Friday afternoon was welcome, and the custodians were among the regulars. Eventually, it had to become more secretive as the university tightened up its campus beer policy.

Then there were the “Wednesday-Niters”; these were sessions permitting the informal discussion of grad students’ research projects, and they took place in the homes of faculty, around the town. The grad-of-the-day arrived with notes, overheads, a stand-up screen and a two-four or two and made a presentation of their ideas, data, conclusions etc., as appropriate to their stage. The discussions were spirited and great fun, often lasting well into the night: presenters learned the rough & tumble business of presenting and defending their views on their feet, and the rest honed their thinking & questioning skills. All agreed they were a grand institution, and they formed a truly distinctive part of Western’s E&E group experience. On top of being an excellent tool in professional and intellectual development, they comprised a very important piece of the group's social furniture, generating great esprit de corps. But eventually, faculty retired and/or moved out of town until by the later 80s-early 90s we had only 2 locations for most of the winter, early fall and late spring sessions being held at out of town locations.

Eventually it was suggested that the two weekly events be merged. Thus was born the modern Friday Phils format: seminars plus weekly brews in a single Collip location starting off in Collip 208, since migrating to 112, where the last sessions took place in spring 2010. Our swelling graduate ranks have since forced a move from the Collip spaces, so Fall 2010 sees the Friday Phils take their next steps. Let’s hope that its future unrolling will continue to generate a fruitful and fun experience for all.