The University Lecture

Since 1950, the University Lecture has offered members of the BU community and the general public an opportunity to hear from distinguished faculty about the outstanding and often groundbreaking research and scholarship in which they are actively engaged.

University Lecturers represent a vast array of disciplines and research topics, yet share a common commitment to excellence in scholarly inquiry and discovery. The annual lecture provides an opportunity to highlight the work of a distinguished scholar and engages both the University community and the broader public in the vibrant intellectual life of Boston University.

Registration for the 2018 University Lecture is now open

Please RSVP by Friday, November 2, 2018, by clicking here.

For questions about accessibility or to request an accommodation ( e.g. ASL Interpreters, Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART); assistive listening devices; hearing or induction loops), please contact Michelle Pollino at Please submit requests for accommodations as soon as possible, ideally no later than 10 business days prior to the event.

2018 University Lecture

Diversity and Plasticity of Life: A Biologist’s Journey from Embryo Self-Defense to Sexual Behavior

Presented by Karen Warkentin, Professor of Biology and Professor of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies

Wednesday, November 14, 2018 at 7 p.m.
Tsai Performance Center
685 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts
Admission is free. The public is cordially invited.
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Dr. Karen Warkentin has been a Professor of Biology at Boston University since 2001, a Research Associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), in Panama, since 2004, and a Professor of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies at BU since 2011. She grew up in Kenya and Canada, did her BSc at the University of Guelph, MSc at Dalhousie University, PhD at the University of Texas, Austin, and postdoctoral studies at the University of Kentucky and STRI. She has studied Neotropical frogs since 1991, working in Costa Rica and Panama, with more recent collaborations in Colombia and Ecuador; during the field season, she coordinates the Gamboa Frog Group. Her research focuses on phenotypic plasticity and integrative biology of embryos and tadpoles, and on hatching as a critical transition point and embryo self-defense strategy. She also studies how animals use vibrations as an information source.

Prof. Warkentin works across disciplines, collaborating with engineers and computer scientists in her vibrations research and with humanists and social scientists in her teaching. She helped develop BU’s Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program and is a member of the BU Gender + Sexuality Studies Group. She brings a biological perspective to gender & sexuality studies, and a feminist and queer perspective to biology, and is increasingly asked to combine these approaches in her presentations.

She has published 60 scientific papers and given, or mentored students to give, over 200 conference presentations and seminars, including many plenaries and symposium talks, in English and Spanish. She served as an editor of Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology and on the Board of Governors of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. She has organized symposia on Environmentally Cued Hatching Across Taxa and on Diversity, Plasticity, and the Science of Sexuality. She worked in public environmental education for eight years before starting graduate school and is committed to making her work accessible. Her team’s research has often been featured in the media, including Boston Globe, Discover Magazine, Discovery Channel, National Geographic, New York Times, Science News, Scientific American, David Attenborough’s Life in Cold Blood and NPR’s Science Friday, and a social media video viewed 2.8 million times.

Watch the lecture:

Past Lectures


The Liberty to Copy Unpatented Inventions: Potential Collisions with Trademark and Copyright Law
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Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau’s Woods
Presented by Richard Primack


Sacred Waters: Historical Ecology, Power, and the Soul of the Blue Nile
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A Bionic Pancreas for Type 1 Diabetes:  The Long-Awaited Alternative to the Ever-Elusive Cure
Presented by Edward Damiano


The D-Lightful Vitamin D for Health
Presented by Michael Holick


The Ponzi Scheme Puzzle: The Stories Behind Some of the Biggest Liars in History
Presented by Tamar Frankel


The Wonderful Things of Punt: Excavations at a Pharaonic Harbor on the Red Sea
Presented by Kathryn Bard


Not a Note Too Many: Beethoven, McCartney, & Miles 2010
Presented by Jeremy Yudkin


Aeroecology: The Next Frontier
Presented by Thomas H. Kunz


Biology by Design
Presented by James J. Collins


Illusions of Managing History: The Enduring Relevance of Reinhold Niebuhr
Presented by Andrew J. Bacevich


Blood Wedding: The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in History and Memory
Presented by Barbara Diefendorf


American Bioethics after Nuremberg: Pragmatism, Politics, and Human Rights
Presented by George Annas


Macbeth and the Show of Kings
Presented by William C. Carroll


Crossing the Watershed: Biological and Other Worlds in the Post-Genomic Era
Presented by Charles Delisi