Doctorat honoris causa

- June 12, 2008

Dalhousie professor Donald Mitchell shows off his satin sash. (Nick Pearce Photo)

Dalhousie professor emeritus Donald Mitchell is just back from Montreal, where he received an honorary degree from l’Université de Montreal for his contributions to research in optometry and psychology.

The recently retired Dr. Mitchell taught in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience for more than 35 years. He is now devoting himself to research full-time, investigating early intervention of visual development in relation to sensory and motor skills and cognitive functions.

“The work I do straddles an aspect of optometry that’s very important in psychology as well,” he says. “I love this work… My first degree was in optometry but shortly after I started practicing I realized perhaps there were other careers in the field better suited for me.” 

The career move paid off and his devotion to visual development is being recognized. L’Université de Montreal optometry professor Maurice Ptito nominated Dr. Mitchell for the award. Dr. Ptito has collaborated with Dr. Mitchell for many years.

Dr. Mitchell’s honorary doctorate at l’Université de Montreal follows that of Dr. David Hubel last year. Dr. Hubel, recipient of the 1981 Nobel Prize for Medicine, also received an honorary doctorate of laws from Dalhousie in 1998 on the recommendation of Dr. Mitchell. “It’s a tremendous honour to follow Dr. Hubel,” he says.

The honour comes with a feeling of validation says Dr. Mitchell. “Being a scientist requires that you have to promote your work—awards like this mean that people were actually listening and think you’ve made a substantial contribution… It’s a very rewarding feeling.”

He believes he was nominated in part to show graduating students that practicing optometry is just one option. “It’s very difficult to get people into the research and teaching side of the profession,” he says. “I think one of the reasons I was selected was to show people you can find other rewarding and meaningful careers in the field.”

Born in Tasmania, Australia, Dr. Mitchell has been a professor at Dalhousie since 1970. “Tasmania is Australia’s equivalent to Newfoundland, as far as being the butt of the jokes,” he says with a chuckle.


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