Great Immigrants

Marc Tessier-Lavigne
Neuroscientist and President, Stanford University
Born in:

Marc Tessier-Lavigne was born to a military family in Ontario, Canada, but he grew up in London and Brussels, where his father served as part of Canada’s military contingent at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Tessier-Lavigne was the first in his family to attend college, graduating from McGill University with a degree in physics and later earning a second degree in philosophy and physiology from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He received his PhD in physiology from University College London. A leading expert on brain development and repair, Tessier-Lavigne began his career in the United States in 1987 at Columbia University, where he did his postdoctoral research, going on to join the faculties of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Stanford University. Tessier-Lavigne’s research on the formation of neural circuits has advanced our understanding of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. During his time as vice president for research and chief scientific officer at the biotechnology company Genentech, he directed 1,400 scientists in research and drug discovery for cancer and other diseases. Tessier-Lavigne returned to academia in 2011 to serve as president of Rockefeller University and, in September 2016, was named the 11th president of Stanford University. In his “What Matters to Me and Why” lecture, delivered to Stanford students in 2017, Tessier-Lavigne said that the American regard for the sciences was one of the reasons he decided to pursue his career in the United States. As he put it, “Compared to so many other places in the world, I think there’s a bedrock optimism in this society, and individual drive and accountability. We have to kindle that optimism, because there’s lots to be optimistic about if we work together to tackle problems. It’s optimism that has to keep us going.”