Claire and Will Cupples

Claire and Will Cupples sit together on a bench in Finnerty Gardens
UVic alumni and scientists Claire and Will Cupples pledged $2 million to support a new Life Sciences Innovation Fund.

The story of Claire and Will Cupples making a life together begins at the University of Victoria and, through a variety of ways, finds its way back here. The two met during their final years as biology students. They bonded over a mutual love of science and research, often over food and drinks at the Student Union Building.

Pursuing sciences was a natural choice for Will, BSc ’73, given the way his mind works. “I have to have the whole animal in front of me,” he says about becoming an integrative physiologist. “I really took off in John Hayward’s third-year physiology class, and knew where I was going after that.”

Claire, BSc ’74, ultimately chose sciences over modern languages because she thought there would be more job opportunities. During her undergrad at UVic, she was inspired by Michael Ashford-Smith and a book by James Watson (known, along with Francis Crick, for discovering the double helix structure of DNA)—both influences that led her to become a molecular biologist.

Will and Claire Cupples

 “Claire was a good undergraduate student, and I was a very bad student,” Will says. “I majored in rugby and beer.” The two balanced studying together in the research carrels of the Cunningham building with evening trips to the SUB pub with a group of fellow students. “Gradually it became more us and less them,” Claire says about how their relationship blossomed. Over the next decade the couple married, earned their master’s degrees and PhDs at Canadian institutions and moved to Los Angeles for post-doctoral fellowships. 

Returning to UVic

Despite the challenge of finding employment at the same city at the same time, Claire and Will built their careers in the life sciences and academia. Between 2003 and 2010, they found themselves back at UVic, where Claire served as the chair of biochemistry and microbiology and dean pro tem in the Faculty of Science and Will was a researcher and teacher in the biology department and the Island Medical Program. At the end of 2019 the pair retired from Simon Fraser University as professors emeriti, where Claire had been SFU’s first female dean of science.

Throughout their time as scientists, grant reviewers and administrators in academia, the Cupples saw a big discrepancy between the funding available to researchers in medical schools to generate pilot data for grant applications compared to comprehensives. Determined to bridge this gap, they came up with the idea for the endowment. “The short answer for why we’ve decided to support research is because it’s fun,” says Will. “The joy of being a scientist was that every day I was dealing with something I didn’t understand and I had to figure out.”

Leaving a legacy

They’ve pledged $500,000 to start an endowed fund and plan to add a bequest gift of $1.5 million in their wills. Their generous donation establishes the Life Sciences Innovation Fund, which will provide one-time grants for scholars to initiate new life science research projects. Due to the nature of the endowment, this crucial financial resource will be available in perpetuity. 

“It was always in our minds that we would do something for universities because we believe in them and we’ve made our careers with them,” says Claire. “We’ve always been fond of UVic because that’s where we met. And it gave us an excellent education.”

Read more about the Life Sciences Innovation Fund