François was born and grew up in Switzerland, where his father was a well-known artist, a talent François himself also nurtured throughout his life. Majoring in the natural sciences, he completed his Ph.D. in 1967 at Harvard University under the mentorship of Ernst Mayr. His thesis, on speciation in high Andean birds, led to multiple important papers that influenced researchers for decades.
Following one year as a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at AMNH and one year at the Marine Biological Station at Roscoff, France, François took up a teaching position in the Biology Department, University of Massachusetts, Boston, where he advanced to Associate Professor. In 1971, he became Director and Professor at the Institute of Animal Ecology and Zoology, University of Lausanne and then a Visiting Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, University of Paris. In 1974, François came to the AMNH as an Associate Curator and remained here until 2005, when he retired. He served as Chairman of the Department from 1987-1992.
François was deeply engaged with teaching and mentoring, through CUNY as well as during summers at the College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, Maine. Importantly, as President of the Neotropical Ornithological Society he supported Latin American student engagement in research and at meetings.
François received many accolades for his professional accomplishments including election as a Fellow of the American Ornithologists' Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and as a Corresponding Member of the Société ornithologique de France.
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