Szyf is currently a James McGill and Glaxo SmithKline-CIHR professor of Pharmacology at McGill University. Szyf's research has focused on understanding the basic principles of the DNA methylation machinery for the last three decades. He received his Ph. D from the Hebrew University working with Aharon Razin on basic mechanisms of DNA methylation. Szyf then went on to a postdoctoral fellowship in Genetics at Harvard Medical School and was appointed to an assistant professor at McGill University in Pharmacology and Therapeutics in 1989.
In collaboration with Dr. Michael Meaney, Szyf's lab discovered an epigenetic mechanism by which maternal behavior results in a stable alteration of the glucocorticoid receptor gene by DNA methylation in the hippocampus of the offspring. New data from his lab shows that a similar process is associated with human suicide, and that marks of childhood adversity are found in adult human brains. This data provides a paradigm on how nurture alters nature. This last discovery was selected by Quebec Science as one of the most important 10 discoveries of the year 2009. Szyf's work has led to a paradigm shift in our understanding of the relationship between the environment and the genome and introduced the idea that the social environment could talk to the genome and sculpt the genome.