Thursday, August 31, 2017

On Terry Wheeler

Dr. Terry Wheeler had an enormous influence on my life. He was the first to tell me about the fields of Biogeography and Systematics when I was an undergraduate and the first professor to invite me to take a course at the graduate level with him. (I didn’t know that was possible as an undergrad back then.) I went on to get a Ph.D in Evolutionary Biology and I am now myself a tenured professor studying biogeography and phylogenetic systematics. I still have my notes from my courses with Dr. Wheeler and have never forgotten the foundation of knowledge he helped me build – but he also transferred his passion for the science. From him I learned of strange lands and connections between places that seemed distant and unexplainable. I learned to sketch the world map from memory on a chalkboard from him – and I do it for the same reason: showmanship – the students eat it up. From Terry I learned about Darwin, Wallace, Lamarck, Cuvier and many others; he was a great storyteller and he made the classes interesting by making them personal. I learned that he used an undergraduate project I did as an example in his classes while I was still a student at McGill: I remember being absolutely floored and touched by the honor. By chance he was presented the “McGill Teacher of the Year” honor at my Mac graduation ceremony in which I happened to be valedictorian – he would joke with me after that he was only at that graduation to hear my speech. He helped me understand not just science but scientists. He continues to influence how I teach undergraduates and graduate students of my own. I am not sure where I would be without Terry’s influence on my life – but I would certainly not be where I am. I am glad I got to keep in touch with him after I graduated from McGill in 2000, it took me about twelve more years before I had the guts to call him “Terry”: he will always the wonderful Dr. Wheeler to me.