This weekend, Dr. John Fleeger, a former TIDE Principal Investigator (PI), and Dr. Anne Giblin, a current TIDE PI are being inducted as a member of the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS), known to us scientists as Triple-A S, because we’re too busy for real words. AAAS is like the Hall of Fame for scientists and it’s a big deal. We at the TIDE Project are incredibly proud of John and Anne’s accomplishment. It is well-deserved.
In this post I will highlight John. In the next, Anne.
I could list many of John’s accolades including his 150 publications in the scientific literature including topics from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to carbon sequestration in the deep ocean to community ecology of very small crustacean in the dirty, dirty mud to studying the Plum Island marshes here on the TIDE Project. I could highlight his wonderful teaching career at Louisiana State University spanning over 30 years. But what I’d rather do is talk about John as a mentor. My mentor, who guided me to my Ph.D.
John’s mentoring style can be summed up easily: his door was always literally open. And no matter the crazy nattering that spewed from my lips, he looked at the floor while nodding and waiting for me to finish. Then we would discuss. He never said my ideas were stupid, though he gently said they needed more ‘development.’
And he was patient. I can’t tell you how many times I heard him say without annoyance “Again David…” meaning that he already told what he was about to say and he was gently reminding me.
I appreciated how quickly he made comments on my scientific manuscripts. Well, how quickly he massacred them. My words were slain without mercy for their wrongness and their bodies littered the battlefield of my manuscript. It frustrated me because I prided myself as an excellent writer. But academic writing has its own style and language and John was teaching. Today I’m a better writer because of the time he took.
One Saturday morning in Baton Rouge I was at the scope sorting samples. John came in with a draft of my research proposal that he massacred. He asked me, “David, what are you trying to say here?” Then before I had a chance to answer, he looked at the draft and said with rare exasperation, “Do you even know what you’re trying to say?” I started to say something, but said, “Well no.” And then he took the time to help me start over.
I still seek John’s advice today on my manuscripts.
The following is from the Acknowledgements of my dissertation: “In 2003, the brave or foolhardy Dr. John Fleeger, with his nodding head and seemingly infinite patience that I tested more than once took in my independent and sometimes irascible spirit and navigated it down a tortuous, yet productive path. I thank him for reading (and re-reading and re-reading) every word I’ve written as a graduate student, for swatting and cursing mosquitoes with me in the marsh, and for always having his door and mind open.”
Five years later, those words, unmassacred by John’s pen, still ring true.
Congratulations John. Your induction into AAAS is well-deserved on many levels.
David Samuel Johnson is a Principal Investigator on the TIDE Project. A version of this blog post first appeared on David’s blog, New Leaf.