This blog entry honors John Pearse who was a world-renowned invertebrate biologist who made significant strides in understand Antarctic fauna. John passed this year and has left a legacy not only of quality science, but of enthusiasm and support especially for earlier career stage scientists. He directly influenced several of the scientists on this research expedition. As a tribute to John, we thought we would share a few reflections with you.
I first met John Pearse at a conference where I was giving what was likely one of my first invited talks ever. Nervous, I got up and during my presentation, I scanned the crowd and noticed him sitting there. It’s not that I didn’t know who he was, heck, I likely had referenced his work on reproduction in Antarctic invertebrates many times by that point. Additionally, I knew who he was through conferences… when you’re a young grad student, you tend to look out for the giants in your field, and John was definitely one of those, and either run up to them and introduce yourself, or hide in fear that they won’t like you or your work. I did the latter, not knowing any better. Anyhow, back to the conference talk… I gave my presentation and at the end of the session, Jim McClintock who was hosting, introduced me to John. We talked for a little bit about my work and where it was going, what was next, etc. I got to shake his hand, tell him how much I admired his scientific contributions, he laughed, shook it off, and we went our separate ways. After that, year after year, we would see each other at an annual meeting, and every year… I mean EVERY year, he remembered who I was and what I did. John was a legend in the field... and he bothered to remember me, a young faculty member at a conference. It made a lasting impression to this day.
I know that there are likely hundreds of stories like this out there… impressions he made, impacts on careers, and all the other personal contributions John made to people’s lives. My interactions with him were not unusual. But to me, they were absolutely special and I will miss seeing John every January at SICB.
I am not sure when exactly I met John and Vicki Pearse, but it was probably at an American Zoologists annual meeting (now called Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology). I was a graduate student or early postdoc working on the relationships of animal phyla and thus I was very familiar with his invertebrate textbook. Years later got to know John much better during a cruise on the R/V Point Sur off the coast of California. John’s excitement for animals was palpable even as a senior scientist. The amazing thing was that it seemed that all invertebrates were John’s favorite animals and he always took time to teach a thing or two about the animals. His work on Antarctic animals, especially echinoderms (urchins, sea stars, etc.), set the foundation for much of our current understanding of invertebrates in the Southern Ocean. His efforts ranged from their life history and reproduction, to unique adaptations, to physiology. In particular, some of his classic works describe the unusually long time it takes some invertebrate larvae to develop into juvenile animals. To John’s credit, he was refreshingly open to new ideas and always supportive of students studying invertebrates… and he always did it with a smile.
I went to the University of California, Santa Cruz as an undergraduate in Marine Biology specifically because I wanted to take Kelp Forest Ecology, having no idea that I would take several other classes from John Pearse along the way to taking that one, and end up doing a Master’s in Marine Science with him. John’s classes were my favorites, hands down. Invertebrate Zoology with John and Todd Newberry, wandering around campus and visiting the black widow that had lived under the same rock for twenty years, finding a cricket with a nematomorph parasite, and the trip with John to the intertidal in Monterey. Intertidal Ecology was wonderful, experiencing the many intertidal environments that can be accessed from Santa Cruz, and John incorporated undergraduates in ongoing research, monitoring the recovery of the intertidal from the sewer outfall, a project that he continued many years into his retirement. I use the word retirement loosely, as John might have officially retired but that didn’t slow him down! And of course, Intertidal Ecology, diving at Hopkins for a full quarter. There is nothing more amazing than diving there.
I am here in the Antarctic in part because John encouraged me several times over the years to find a way to get here. I remember seeing some rather wild-eyed photos of him after he overwintered. He obviously loved the Antarctic, and now that I am here I am beginning to comprehend why. As an advisor, both undergraduate and graduate, John was always encouraging and genuinely supportive of students (myself obviously included). He cared about all of us students, both as scientists and as people. I think the words that most immediately come to my mind when I try to describe John are kind and caring, and I will miss his hugs of greeting at meetings.
Sarah Gerken (UCSC 1989-1992, 1993-1995)