Field of Science

An academic tragedy

A young former colleague of mine was found dead in his apartment a couple of weeks ago. I just found out because his apartment is a couple of thousand miles from Lincolnland in California. It's been at least a decade since he left our institution, and I know what resulted in his dismissal. I rarely saw him in recent years, and I cannot say how he was getting along in life lately. But my guess is that the villain in this tragedy is addiction to that most common and socially acceptable substance, ethanol.

It kept a bright young fellow from having a successful academic career. I cost him his drivers license and for awhile his freedom. It cost him his only tenure track academic position. It cost my profession a promising young botanist, and you have to love someone who was just cuckoo for floral polymorphisms. And now it has cost him his life.

Jeff was not yet highly accomplished as his career was just starting, but everyone who had ever worked with him was impressed by his intellect. And biologists are a pretty capable bunch of people, so it takes a really bright and creative person to impress so many. And he was a likable enough fellow. Our faculty were extremely pleased when we hired him; he seemed like a good addition. The tragedy is that Jeff could have accomplished so much but for this fatal flaw.

This serves as yet another reminder that us average fellows, whose academic success is the result of just keeping at it, have a lot to be thankful for, but still Jeff's death saddens me greatly. Bright candles burn way too quickly.

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