This post is written by MSU postdoc Zachary Blount.
In July, BEACON Faculty Affiliate Paul E. Turner was named as Yale University’s first Elihu Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Named in honor of the school’s namesake, Elihu Yale, a philanthropist who provided critical support during its early years, the Elihu Professorships are highly prestigious and rarely granted.
It is hard to imagine anyone who could possibly deserve this honor as much as Paul. He stands as one of the leading stars of the experimental evolution community, and has been an excellent mentor to numerous among the rising generation that will carry the field forward. He has won a litany of prestigious fellowships, awards, and grants. In collaboration with his mentees and colleagues, he has made enormous contributions to science with his work using microbial and phage model systems. Some glimmering of his impact may be seen in the list of several dozen high impact papers that bear his name. Much of this work has been on fundamental evolutionary questions ranging from the origins of diversity, to pleiotropy, to epistasis, to the evolution of sex, to robustness and evolvability. He has also pursued extremely important, medically relevant research. Perhaps most importantly, he has been working to apply the insight he has gained over the years of fundamental work to the resurrection and development of phage therapy into what may well become a critical medical tool in this age of rampant antibiotic resistance. Indeed, this work has already saved at least one life. Over and above the research and mentoring, he has provided great service to the community, serving in administrative posts at Yale, as editor for a number of journals, on committees for the National Science Foundation and American Society for Microbiology, as organizer of conferences, including one of the best Gordon Research Conferences I ever attended, and even as a US delegate to global science workshops. Moreover, he has been tireless in his outreach to the community, and in his efforts to further diversity in science. As a researcher and as a citizen scientist, he is a model of what we should aspire to.
All those accomplishments might go to a lesser man’s head, but there is no worry of that with Paul, because his quality as a scientist is matched by his quality as a human being. He is remarkably humble, genuine, kind, approachable, and humane, without a single shred of pretense. This is perhaps most clear at conferences, where he is always a center of calm and good cheer, the brilliant fellow who is always smiling. It is certainly no surprise that his students and colleagues speak of him with genuine love and affection. As I recall, the first time I ever heard a story about Paul, it ended, “Paul’s the coolest.” That pretty well sums it up.
Go to http://turnerlab.yale.edu/ for more information about Paul Turner’s work!