An inspiration to aspiring scientists

Created by Michael 6 months ago
It is hard to express the level of reverential awe that much of my generation has for Mike Land. We came up in the field reading Animal Eyes and Mike’s elegant research papers. Our advisor all knew Mike well and had endless praise for him as a scientist and person. He became a semi-mythical figure in our minds, whom we could scarcely imagine viewing our naive attempts at vision research as anything beyond amusingly misguided in the best case, or worse, utterly wrong and demanding judgement.

My wife certainly did not realize this until she saw the nervous, strung out mess I became when I had to call Mike’s home. We were on our first European trip together, touring the South-East of England in the week before Mike’s retirement symposium. My advisor, Tom, was staying with Mike and Rosemary in Lewes, and Tom instructed me to call him there so we could meet up for dinner. My wife looked on in bewilderment as her typically fairly laid-back husband paced the hotel room wringing his hands, building up the courage to call THE Mike Land at home and then ask him to put someone else on the line.

Eventually, I managed to make the call and stumble through my task, stammering away at a cheerful Mike. Mike and Rosemary ended up joining my wife, Tom, and I for a lovely pub dinner and I quickly realized my trepidation was sorely misplaced. Mike was incredibly good-natured, cheerful, and keenly interested in my burgeoning research project. It is hard to describe what it meant to an aspiring scientist like myself to hear Mike wryly state, “I think you are onto something here”.

From conversations with other researchers of my cohort, this was not an atypical occurrence. Everyone who was lucky enough to converse with Mike were both starstruck and inspired by his humility and enthusiasm. Losing Mike is a tremendous loss to each of us individually and for the field as a whole. I have always felt lucky to be part of the animal vision research community. It seems to be uniquely collegial, collaborative and friendly; largely devoid of the extremely competitive and adversarial nature that seems to plague many fields of science. I think in large part we have Mike to thank for that.