May 17, 2008
I was Dr. Hirsch's last Ph.D. student. � I still refer to him as "Dr. Hirsch" because he was a grandfatherly figure to me; he turned 70 while I was in graduate school. �
When I told Dr. Linda Mealey, who was one of my professors at St. John's University (Collegeville, MN), that I was going to work with Dr. Hirsch at Illinois in graduate school she asked me if I was aware of his politics. � I was not! � But I planned to study fruit flies not politics!
Two weeks after my undergraduate commencement,in 1989, I moved to Champaign-Urbana. � Because I was a couple of credits shy of actually earning my bachelor's degree I needed to take a summer course at the U of I. � My acceptance into the graduate program was, of course, contingent upon having a bachelor's degree. � I could have taken any course that was worth 3 credits, but I wanted to do something useful and decided to take "Calculus for the social scientist" in the Math department. � Nevermind that I hadn't had algebra since high school! � To make a long story short I earned a D in the course which SJU would not accept as transfer credit. � It was a stressful time, to say the least. � I was able to work something out with both the U of I and SJU that was acceptable. � Little did I know then, that my acceptance into the Psychology program depended on Dr. Hirsch's vigorous behind the scenes support. � I later learned that some in the Psychology Department were arguing against my admittance because of the D I earned in calculus. � Dr. Hirsch responded by saying something to the effect of "He's exactly the kind of student I want to work with", because I had attempted and persevered in a difficult course even though I didn't quite succeed.
As Dr. Hirsch said in many of my annual reviews as a student, I was completely 'green' when I entered the program. � Which really meant that Dr. Hirsch taught me virtually everything I know about being a good scientist. � He was a stickler for empirical evidence. � But he would readily change his position if you were able to show him the evidence for an alternative. � He was curious, rigorous and open-minded. � I was always amazed by his ability to recall methodological details of studies that were 20 years old. � He was generous with credit and with opportunities. � For me he is the prototypical scientist. �
I look back fondly on a couple of phrases that he would often use. � Whenever I asked him the due date for some paper or assignment he would always respond in his New York accent, "Yestahday". � He also always had the phrase, "It's an empirical question", at the ready. � And occasionally, he would affect a Russian accent to imitate Theodosius Dobzhansky saying that Drosophila melanogaster was "Ze Queen of species". �
When I left UIUC in 1996 to take a post doc at the University of Michigan in human alcoholism genetics, Dr. Hirsch was supportive. � Although I'm sure that he was disappointed that I was leaving Drosophila research, he never showed any sign of it. � I wanted to continue working on geotaxis, but couldn't find faculty position to do so. � When I left, Dr. Hirsch let me take two geotaxis mazes, which are currently sitting in my garage. � I will cherish them as a tangible connection to Dr. Jerry Hirsch, one of the most important people in my life. � I may even run some flies through them someday.
Scott F. Stoltenberg
Black Hills State University