On Terry Wheeler

Dr. Terry Wheeler had an enormous influence on my life. He was the first to tell me about the fields of Biogeography and Systematics when I was an undergraduate and the first professor to invite me to take a course at the graduate level with him. (I didn’t know that was possible as an undergrad back then.) I went on to get a Ph.D in Evolutionary Biology and I am now myself a tenured professor studying biogeography and phylogenetic systematics. I still have my notes from my courses with Dr. Wheeler and have never forgotten the foundation of knowledge he helped me build – but he also transferred his passion for the science. From him I learned of strange lands and connections between places that seemed distant and unexplainable. I learned to sketch the world map from memory on a chalkboard from him – and I do it for the same reason: showmanship – the students eat it up. From Terry I learned about Darwin, Wallace, Lamarck, Cuvier and many others; he was a great storyteller and he made the classes interesting by making them personal. I learned that he used an undergraduate project I did as an example in his classes while I was still a student at McGill: I remember being absolutely floored and touched by the honor. By chance he was presented the “McGill Teacher of the Year” honor at my Mac graduation ceremony in which I happened to be valedictorian – he would joke with me after that he was only at that graduation to hear my speech. He helped me understand not just science but scientists. He continues to influence how I teach undergraduates and graduate students of my own. I am not sure where I would be without Terry’s influence on my life – but I would certainly not be where I am. I am glad I got to keep in touch with him after I graduated from McGill in 2000, it took me about twelve more years before I had the guts to call him “Terry”: he will always the wonderful Dr. Wheeler to me.