Requiescat in pace: Dr. Eric H. Davidson, 1937-2015

I just heard the sad news that Eric Davidson, my PhD advisor, passed away.

Eric was a giant in the field of developmental biology and gene regulatory networks. His work spanned more than fifty years, and had an indelible impact on gene regulation studies. (You can read up on his research on his wikipedia page, or see the lab Web site.)

I joined the lab around 1999, and started working in earnest in 2000. It's the lab where I learned all of the molecular biology, developmental biology, and genomics that I know. It's had an incredible impact on my life, and my career, as well as the lives and careers of dozens of others. The people I met in the lab have been a lifelong scientific community with which to engage, and I'm regularly in touch with many lab alumni.

From talking with others, it takes many graduates from Eric's lab about a decade to recover from the experience and re-engage with him; since I defended in 2006, I still hadn't quite gotten there. In fact, I'd only seen Eric a few times in the intervening years, because when I graduated I moved on to working in other fields. It's sad to think that I won't have a chance to talk with him ever again.

One strong memory of Eric was his availability: he was always available to talk science. Eric was incredibly busy with running a lab of 25-30 people and inevitably had several papers and grants on the burner, but he always made time for his lab members, and never seemed rushed when talking about science. As a graduate student, this was incredibly welcoming - you never got the sense that he didn't have time for you and your science. Come to think of it, this was pretty much Eric's defining characteristic: he was all about the science. I don't think I've ever been in as rigorous an intellectual space as when I was in his lab for graduate school, and that level of intellectualism is something I strive to recreate in myself and in my own lab on a daily basis. From the Facebook comments on his passing, this is a common theme for those who went through his lab.

It's hard to convey the totality of someone as complex as Eric, but this video does a pretty good job. Watch it all the way through to the end if you can -- it's a good story.

RIP, boss.


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