A quiet backwater

David Kirk‘s book is an essential resource for anyone who wants to study Volvox, even twenty years after its publication. It includes thorough but succinct reviews of volvocine diversity, ecology, genetics, development, and cell biology, along with original insights into all of these topics.

Volvox book cover

I was just returning to it for the many-th time to find a reference for a manuscript revision, and I (re-)discovered that a quote I’ve paraphrased many times comes from the Preface:

In a very real sense, this book had its roots in a piece of advice given to me by my first mentor and scientific father figure, Jerome Gross (a piece of advice that other biologists caught up in the frenetic competitiveness of our current age might do well to consider). On the day that I was saying my farewells, about to leave for graduate school after spending a major portion of my undergraduate years in his laboratory, Jerry said, “If you want a happy and productive career in science, find yourself a quiet backwater where there are lots of big fish to be caught, but not many people fishing, and go after them.”

For Dr. Kirk, that backwater was Volvox, which few people were fishing at the time, and the big fish were aspects of Volvox development and genetics with implications for the evolution of multicellularity. I don’t think it’s the only way to have a happy and productive career in science, but I can think of lots of happy and productive scientists whose research could be described that way.

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