Benevolence in Science: Dr. Jack Conrad’s Legacy in Paleontology

Many of us anatomists and paleontologists were completely and utterly shocked to learn that we lost a dear friend and colleague a few days ago, Dr. Jack Conrad. And, although I didn’t get to know him nearly as well as I wish I could have, it is so incredibly clear how much of a positive impact he has made in the lives of so many people in our field, particularly the younger rising paleontologists and anatomists.

I first met Jack at SVP in 2013. He walked up to a poster I was helping present and, right away, he was so incredibly encouraging, uplifting, and positive. It was seldom that I came across someone who was this encouraging of young scientists such as myself as I was becoming more acquainted with paleontological research. Jack exemplified what it truly means to be a great scientist in a community. He treated people with the utmost respect, class, encouragement, and humility. Best of all, he always had a smile on his face when he spoke to you. I am so deeply saddened that I did not have a chance to get to know him more or work with him. But I think there is something we can all learn from Jack’s time here.

Paleontologists tend to disagree with each other a lot. We’ve all been there. That’s science. You know what really matters, though? It’s not that you disagree and think that your way is the only way, but that you are scholarly, friendly, and positive in debating the subject at hand. We are in this field because it is FUN. Plain and simple. Yes, there is a serious side to it, but that serious side won’t get anywhere if all you do is put down someone’s research, either behind their back or to their face. There is nothing constructive about that. Be uplifting, be encouraging, and be constructive, especially to those younger than you in the field. It gives them hope and encourages them to do a lot better, maybe even if they aren’t starting off as well we they could be. That makes all the difference.

Jack did all of these things. He was among the absolute kindest people I have ever met in paleontology (aside from being an incredible researcher and illustrator). From the get go, he helped me feel welcomed and competent as a young paleontologist and he was one of the people who inspired me to strive to be kind and encouraging to all of the younger researchers who are just starting out. That is the number one thing that makes good scientists. It’s not how brilliant one may be, but how they treat others in their community with respect and positivity and strive to inspire others to be the best scientist they can be. In my mind, that is Jack’s true legacy in our field, and I will do my very best to live up to it.

 

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