All but one of my dissertation chapters is already published, so in many respects, regular readers of this blog have already read much of my dissertation, and there isn't really much new info in the university-formatted form that will be released online in a few months (December-ish). However, one major component that can't be found anywhere else is the acknowledgments section, a deeply personal and nuanced section for every graduate student that is sometimes the best part to write (or the only part if you're trying to finish amidst a global pandemic).
It is often said that it takes a village to raise a child. At every step of my academic career, I have benefited from a village that showed me the ropes, took me under their wing, and set me up for long-term success. Many of those people had no obligation (or compensation) for taking the time to mentor me and to teach me various arcane arts, and at least some of those in my early days may have been initially non-plussed to be working with a high schooler given stereotypes of teens. Their generosity in time and energy was ultimately the biggest contributor to my ability to finish this dissertation and to achieve what I have accomplished to date. I think it is important to share these stories that so that people who see my CV or my website will not think that I am some kind of genius or that I did it largely by myself. I am just someone obsessed with temnospondyls who had a remarkable support network from the very beginning. Below, you can find a verbatim copy of my acknowledgments section (with hyperlinks enabled for many of these amazing people).
“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” -Haruki Murakami
This dissertation would not be a true document from my hand if it did not include a lengthy acknowledgments section of an equally loquacious nature to the lengthy compilation of my research on Paleozoic temnospondyls. I want to acknowledge that simply having the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. is far more than my own diligence and hard work – it was the collective investments of countless individuals who devoted time, energy, and knowledge to mentor me and to provide me with opportunities that enabled me to pursue this opportunity in turn and that endowed me with the foundation to succeed at this level. I have long believed that one’s present success is first and foremost a reflection of one’s past preparation, and I have been prepared by a great many people from a great many places to be where I am now.
I first want to thank my parents, Glenn and Doreen Gee. They always encouraged my pursuit of this career trajectory and made quite a lot of sacrifices on their weekends and on vacations to get me to just about every major natural history museum in the United States. In particular, my mom spent a lot of time driving me home from my volunteer work at the LA County Museum of Natural History in peak LA rush-hour traffic (no small feat) during my summers. They invested tremendously in my education and always sought to provide me with intellectually broadening and stimulating opportunities (most of which have proven to be useful in one way or another)
I would not be the scientist I am today without the investment of many faculty and staff at my undergraduate institution, Pomona College, who prepared me for graduate school and the world beyond it. The faculty and staff of the geology department not only provided an enriching and stimulating learning environment but also created a closely-knit family that supported each other beyond our academic confines. They remain the gold standard that I one day hope to achieve. I would like to extend a special thanks to my undergraduate advisor, Dr. Eric Grosfils, who, in spite of knowing far more about volcanism than vertebrates, was always an excellent source of thoughtful commentary, feedback, and inquiry. I would also like to thank Dr. Lynne Miyake of Pomona’s Japanese department, who, among many other things (including introducing me to Murakami’s writing), is undoubtedly the single most responsible person for my writing aptitude after putting me through the ringer in her first-year writing seminar. Dean Ric Townes was an invaluable teacher on topics of leadership and mentorship who prepared me for many of the less-academic challenges of graduate school, and I continue to draw on his lessons to this day, in spite of his fervent support of the Boston Celtics.
Outside of the classroom, I benefited greatly from the mentorship of countless people who patiently guided me through the growing pains of academia and who provided me with invaluable opportunities to explore my curiosity and passion for palaeontology. To this end, I thank Dr. Luis Chiappe (Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County), who saw my interest in palaeontology and who was willing to take a chance on an eager and entirely unfocused 16-year-old as a volunteer in the collections, the prep lab, and the field, for so many years. The opportunities I gained through the LACM were some of the most formative of my life, both inside and outside of academia. Luis has continued to be an excellent mentor and inspiration over the years, and arguably no one was more instrumental in my early career development. Doug Goodreau, the head honcho in the prep lab and in the field quarry at the LACM during my time there, provided endless humour, far-fetched (yet true) tales, MacGyver-esque fieldwork hacks, and companionship in domesticating the local herpetofauna. Dr. Lars Schmitz (W.M. Keck Science) and Dr. Brian Kraatz (Western Medical University) took me on as a research assistant for their respective projects and gave me my first exposure to academic conferences (which included my first trip to Canada for GSA 2014). Their valiant efforts to subtly influence me toward eyeballs and mammals, respectively, were much appreciated.
Nothing was more formative for my academic development during graduate school than my summers spent as an intern at Petrified Forest National Park. It was a second academic home, with a thriving sense of curiosity for all aspects of vertebrate palaeontology and a strong sense of community among my peers. Dr. Bill Parker and Dr. Adam Marsh were instrumental in guiding me through the stressful process of my first academic publications and in developing many of the core skills and concepts that I rely upon. More broadly, they always encouraged me and gave me wide latitude to develop my own research ideas and independence. They were the first academics to tell me “you’re the expert” well before I ever considered myself much of anything, which was tremendously encouraging to hear. Matt Smith and Cathy Lash provided invaluable advice and expertise in matters of collection, curation, and preparation of fossil material, and Brad Traver authorized me to destroy federal specimens for three different publications. Also deserving of my gratitude are the terms (Natalie Toth and Chuck Beightol) and interns (Emily Lessner, Candice Stefanic, Ben Kligman, Alexander Beyl, and Elizabeth Evans) who I spent a lot of hot summer days working with and a lot of not-much-cooler nights entertaining ourselves in the absence of internet.
My advisor, Dr. Robert Reisz took a chance on me as an unproven (or at least unpublished) undergraduate trying to jump straight into a Ph.D. program and has been generous in his financial support. Robert provided me with a veritable wealth of specimens to explore a host of questions throughout my program, including many beyond the confines of my dissertation. I greatly benefited from the many pastries and desserts that arrived in the lab, and I thank Robert for overlooking my egregious sin of not being a coffee-drinker and for begrudgingly adopting my frequent use of the term ‘dude.’ I owe tremendous thanks to our lab technician, Diane Scott, for her enthusiastic support of students through instruction, photography, discussion, lab snacks, and humour. We developed quite the rapport as the only people to reliably come into the lab before 9 AM, and she has had a hand, quite literally, on all of the specimens that are published in this thesis in one way or another (and often in several). Her dog, Shiloh, is also to be thanked for frequently falling asleep on my feet when he was a puppy; there is nothing quite like the unpalatable prospect of disturbing a small dog to keep you focused on your work.
I benefited greatly from my labmates at Mississauga over these four years. I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to my former labmate Yara Haridy for all that she is and does for me. She taught me the requisite methods for bone histology, a method instrumental to my research, made (makes) valiant attempts to get me to put down my work and to go outside, and was fully responsible for my hair being bright fuchsia during my appraisal. In spite of abandoning me for greener pastures across the pond, she remains a constant source of support, inspiration, no-nonsense advice, and random musings about weird animals. Thanks to Kayla Bazzana for the west coast vibes, for the limitless supply of snark, for humouring my own supply of snark, and for a very random assortment of shared adventures. Thanks to Sigi Maho for her patience with me and my copious editing tendencies during her BIO481 (my first academic supervising experience), for celebrating all of my successes way more than I do, for smiling an awful lot every day in lab, and for keeping me (virtual) company at absurd hours of the morning. I would also like to thank to Tea Maho, Adam Snyder, and Paige Urban, all of whom were undergraduate students in our lab and who placed some modicum of trust in me in allowing me to mentor them in various unstructured ways through their projects. The opportunity to mentor undergraduates is first and foremost a privilege for the mentor and one that I cherish greatly.
I am grateful to the members of my appraisal examination committee, Dr. Luke Mahler, Dr. Njal Rollinson, Dr. Saša Stefanović, and Dr. Denis Walsh, for taking the time to thoughtfully question me on a research proposal that was mostly outside of their own research areas. Thanks to Karma Nanglu, Ashley Reynolds, and Jade Simon for putting me through a practice grilling that made the real deal less daunting. Thanks to the members of my defence examination committee: Robert, Njal, Denis, Dr. David Evans, Dr. Mary Silcox, and Dr. Jean-Sébastien Steyer; and to my exam chair, Dr. Jessica Sommerville. Thanks to Njal and Denis for serving on my supervisory committee for these past four years. I benefited greatly from the collegiality and academic support of my fellow graduate students in the Evans lab, principal among them, Tom Cullen, Kentaro Chiba, Denise Maranga, Talia Lowi-Merri, Ashley Reynolds, Jade Simon, and Cary Woodruff. Many thanks to Dr. Kevin Seymour for all of his assistance with collections numbers and curation and the occasional humor at my expense. Thanks to Dr. David Evans for his enthusiasm about the oft-maligned taxa that I study and for the many conversations on many different topics, usually occurring with chicken wings in front of a TV screen showing the basketball game.
I would also like to thank the many collaborators I have had on various projects, both those contained in this dissertation and those beyond it, as well as the colleagues who have been a part of valuable conversations and debates. In particular, Dr. Jason Anderson, Jason Pardo, Dr. Hillary Maddin, and Arjan Mann have been of great help in this regard. I would also like to thank the many reviewers and editors who have taken valuable time to perform the frequently thankless task of peer review and to provide constructive feedback on the wordy manuscripts that form part of my dissertation. Thanks to Bill May, who selflessly donated many of the specimens that I have been able to work on. Special thanks to our collaborator at ANSTO, Dr. Joseph Bevitt, for his tireless dedication to producing high-quality tomographic datasets and for being a very charitable host in the winter of 2018 (which fortunately translated to a warm summer down under). Thanks to Dr. Jessie Maisano and the UTCT team at UT Austin for an excellent 2017 CT workshop that facilitated the prolific use of CT in my research. I also want to thank the many collections staff and curators who have facilitated collections visits and loans (often to my predecessors in the lab), chiefly among them Carl Mehling and Mark Norell of the AMNH, Pat Holroyd of the UCMP, Bill Simpson of the FMNH, and Jennifer Larsen of the OMNH.
Lastly, I would like to thank Chloe An, Sophia Choi, Haley Land-Miller, and Sara Murphy. Abe Lincoln once said, “I'm a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn't have the heart to let him down.” Each of you believed in me wholeheartedly from the very beginning, and each of you was that friend at one point or another. In these four years spent very far from the sunny southern California desert, you have supported me through my worst moments, remind me that life is much bigger than my esoteric research on dead animals, keep me grounded with unfiltered commentary, and continue to inspire me in countless ways.
About the blog
A blog on all things temnospondyl written by someone who spends too much time thinking about them. Covers all aspects of temnospondyl paleobiology and ongoing research (not just mine).