I started my career at Miami University in August of 1986, fresh out of a postdoctoral position at my PhD alma mater, Michigan State University. My undergraduate years were spent at a small, undergraduate institution near Dayton, Ohio, and my graduate programs were both at large, Research 1 universities. Both experiences had positive impacts on the view of my future career. I remember telling my PhD advisor and my friends that the perfect place for me was a university that valued undergraduate teaching and research mentoring, but had high expectations for graduate advising, funded research, and scholarship. I also grew up in north central Ohio, and as a young adult had no thought of returning to Ohio, with the exception that I was a huge Cincinnati Reds and Bengals fan as a kid and enjoyed the Southwest Ohio landscape.
Prior to my job interview, my only previous experience in Oxford was as an undergraduate, coming down once or twice to use the library and visit a friend from high school. I never imagined that I would one day be back as a prospective professor. When I drove into Oxford on a spring morning in 1986 to start the interview process, I looked around town and campus and thought, “Wow, what a beautiful place. I could live and raise a family here.”
I was offered the job, and proceeded to spend the next 34 years here. Miami was the only stop along the path of my entire academic career. I developed my teaching and research portfolio, came up through the professorial ranks and served as a faculty member in many service roles, including chair of Zoology graduate programs, chair of IACUC, chair of the University Senate Executive Committee, and president of my national professional society. I had the honor of serving as major advisor of 13 master’s and 14 doctoral students, all of whom went on for further graduate study or directly into careers in academia, government, and industry. I advised over 100 undergraduate researchers in my lab, and was on over 50 graduate committees. In my discipline of eco-toxicology, I grew a respectable funding and publication record (172 publications; $5.1M in funding). I have been honored by my colleagues at the highest level, as a University Distinguished Professor and with the Benjamin Harrison Medallion. These are personal distinctions, but they were made possible by my mentors and colleagues, as well as the atmosphere at Miami that fosters creativity and innovation.
I met and worked with many interdisciplinary colleagues here, who have become life-long friends. For example, after a somewhat random introduction and conversation back in 1990, John Bailer and I embarked on an amazing collaboration. He has been one of my closest colleagues, and we now share about 20%-25% of our publications together as co-authors. Together we have created work that has had impact in our fields that neither of us could have done alone. That type of collaboration is part of what makes the Miami Experience so great.
In 2008, I was offered the opportunity to become the Associate Dean for Research in the Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship. Four years later, I was named Associate Provost for Research and Dean of the Graduate School. I didn’t have experience directing the activities of professional staff, so I turned to what I knew best and adopted the same approach that I used to mentor graduate students: help them grow and when it is time, celebrate their next phase in life. Throughout, I have tried to be transparent, responsive, collegial, and creative in my approach to my relations with faculty, staff, students, and the community in all disciplines and on all campuses. I was always up-front and honest with everyone in all of my interactions. That approach, in my mind, was simply the “Miami Way.”
In 2018/19, Miami embarked on an aggressive strategic planning process that resulted in ambitious goals for graduate programs and research efforts. In recognition of the expanded importance of these operations, this past September the university’s trustees approved a resolution to separate the two positions I have held since 2012. Going forward, the plan was that the Graduate School and the Office of Research & Innovation were to be managed by two separate individuals, the Dean of the Graduate School and the Vice President for Research and Innovation (VPRI). In October, I was appointed as Miami’s inaugural VPRI. I want to thank Provost Osborne for his foresight and leadership as we look toward the future of research, scholarship, and creative activity at the university.
Around the same time, I announced my intention to retire at the end of this school year. Provost Osborne initiated the search for the two positions shortly thereafter. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to complete the search for a new graduate dean. However, the search for the new VPRI had to be postponed. The provost recently announced that Mike Crowder, Chair of the Chemistry and Biochemistry department, will be taking the graduate dean position starting July 1st. In addition, he will serve as Interim VPRI until the university is able to reboot the search for my replacement.
I will remain in the role of Vice President until I retire, effective June 30, 2020. As I look back at the many positions I’ve held during my 34-year academic career, I’m proud of my personal and professional achievements and the awards and recognition I’ve received, but my highest sense of accomplishment has been the success of my students and, for the past 12 years, my professional staff and administrative colleagues. Miami has been a special place to work and have a life. And it is even more beautiful than when I drove into town back in 1986.
The place is a key component, but the people are what I will miss the most. Isolated and working from home for the last four months of my career is not what I had planned when I decided to retire. More than anything, I miss walking across campus, seeing the students headed to class, meeting (face to face!) with colleagues, and working closely with my team in Roudebush Hall. What lifts my spirit is that I know I will leave behind a vibrant and growing research and innovation enterprise, and I will look back with pride that I was able to participate in such a wonderful organization. To think that in such a place, I lived such a life.