Jeff Graves, 1942-2022

Saint Andrews, Scotland
October 2, 2022

Jeff did not have a conventional career. After a degree at Arkansas, he spent a couple of years eavesdropping on Russian communications in Turkey for the US Army. He won a Fulbright Scholarship which, together with funds from the ‘GI bill’, allowed him to come to St Andrews to do a Masters in Philosophy (on the meaning of the word “if”!). He then changed direction and studied for a PhD in Psychology with Mel Goodale on vision in pigeons, followed by a post doc with Andy Whitenon parent-conflict in herring gulls on the Isle of May, and subsequently extending to Holy Isle off Arran, supported by BBSRC.

Then stayed based on the Isle of May but switched to a post doc in Biology with Peter Slater on the courtship behaviour of shags. This was followed by several years living fairly precariously, getting by on fixed term teaching jobs in Psychology and Biology, and in both departments he was highly-regarded by students for his teaching. Eventually he succeeded in becoming a lecturer in Biology in the mid 1990s.

It has been claimed that he did everything he could to have a difficult academic career – changing subjects, Schools and research areas. His research interest coalesced around bird behavioural ecology. In the 1990s he was amongst the first to adopt molecular ecology techniques developed from DNA fingerprinting at Leicester to study bird mating systems, and his research really took off from there and produced ~80 papers including high profile studies in Science and Nature. He helped establish the first molecular ecology laboratory here at St Andrews, which still operates. He applied molecular techniques to his beloved birds but also became much sought after as a collaborator by people from a range of labs with diverse study systems, leading to influential papers in birds (from all over the world), insects, fish and a long series of productive collaborations with colleagues at the Sea Mammal Research Unit. His gregarious enthusiasm and the selfless generosity of his approach to collaboration led to him enriching the research of countless colleagues. He was also a great contributor to the Behaviour Discussion Group run by Biology and Psychology, the “Lab Chat” series in the Centre for Biological Diversity, the (now defunct) Scottish Conference on Animal Behaviour, and the informal discussion groups that continued in the Criterion almost every Friday. Peter Slater, his old colleague and Head of Department says “Every department needs a Jeff Graves, he was a vital component of the glue that holds a department together”.

Remembering Jeff also means remembering his beloved Ellen, who predeceased him a few years ago. She was as friendly as Jeff and contributed to the happy environment at the Centre for Biological Diversity, not least by supplying generations of students and staff with her daily supply of homemade cakes for the coffee room, which only last week was renamed the “Jeff and Ellen Graves coffee and cake room”.

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