Prof McQuaid receives Gold Medal awardDate Released: Wed, 18 September 2013 11:59 +0200
The Zoological Society of Southern Africa (ZSSA) has recently awarded a gold medal to Rhodes University’s Distinguished Professor, Christopher McQuaid of the Zoology and Entomology Department.
His colleagues, headed by Prof Alan Hodgson, secretly sent a letter of nomination to ZSSA, listing Prof McQuaid’s many accomplishments, which include an NRF A-rating bestowed upon him in 2012. He received the notification of the award via e-mail while in Hong Kong, which came as a huge surprise.
“It is a great honour because it is an indication of esteem from one’s peers and not something that one can apply for or that is given out lightly. So I was both surprised and very, very pleased,” says Prof McQuaid.
“In the past, the medal has been awarded to scientists whom I hold in very high esteem, people I regard with enormous respect, including some who were my professors when I was a student and some who would be regarded as the founding fathers of my field in southern Africa.”
He brought attention to how the Rhodes Zoology department has made a significant contribution to the study of animals over many years, as well as it not being the first Zoo Soc Gold medal to be awarded to a Rhodes academic.
Prof McQuaid feels that the most rewarding aspect of being a ZSSA member is that the society helps him to keep in touch with the thinking in fields that are not in his direct line of research.
“I am interested in biology in a very broad sense, but these days it’s impossible to keep up with all the literature. The meetings of the Zoological Society keep me in touch with colleagues who don’t necessarily work in marine biology, how they are thinking and how their disciplines are developing.”
As the South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Marine Ecosystem Research, he is working on a wide variety of topics, often in collaboration with people at other institutes in South Africa and abroad.
One of these is research into the effects of upwelling on rocky shore organisms. Upwelling happens when offshore winds result in very cold, nutrient rich water coming to the surface near the coast.
This large scale fertilisation has strong effects on plant growth and the balance between growth and grazing rates as well as the diet of filter feeders such as mussels, all the way up the food chain to top predators such as seabirds.
He says he really enjoys teaching both under-and postgraduate students. “It’s the interaction with people that I like- especially bright young minds. It’s a two-way relationship really. To give insights or lessons to other people, you have to assimilate them yourself first. But at the same time the people you are working with have different insights and perspectives of their own.
“So it’s an exchange really, you have the experience acquired over some time; the students or post-docs have new perspectives unclouded by your own preconceptions or for that matter your own experiences.”
However, he cautions that the people you are working with shouldn’t be empty vessels that turn out to be clones of yourself, “they should develop as individuals who take what you have to offer, add to it, alter it and make something new that is their own. It’s really gratifying to see that happen.”
Prof McQuaid has received many awards in the past including in 2011 Distinguish Professor at Rhodes and the prestigious Gilchrist Award for his outstanding contribution to the enhancement of marine and coastal science in South Africa and Southern Ocean.
The Gilchrist Award is presented to a “distinguished marine scientist” every three years by the South African Network for Coastal and Oceanic Research (SANCOR).
By Anna-Karien Otto