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Retiring biology professor Doug Shedd reflects on 42 years at the College

Biology professor Doug Shedd

Biology professor Doug Shedd

This story is part of a series featuring faculty members who are retiring in 2020.  

Biology professor Doug Shedd arrived at the College in the fall of 1978.

Though he’s seen a lot of changes over the past 42 years, just as much has remained the same, including the College’s dedication to students.

“It’s still a beautiful place,” he said, “where the focus is on giving a personalized education to students.”

Shedd was finishing his Ph.D. at Cornell University when he was first invited to interview by Frank Flint, whom he calls the legendary former chair of the biology department.

Now, more than 42 years later, Shedd is a legend in his own right. Retiring this year, he recently reflected on time here:

You’ve said you became a biologist because you’re interested in why the world is the way it is. Can you trace those interests back to any key moments in your life, anything that inspired you to follow this path?
“When I was a small boy growing up in New Jersey, I once saw a scarlet tanager in a woodlot near my house and that helped ignite my interest in birds, which led to a more general interest in biology (although I am an ornithologist, and birds still are special for me!). At some point, I realized that we live in a biological world and that the more one knows about biology, the more one knows about why the world is the way it is.”

You’ve talked before about the sciences at Randolph and how a liberal arts education can provide a worldview and context. How do you think Randolph in particular provides those things to students?
“Our majors get an education in biology that can match that of any other school, and the achievements of our alums show that. Part of the reason for their success, however, is that the biology major at the College is part of a strong curriculum in the liberal arts, and this gives our students a context for their degrees in biology that is hard to beat.”

Doug Shedd works with students in this photo from the Randolph archives.

Doug Shedd works with students in this photo from the Randolph archives.

What is your teaching philosophy, and how have you approached that here at Randolph?
“I try to see things from the perspective of students as much as I possibly can.”

What have been your favorite classes to teach?
“I love teaching all of my classes!”

Can you talk a little bit about your research?
“My research in Ireland has given me a much better understanding of humans as a part of nature. We are evolved creatures, and because of our numbers our actions affect an enormous array of other organisms—sometimes to their detriment, but not always.”

What advice would you give to students?
“I would say what I said at the end of my keynote address for the Symposium of Artists & Scholars—be a good observer, remember that facts matter, and never stop searching for answers, because they’re out there.”

What’s next for you?
“My wife, Barbara, and I have three children and five grandchildren. We’re looking forward to spending a lot more time with them. We’re also happy to have more time for walking, hiking, and traveling, which we love. I also like to draw and paint, so I’m looking forward to having more time for that, too. I’m going to continue research based on my work in Ireland and eventually develop an online site for posting information about things I’m doing.”

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