Research Through the Formative Years - Paul Welch, 1959
Research through the formative years - Professor Emeritus Paul S. Welch
Remarks made at the Semicentennial Celebration, 1959
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen: Perhaps I should explain that when this particular topic was planned there was provision for a speaker to cover the field of botany and, being a zoologist, the task of covering zoology fell to me. The other speaker, Dr. Gleason, is unable to be here because of the illness of Mrs. Gleason. This became known too late to make any other arrangements, so please understand that although my remarks are heavily zoological, there is no intent to neglect the sister field.
An adequate discussion of fifty years of zoological research, even by one who is rather closely associated with much of it, is quite an undertaking. The persuasive Program Committee indicated their appreciation of this fact by assuring me that I need feel no restrictions in the method of handling the subject; that, indeed, complete freedom of treatment was expected. Acting within this wide-open agreement, I decided to direct my remarks to the zoological record as a whole, treating it from the general point of view and with minimal attention to details. When in 1909 this Biological Station first opened its doors, it found itself located in the midst of an environment strange and contrasting, that is, when viewed from the standpoint of the zoologist. Land and water presented two striking differences. Decades earlier the lumberman had laid a heavy devastating hand on the land, leaving behind him destruction where great forests once stood. Later a series of uncontrolled forest fires continued to interrupt nature's attempts at restoration. The effects on the native fauna were catastrophic. Between these interruptions an altered, restricted and unstable fauna struggled to occupy the land again. Such, in general was the territorial situation which surrounded the new Biological Station.
On the other hand, the aquatic picture was a very bright one. The Station stood in the heart of a concentrated waterland, unmodified and at its best. The lumbermen could do little to alter lakes and streams. In fact, practically all of the modifying and destructive influences of man were absent, and the biologist found these waters as nature had molded them. What more could zoologists ask? Is it any wonder, then, that at an early date zoological research at this Station took a definite aquatic turn. Incidentally, it might be mentioned here that not until almost fifty years after the Station was founded did the waters in the Douglas Lake region suffer any significant destructive alteration to biological interests by man. But in the summer of 1957, by the use of a Federal grant of $ 325,000, a channel forty feet wide by five feet deep was dredged through all the connecting channels of the Inland Waterway, thus destroying some of the most productive zoological areas in the region.
The real record of the Station's research is in its publications. A complete set of all such publications is shelved in the Station Library - an imposing set of volumes. An examination of this long series of publications leads me to believe that the program of zoological research at the Station over fifty years exhibits a form of gradual metamorphosis. True, no marked dividing lines occur, but it seemed possible to consider the history under three periods: first a pioneer stage, second a transition period, and third a maturing period.
The pioneer stage, as I have laid it out, covers approximately the first six years, from 1909 to 1914, inclusive. The pioneer stage was the getting-started period. The first session was rugged, indeed. Setting up a Biological Station de novo in the northern wilds, with nothing to start with but an abandoned logging building, two or three row boats, extremely limited transportation facilities, and an abundant crop of administrative difficulties - these and other obstacles might well have made any research a difficult undertaking. However, this one of the two major purposes of the Station was not to be neglected, and one piece of zoological research was completed in the first summer, and the results were published a few months later.
The second session, in 1910, somewhat resembled the first one in general ruggedness but some improvement was made, including more laboratory space and a power boat, both of which contributed directly or indirectly to the interests of research. In his autobiography, published in 1952, the late Dr. A.S. Pearse, Acting Director during the second session, relates in his characteristic blunt language how by a see-saw bargaining with Mr. George Wahr, a very thrifty book store operator in Ann Arbor, over the publication and sale of a laboratory guide, he induced Mr. Wahr to contribute $ 35 toward the purchase of a power boat for the Biological Station. Then with this man's name at the head of a subscription list, Dr. Pearse visited various other Ann Arbor merchants, and with good results; he got his motorboat. This boat we oldsters knew as the Alexander Forbes. During that second year four pieces of zoological research were published, one by a faculty member and three by graduate students. During the six year period of this pioneer stage twenty-seven research papers were published, thirteen by faculty members and fourteen by graduate students working under faculty direction, a commendable record considering the circumstances and the diminutive zoological faculty -one at first, and increasing only to four at the end of the six-year period.
Inspection of these twenty-seven pieces of research showed two outstanding features. All were isolated independent projects, each separate and distinct from all others; and all, with two possible exceptions, were what I choose to call "one-session projects". By this I mean that all were small projects, chosen with the expectation that completion could be reached within a period of one session. Please note that these two features stand in sharp contrast to later developments in Station research.
It long has been one of the basic arguments for the existence of biological stations that they provide close personal contact in a group of researchers who have common objectives. There is no question about it; there was plenty of close contact here. Restricted laboratory space at the Station during this initial stage enforced close and continuous contact. Investigators worked side by side, elbow to elbow; everyone knew what everybody else was doing. Admitting the inconvenience of such a system, it did provide an unexcelled opportunity, particularly for graduate students, to learn from each other in a way not possible under the isolation system of a university campus. Parenthetically, the undergraduate who happened to be around felt himself in a research atmosphere, and he began to get some conception of what sort of thing research is. This situation was probably an exasperation to the faculty but for the student investigator it had many rewards.
The transition period which I've laid out runs from 1914 to 1930. This was the period of growing up. Since all research activities centered in or about the Faculty, the Faculty will serve as a direct measure of progress. With the exception of a brief slump during World War I, the Zoological Faculty increased gradually to double its size. Research output, as measured by publications, rose steadily until, at the end of this period, the annual crop of papers usually totaled about twenty. That fewer changes of personnel within the Faculty were occurring was increasingly evident.
Certain areas of activity, in addition to already established ones, were now becoming recognized as separate subdivisions of Zoology and added both instructional and research stature to the curriculum. The principal ones were as follows: first was ichthyology. Researches dealing with fishes had occurred scatteringly, back even to the earliest years, but no concentration of effort appeared until an ichthyologist was added to the staff. Second was limnology. Professor Reighard, the first Director, was much interested in limnology as it was being developed during the last years of the past century and the early decades of the present, and it is not surprising to find that in 1912 he directed the work of the
graduate students who investigated the dissolved oxygen content of the waters of Douglas Lake. Results of this work were published. About the same time Professor Reighard directed the work of two other other graduate students on limnological problems, but unfortunately, neither came to publication. With the exception of certain papers borderline between aquatic entomology and limnology, no other limnological research occurred until that subject became recognized as a separate field. Third was parasitology, first established under the name, helminthology. The first parasitological paper seems to have been published in about 1915. A few others followed from time to time, but again the real development in this field awaited the time when parasitology was also recognized as a distinct field and so added to the curriculum.
In this transition period gradual shrinkage of the one-session research projects and the advent of more substantial continuing programs were apparent. Wider use of outlying lakes and streams, which were found to be vastly more diversified than was originally known, was now in progress.
Now came the maturing stage. According to my view, the Biological Station reached the early stages of maturity about 1930. That was the time of the occupancy of the new site. New laboratory buildings provided what then appeared to be generous research space for each of the various fields of Zoology, although a little later the time came, as happens too often, when often two graduate students had to occupy the same research table. Nevertheless, as its impetus developed, some of the old intimacy of association so characteristic of the earlier years was diminished by the resulting isolation of separate buildings. But this was inevitable, and other gains compensated for the loss. The policy of continuing the same faculty members was paying substantial research dividends. Other features were the rapidly growing research library, a new modern animal house, an excellent system of transportation, both water and land, the increasing number of independent investigators, the system of student research training, the increasing use of the national journals for research publication, and the existence of large continuing research projects.
I now turn to some general considerations which are concerned with the whole of the fifty-year series of investigations. First, for lack of an altogether satisfactory term, I call it basic research. Zoological research at this Station has as a whole dealt with what is commonly referred to as basic or prescience problems. Works of strictly economic bearing have been rare or incidental. This close adherence to basic research has not been due to any openly announced Station policy, but to the general University atmosphere of intellectual freedom. Investigators have sought and pursued their research problems with complete freedom, and in general have also chosen their publication outlets.
During the early years the Station could do little in attracting independent investigators, because of lack of space and other necessary accommodations. Later, and over the years, a considerable number of independent workers spent one or more summers at the Station. At first the number was but an irregular trickle of one or two at a time, but increasingly the Station grew, until recently they have composed a somewhat regular component of the Station population. Their contributions have added much to the productivity of the Station, and they sometimes have made available unusually valuable background information for the research of others, as for example the work of the late Ira Wilson, who measured and charted the total bottom sediments of the Douglas Lake basin.
When the Station was young, grants in aid of research were rare and difficult to secure. The professional zoologist for the most part was compelled to manage his research without help or perhaps as sometimes happened, he had to pay for aid and materials from his own personal budget. Certainly the Station was a poor place to look for subsidized research. Certain of the early Station Announcements carried the name of a person bearing the title of Research Assistant. Since in some instances these persons had Ph.D. degrees and were experienced investigators, it is easy to assume, in the absence of definite information, that these were subsidized investigators. Well, whoever was a Research Assistant, one thing may be assumed with safety: the stipend was of small dimension. In after-years, when The University of Michigan obtained funds for aid of faculty research, some of us with encouraging regularity received grants from the Rackham Fund or from the Faculty Research Fund, which were used primarily for research at the Station during the summer. The grants were not large, but when used carefully they functioned in many helpful ways, and for that reason seemed reasonably adequate. Nowadays grants have become so common and so expanded in size that the older ones appear to the younger zoologist as something extracted from the peanut fund. At this moment, although I lack positive information, I suspect that most or possibly all of the faculty of zoologists here this summer have such grants from various sources. The same is likely true for some of the independent investigators.
Originally Douglas Lake and associated waters carried a faunal population established by nature and one which easily met the zoological needs of the Station without any significant change, but as the Station activities grew, the demands exerted by classes and research began to drain certain animal populations to levels below their natural replacement abilities. By their nature, certain kinds of research, particularly those concerned with life cycles and certain kinds of experimental work, require large quantities of animals. If such work happens to deal with species or groups of species which occur only in areas of limited distribution or in scanty or diffused populations, prolonged collecting may make serious inroads on the supplies. Some years ago it became evident that certain animal stocks in Douglas Lake and closely associated waters were being seriously reduced. If I remember correctly, this and other similar circumstances led the Station administration to establish a faculty Committee on Conservation, to study the situation and establish policies on the threatened faunas and floras. It is my understanding that the Conservation Committee is still a standing one and continues to function. Incidentally, it should be stated that problems of faunal protection grow no less because of the increasing activities of sportsmen, fishermen and summer cottagers, and of speed boating and public irresponsibility.
I have reserved a place at the end of my discussion for the Great Lakes Research Institute. Since of recent years it has occupied a definite place in the research activities of the Biological Station, and since its activities have been in part limnological, I can discuss it here with the necessary propriety. Shortly after the close of World War II three members of The University of Michigan Faculty - Dr. K. K. Landes, Dr. F. K. Sparrow and myself - put themselves in an adventuresome position. Feeling convinced that an organized attack upon certain scientific problems of the Great Lakes was long overdue, this trio decided to act. After much preliminary discussion among ourselves and with other interested persons, we submitted a plan to the Dean of the Graduate School. The plan proposed the establishment of the Great Lakes Research Institute, attached to and operated through the Graduate School. The Dean was willing to give the plan a trial, and subsequently the Institute was officially authorized. It was to operate under a Council of eight men representing various interested fields, and a Chairman elected by and from the Council. In some respects it seemed like an inopportune time for the initiation of such a venture, coming as it did shortly after the close of the war, and I am sure that some of my associates whose professional interests lie elsewhere saw in it an overly ambitious project doomed to a short life.
For some time the going was slow; research funds were hard to find. Fortunately, the Council maintained an abiding interest, and occasionally it was possible to find a sponsor with financial support for certain limited projects on the Great Lakes. After a few years of this slow progress, the long awaited opportunity came. About six years ago Dr. David Chandler, experienced in limnology of Lake Erie, came to The University of Michigan to take charge of the work in limnology in the Department of Zoology. This was also a time when large funds were becoming available. Working in association with the Great Lakes Research Institute, Dr. Chandler built a program, secured sizeable grants, and initiated field work the following summer. The Biological Station became the summer headquarters where the laboratory space and other facilities were supplied. Since then the Institute has increased its annual programs and has secured operating budgets far beyond anything which the original Institute founders ever dreamed of. It has conducted work during the academic year at Ann Arbor and in summer from headquarters at different places on the Great Lakes, one of which continues to be the Biological Station. Thus far most of the investigations have been concerned with portions of Lake Huron, the Straits region, and certain parts of Lake Michigan. Results are being published promptly, in a special Institute series, several numbers of which have already appeared. The work of the Institute not only represents research activity at the Station worthy of this special mention, but it also illustrates the type of long-term integrated research program which I have referred to earlier in this paper and which is likely to be so productive of mature research of a high order.
As already mentioned, a complete set of Station publications has been assembled in bound form from 1909 to date, by the very efficient Librarian, who guards them zealously. They are available for examination, but I warn my listeners that unless Miss Foster has changed her rules, don't try to take any of the volumes away from the Library Building. Dr. George La Rue in 1920 assembled and published a list of all papers based upon Station work from 1909 to July 1, 1920. After that time the later list appeared each year as a part of the annual Announcement of the Station, thus preserving the Biological Station Bibliography as a complete and continuing record. Many years ago it became desirable to have a listing of all the research in progress during any given season. Consequently, during each session, a complete list of Researches in Progress was prepared, mimeographed and distributed locally to all interested persons. These listings included all researches done by students, private investigators and faculty. These proved so useful that the practice of issuing them became permanent As nearly as I can discover or remember, no such lists were prepared for any of the very early seasons.
I had planned to close my discussion with a mention of one or two of the most outstanding research contributions on the big several-year programs selected from each of the subdivisions of zoology represented at the Station, but I had no opportunity prior to this meeting to consult the faculty members representing the different zoological fields and I would not dare to presume to make any such selection myself. To do so would put me in the position similar to that referred to by the old-time churchman, as flying in the face of Providence. Therefore, I must close with a recommendation that anyone interested in this large store of zoological discovery, should consult that set of volumes in the Station Library which contain all of the original research papers. Thank you.