Timothy J. Bartness died on September 24, this year (2015), and the progress of research on obesity will halt in its tracks, or so I feared until I started reading what his students are posting.
If you didn’t have the good fortune to know him, Tim Bartness was brilliant, hilarious, and intense. He did innovative work on many frontiers. He elucidated how day length controls body fat loss and gain. He showed how chemical messengers in the brain affect hunger. When he studied food intake, he didn’t limit his observations to eating. He also studied food hoarding, or as he called it, “shopping for food.” Tim was on the verge of understanding how adipose tissue talks and listens to the brain.
If you didn’t know that your fat sends and receives neural input and output, then you weren’t up-to-date on the frontiers of obesity research. Tim had recently been appointed to head an obesity institute at Georgia State University. In his short life, he published more than 200 papers that received almost 10,000 citations, and almost 4,000 of these citations occurred since 2010. He had an important impact on his field of research, and had he chosen to study rats or mice instead of hamsters, more of my fellow neuroendocrinologists would recognize and make use of his foundational, inspired research. He would have loved that I said that.
Moreover, Tim Bartness was my science big brother– not the Orwellian big brother-is-watching-you kind, but the “I’ve-always-got-your-back-but-you’ll-never-be-as-great-as-I-am” kind of older sibling. Tim and I shared two of the same academic parents and grandparents (George Wade and Irv Zucker) (Tim’s full academic lineage appears on Neurotree), and so Tim and I learned, lived by, and then handed down the same set of advice, tricks, and scientific standards. Our loyalty to each other was not nepotistic, but based on our shared ideas about what constitutes hard evidence. We were writing a “how-to” manual for survival in our crazy academic science jobs.
I’ve lost a big brother, and the weight of this emptiness has left me weirdly paralyzed with confusion, heart-broken, and deeply sad. It feels almost wrong to think there might be something to be gained.
Of course we have gained from his life, and thanks to the internet, much of what we have gained is all around me and right in my face…in my Facebook to be more exact. On Facebook, I see not only his picture but hear Tim’s voice.
Tim’s voice is clearly living and breathing in the minds of his students and colleagues. What’s more, these voices are versions of George’s and Irv’s teachings, living on, even in these ridiculously young students.
Here are just a small sampling of quotes from Tim’s students and colleagues:
Laura Been: … We are all better scientists (and better people) for having Tim as a mentor and a friend. I can’t write anything without hearing his voice in my head (While vs. Whereas; Since vs. Because; never starting a sentence with an adverb). He will be very missed!!
Nicole Victoria: I refer to a Tim Bartness teaching almost on a daily basis and have passed them on to grad students, post-docs, my post-doc advisor and other colleagues (e.g. Presentations: Question, picture, answer. Only use ‘Since’ when referring to time. Hypotheses are present tense statements that answer your experimental question, whereas predictions are future tense statements using ‘if, then’. Use ‘In addition’ and never ‘Additionally’ to start a sentence…). I started talking about Strong Inference and alternative hypothesis testing at a job interview with the FDA the other day. They loved it; I thought of Tim and sent him a mental thank you. He had a dramatic impact on the GSU biology, psychology and neuroscience groups. Clearly he is going to live on in us all and our interactions with others. So sad to hear that Tim has passed. He was an amazing scientist, mentor and teacher.
Joe Normandin: His door was always open to all of us grad students. I remember stopping by his office many times to run experiments by him (and find out what I was doing wrong).
Pam Patterson: Just heard the incredibly sad news that one of my dissertation committee members, Timothy Bartness, has passed away. I am heartbroken by the news. He has influenced, and will continue to influence, every experiment I design (strong inference!!), every paper/grant I write (the art of if/then statements), and every presentation I give (EVERY line on a graph should have a purpose). I would not be the same scientist I am today without his mentorship, and I know I am not alone. Rest in peace, TJB. I know all of my fellow GSU neuro-peeps would agree: he will be missed.
The high standards to which he held himself had an amazing motivational effect on so many of us. Turned us all into little Bartnessites.
Amy Ross: So very true. I still ask myself quite often, “What would TJB do?”
Kyle Frantz: 1. Funnel from broad to narrow focus in the introduction; from narrow to broad in the discussion. So simple. 2. When colleagues acted up in faculty meetings, he’d comment “no GABA today, eh?”. Just two nuggets from Tim.
Ares Patrulis: Tim was truly one-of-a-kind scientist. He prized thinking outside of the box but in a supremely rigorous way. He believed in the question and not scientific fads and went after all of it with passion and verve. Absolutely fearless. He always had, and will continue to have, my full respect. I miss his voice terribly. This is true loss for neuroscience. I could say much more, but this will suffice.
Stephanie Josephine: My heart is heavy over this news. Tim played a huge role in my decision to attend GSU. I owe him a massive amount of gratitude for his willingness to serve on my committees, for giving constant feedback, and his overall incredible scientific inspiration. I have a lot of days where I question some of my career decisions or feel a semblance of bitterness for being overworked and underpaid (“the students don’t care,” I say! Yes, I know, “these kids today….” I say, as more and more of my hairs turn gray). At my dissertation defense, Tim asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I answered that I wanted to have a positive influence on undergraduate education, but I didn’t quite know how I was going to do that (I felt, at the time, like that was a terrible answer since I didn’t have a clear trajectory at the time.). I have to say looking at the beautiful memories people are sharing tonight about Tim as an educator and a person reminds me of why we do what we do. Students do care. We’ve all been positively influenced as scientists and people by Tim and it’s quite clear we’re all continuing to share his legacy. RIP TJB.
Dayne Loyd Averett: This is devastating news. I’ve read all of your comments and they are all so touching and funny, and anyone who worked will Tim can relate to each of your wonderful comments. I have never written a grant without hearing Tims voice critiquing the organization and writing. All my grants have the Bartness stamp, bolding, underlining and italicizing, all of it lol. It is obvious he has left a legacy in his alum.
From me (Jill Schneider): This is so bitter sweet to see the hard evidence of your goodness and how you have honored your teachers and blessed your students. They will surely carry on your legacy to places we can’t even imagine. Love you, my brother.
(Tim also played the sax, and I think he would have liked you to hear this!)