Remembering Navjot Sodhi: lecturer, mentor, colleague and friend

In 2008, Navjot Sodhi, then as head honcho of the Biodiversity Crew, asked that this blog to be setup to share some of the efforts of this group with others. He even promised to spice up these pages by contributing some interesting (i.e. sensational) observations about life on campus. He never did, obviously, as he was too busy writing textbooks to help protect the planet.

We suffered the shocking loss of this wonderful, quirky man when he passed away all too suddenly last night (see: “The loss of our esteemed colleague and friend, Professor Navjot Sodhi“.

His funeral service will be held tomorrow, Tue 14 June 2011: 3:45pm @ Mandai Crematorium Hall 1 (map).

Meanwhile, former students have very quickly penned their thoughts here and on the Remembering Navjot Sodhi Facebook page. The family will be sent a copy of the posts here.

If you wish to pen your thoughts here, do email me at sivasothi@gmail.com.

RIP Navjot.


13 Jun 2011 – Zeehan Jaafar says,

“I knew Navjot before he became a superstar conservationist – first as a lecturer, then as a mentor, colleague and friend. Navjot joined DBS at about the same time I started my undergraduate studies. We were one of his first students and lectures with him were never dull; always filled with groans and laughter – groans from the students and laughter from him, either at us or at his own jokes!

What struck me most about Navjot is how kind and patient he was behind the gruff exterior. His office door was always open, he welcomed discussions and he was always willing to lend a hand. He was a stellar scientist (the only thing he never did really master is the IVLE) and contributed greatly not only to the discipline of tropical ecology and conservation, but also to the lives he touched.

He will be deeply missed.”

Grad student Enoka Kudavidanage says,

“We had a battered, stained old lab couch where Prof. Sodhi would come out of his office to sit and enjoy his tea.

The other lab members would perch around him on various surfaces to share some interesting conversation spiced with his quick wit, sharp intellect and intermittent infectious laughing. It is on this couch where concepts for many high impact publications were conceived, where the future of many grad students was decided and where many good collaboration were made.

When I walked into the lab today…I painfully missed the lab couch….with Prof Sodhi sitting on it surrounded by his eternal clutter of paper.”

Navjot Sodhi on the couch

Hons student Genevieve Sew says,

“I did not know Prof Sodhi well, my one and only experience was during the tropical conservation module which I took during the semester that had just ended. Even then, during those classes, despite his quirky ways, it was easy to see the passion he has for his work and how he wanted to reach out to people.

The world has many people who desire to make a change, but yet only a few will dare to step out and make that move and Prof Sodhi is one of those few.

The world has truly suffered a great loss.”

Grad student Nanthinee Jeevanandam says,

“When we had visited him in the hospital just before his surgery, I had told him how he looked much better than what I had been told. His candid response was that he was going to become a male model after recovery because of all the weight he had lost. Being able to laugh at oneself even in hard times is a precious quality and Sodhi had that.

Rest in peace.”

Former student Giam Xingli says,

“A friend of mine who was interviewing for a junior faculty position asked me what’s the dress code for interviews in NUS. Not knowing the answer to his question, I sent an email to Navjot and Hugh Tan. While Hugh’s reply was sane (come in shirt and pants), Navjot’s was typical Navjot – he said “come nude”. I copied both answers ad verbatim to my friend. He must have thought Navjot was insane.

However, those of us privileged enough to be his student or friend will know that his humorous and unpretentious reply is meant to put the faculty candidate at ease. And this happened in May this year. He must have been in pain but he was still upbeat and optimistic about life. This is the Navjot we know and respect.

Rest in peace, we will always remember you.”

Kamini Barua (Post-Doc Research Fellow at Inkubator Leuphana – Kompetenz Tandem Biokerosin, Leuphana Universität Lüneburg) writes:

Tribute to Prof. Navjot S Sodhi

“I had the opportunity to meet Prof. Sodhi just a couple of times to discuss about research issues in Ecology and Conservation. In fact I considered it a privilege that he had given me an appointment for a meeting !! Those couple of hours that I could talk to him and which I still hold in my memory, I was just so simply impressed by his intellect and yet his modest self.

I had the opportunity to visit his Department just a couple of months ago and gave a lecture to his students on my research work in the tropics and I thought this was just the beginning of a great professional association. It’s a great loss for the global conservation community.

May his soul rest in peace and my sincere condolences to his family”

Alvin Wong, a grad student from the 90’s writes,

“As a grad student bumming around the Dept, I had always enjoyed helping out Navjot with mist-netting of birds during the Honours Field Trips to Sarawak and Pulau Tioman. During lull periods and beers in the evening, he would be gleefully hatching diabolical plans to mess with the minds of the honours class; often being egged on by Tommy, his partner in crime.

His restless mind and body was an expression of his scientific inquisitiveness, boundless energy and incisive logic. As a ecologist and conservationist, Navjot is without equal. He contributed tremendously to the cause in not just Singapore, but also regionally and indeed worldwide.”

Grad student Ang Yu Chen says,

“Oh my god that was so sudden. I always remembered how much I enjoyed his lessons, not just because of his ‘unorthodox’ ways of teaching, but also how he held himself, never bothering so much with the stifling rules in the NU of S. The only prof who is easily identifiable by his berms, cap and ever-present ratty Corona beer jacket.

Even if I didn’t agree with his methods sometimes, I could feel that he believed in saving the environment, and not in the all emotional tree hugging way. No. He has written papers that have influenced policies, written textbooks that would inspire future conservationists.

A real conservationist who had real impact.

RIP, Sodhi. You taught me a whole lot.”

14 Jun 2011 – Charlotte Yap, an early graduate student of his, says,

“Prof Sodhi was a truly special man. He had a generous heart, a fun-loving soul and a maverick streak that is sorely missing in today’s world. He helped to pave the way for me to further my academic studies and he taught me to think critically and work independently, for which I will always be indebted to him.

I will miss his endearing laugh and his cheeky sense of humour and most of all his presence.”

Former student Lim Wei Ling says,

“I do not know Prof Sodhi well but had the opportunity to take his Behavioural Biology module while in NUS. His classes were never boring and he was a great teacher in his own quirky way. I remember him as a lecturer always with a can of pepsi and great passion for conservation.

You will be greatly missed Prof Sodhi. Rest in Peace.”

Ilsa Sharp, freelance writer, researcher, editor, consultant based in Perth, Western Australia writes,

“I can hardly believe that Sodhi has gone so suddenly and so quickly, and so tragically. Apart from admiring his sharp intellect and enquiring, iconoclastic mind, I loved his naughty grin and his delight in ‘stirring’, poking and prodding others to produce an effect; his merriment at disturbing others more pompous and formal than he.

Despite his clear scholarly prowess, he remained a true field biologist. I was privileged to work with him as his co-author for the book “Winged Invaders” on pest birds of the Asia-Pacific region, in 2005-06, and now that he is gone and I see the scale and level of the tributes to him from all over the world, I understand that I was even more privileged than I had realised.

He was a truly patient and surprisingly modest collaborator on our book, always receptive to my own layman ideas, always creative with his own suggestions. What a loss, and perhaps at the peak of his career, with so many plans for the future, so many more achievements ahead of him.

Hopefully, his work will live on.”

19 Jun 2011 – Quek Kian Chye, 1995 – 1997 graduate student of Prof Sodhi’s writes,

“I am fortunate to be a student of Prof Sodhi during my BSc days. When Prof Sodhi came to DBS, it was like a miracle came true as he started lessons related to conservation. Having a passion for birds, I could at last pursue my academic goals associated with a hobby.

Prof Sodhi has many fascinating ideas. At first the thesis topics posted by Prof Sodhi seems weird but they turned out to be pioneer research areas in conservation. We work together on fluctuating asymmetry in pigeons and I learnt to know him as a helpful, patient and down-to-earth supervisor.

We spent hours mist-netting and he would skillfully demonstrate the technique of taking blood from the birds, making measurements and tagging our feathered friends. Counting endoparasites in blood smear and ectoparasites on live pigeons were never an easy task but I could always shared those tiring experience with Prof Sodhi and he never failed to motivate me with his inspirating words, care and selfless knowledge.

Near to my thesis submission, I produced graphs with points running all over. It was my most desperate moment and had almost given up. Prof Sodhi guided me through the process of consolidating and presentation of data and behold, there was indeed a trend in the findings for me to complete the thesis successfully.

After graduation, Prof Sodhi encouraged me to write up a paper on my thesis work. I see in him a great love for nature and it has given me the best reason to write up a paper while working.

In urban Singapore, Prof Sodhi has persisted in his passion and made a mark in conservation. I am proud to have Prof Sodhi as a caring supervisor, an inspiring teacher and a friend who spent time to listen and offered his assistance.

Rest in peace, Prof Sodhi”

21 Jun 2011 – David Taylor, Professor of Geography, Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland writes,

“Sad loss of a good friend, a conservation activist and a superb scientist”

“I was shocked yesterday evening to learn of Sodhi’s untimely death.  That I heard about his passing away while I was attending a workshop on carbon accounting in Kigali, Rwanda, indicates the global reach of Sodhi’s influence.
 

I knew Sodhi relatively well during my four years as an academic in Geography, NUS 1997-2001.  I used to come over to Biology to use microscope facilities, and Sodhi occupied the room next to the one that housed the microscope that I used.  He was always incredibly supportive – and of course critical.  We have kept in touch since I came to Ireland, and I knew that he was ill.  I did not realise until yesterday evening, however, just how ill he was.
 

In the last email I received from Sodhi he told me that he had been offered a professorship in Canada, and that the position was ‘for life’.  At the time he probably suspected that his current position was for life too.
 

I will miss Sodhi, and my heart goes out to his family and colleagues.”


Memories are being shared on a Facebook memorial page setup by his former students at Remembering Navjot Sodhi

Remembering Navjot Sodhi

See also “A Navjot Sodhi module objective: “I just wanna teach them some empathy,” by N. Sivasothi. NUS Biodiversity Crew, 12 Jan 2012.

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