With my mentor, ADM James D. Watkins 2010

I promised myself years ago that when my mentor, Admiral James D. Watkins, passed away, wherever I was, whatever I was doing, I would make arrangements to go to his funeral.

And now it happened.   So I jumped on a red-eye flight back to Washington, DC and attended the funeral ceremony.  It was a beautiful service,  in one of the largest Catholic churches in the country.  It was attended by Senators, Cabinet Members, military, clergy, and many “just plain” people.

He was a highly decorated Naval officer, and a devoutly religious man.  Maybe it was that mixture that gave him the special perspective that I  as a younger man found so instructive.


Here are some of the lessons I learned from my mentor:

“Get out in front of your skis”

Sometimes it’s best to be a little uncomfortable.  Sometimes you just need to move from where you are.


“Don’t look over your shoulder”

If you’re not sure whether you’ve got the backing of your team, then you probably need to build a better team.  If you’re going the wrong way, they’ll jump in front of you to force a new direction.

“Do your homework, then put it away”

The value is in learning the lesson, not in showing everyone what you know.  Build on the knowledge, don’t celebrate it.

“You can build an argument, but you have to earn support”

Collecting evidence to make your case is the easy part.  The tough job is selling the case and making it important to others.


There are many other lessons that I learned from my mentor, and each one is remarkable in its breadth of relevance.  I can apply those lessons to my work and my life.  Every researcher should be so lucky as to have a mentor like mine.

Rick Spinrad, VP for Research

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5 thoughts on “Lessons from a Mentor

  1. Your “Lessons from a mentor” piece is a terrific eulogy for Admiral Watkins. Thank you for sharing it with us. I hope his family will see it as well: It so honors someone who clearly was remarkable.

    – from Gwil Evans, Professor
    Office of the Dean, College of Agricultural Sciences

  2. “Thanks for sharing these good summary life/career lessons. He sounds like a remarkable man and mentor.”
    [shared by a member of the OSU research community]

  3. Great lessons learned from your mentor. Sorry to hear about your loss, but very apparently he lives on with these lessons and more.

    – from Lisa J. Gaines, Interim Director
    Institute for Natural Resources

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