My only regret in sending a message of congratulations to Art on the occasion of his festscrift is that I am not there to deliver it in person and to share in the celebration. And while I am delighted to send the congratulations and appreciation of Brandeis University for Art’s many accomplishments and contributions to Psychology, the field of language and aging, and to his department and university, the message that I really want to send is one of personal appreciation for his friendship, humor, and guidance over the past 20 years. Brandeis is a remarkable institution that has an impact beyond what could be expected for our size and our resources. We are only successful because of our remarkable collaborative culture and because of the faculty who created that culture and have built careers and defined entire fields here at Brandeis. Art’s ability to ask the key questions and fold new ideas and relationships into his work speaks to his stature as a scientist. His recognition that the success of his students and his colleagues is both critical and worthy of his energy defines his greatness as a mentor and a colleague. Art’s calmness and insight breaks down barriers and has been a key element in building a Neuroscience program in which psychologists, biologists, and computational modelers work together to solve core problems. His style and approach have given me a model for how to balance diverse views and approaches at both the scientific and administrative level and I could not be more grateful. Congratulations Art!
My first meeting with Art
I was an undergraduate at Brandeis from September 1980 till May of 1984. I worked in Art’s lab most of that time, starting in my sophomore year. Those days were significant times of change for Art (if I can be so bold as to assume so on his behalf), and certainly for me. The year before we met, Art spent his sabbatical in England with his family. At the end of that time, he returned to Brandeis in a somewhat different marital state. More germane to my story though, Art at the time had only one graduate student in his lab about to complete her dissertation and no other research assistant. He was about to embark on a new research project in psycholinguistics, examining the relationship of prosody to online sentence processing. He needed a colleague who could help him with the syntactic analysis required for his hypothesis testing, and so he approached Dr. Jane Grimshaw in the Linguistics department. Jane was busy embarking on her own research and so declined the collaboration. As a consolation prize, she offered up a promising undergraduate linguistics major for Art’s consideration (yours truly).
Art called and asked to meet with me. I remember that meeting really clearly. We met in the outside area of Usdan, behind the Boulevard. I was understandably very nervous. We sat down, and I started to tell him how excited/honored I was to be considered for the project. “Dr. Wingfield,” I stuttered… “Call me Art,” he replied. “If we’re going to be colleagues, you should call me Art.” I was a bit nonplussed at that as you can imagine, but it was classic Art, and so characteristic of his warmth and openness to me during all the years we worked together.
We began our work, and Art’s basement lab became my second home (quite literally). I would of course conduct research there, but also often ate there, studied there, occasionally partied there (some great drunken darts games come to mind), and it was there as well that I developed my love affair with coffee and with Sarah Vaughan (whom Art turned me on to originally). On the matter of coffee, this was of course pre-Starbucks, and it was hard to get a decent cup locally. Art had a one-cup drip, which he would use to make us coffee many times a day. It always amused me (given especially that he was the author of the classic, The Psychology of Human Memory text) that it took him almost three years to remember how I liked my coffee, but I forgave him those lapses because there were so many unexpected gains. During our years together, I became not only a part of his lab, but a part of his life, a gift that I appreciated then as much as I do now.
Post-Doc at 17
As I mentioned, Art had one doctoral student who was finishing her PhD at the time I entered the lab. No one in the psychology department knew me yet because I didn’t start studying psychology (which ultimately became my graduation major) until my first intro class with Art. So in typical Art fashion, he went around telling people that I was his post-doc. Mind you, I started Brandeis at 16, so at the time I wasn’t yet legal in any state. I did look a bit older; I had started growing a beard for that reason, which maybe added a few years to the perception, but still I didn’t imagine anyone took the post-doc moniker as anything other than a joke. I found out soon enough though that that there were several graduate students of other faculty members who did in fact think I was Art’s post-doc.
This was again so classic Art. His dry sense of humor was often mistaken for truth. In a number of areas, you were never quite sure what was fact and what fiction. I remember one time that Marcel Kinsbourne came to give a colloquium in the department. Kinsbourne was of course well-known, and he and Art were apparently buddies. At one point in his talk (and I don’t even remember the relevance), Marcel said something like, “for example, if I were to start speaking Hungarian, no one but Art would have any idea what I was saying.” Art acknowledged the comment with an affirmative nod and after that, the rumor was that Art was fluent in Hungarian.
We had fun with foreign languages in general, stemming in part from Art’s “European” ties. Everyone assumed he was more worldly than us mere continental Americans. One time, Art was going to present at a conference, I think it was in Eindhoven, and he wanted to be prepared for questions. He knew I had a good friend who was Dutch, and asked me to have him translate the sentence “further research in this area is required,” in case he could work it in: “Verder onderzoek op dit gebied is noodzakelijk,” (or something like that). Why limit the pretense of fluency to Hungarian only? I was told the line was a great hit at the conference.
Art and Eve
Yep, I was there when the dark clouds of divorce broke open to allow in the light of new possibilities. Art (along with pretty much everyone else doing psycholinguistics research in the 80s) was fascinated by what the brain might tell us about cognition. At the time, a young wunderkind by the name of Dr. Eve Marder was offering a (not-so) basic neuroscience class, which Art decided to take. At first, Art would come back after class and tell me all about the fascinating (and challenging) content. But talk of lobster neurons soon progressed to talk of the professor whom he described as brilliant and interesting. I won’t presume to say much more about their budding relationship, except to reflect on how some of our initial perceptions of Art and Eve being a bit of an “odd couple“ quickly changed to a sense that they were a “super couple” fated to be together.
My experience at Brandeis was exactly what the admissions folk always tout about the university: an opportunity for an undergraduate to be engaged in serious scholarly research under the guidance of a senior faculty member. And yet, my experience was unique because that faculty member was Art. As I began to plan beyond my undergraduate years, I initially thought to stay at Brandeis either to finish my masters or even to complete my PhD, but Art would have none of it. He told me I had to leave the nest and develop my career somewhere else. It was hard at the time to leave, but of course he was right.
My years with Art and the fact that I already had two publications to my credit before beginning graduate school opened a lot of doors for me. I was accepted at most programs I applied to, and ultimately chose to go to Johns Hopkins. Due again to my work with Art (at least in part), I was awarded an NSF graduate fellowship in my first year of Hopkins, and continued on to have a very successful career first as a research scientist at MGH/HMS, and then as a clinical neuropsychologist and academic. I can’t possibly over-estimate the important that Art had in enabling and shaping my professional path. I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude, which I hope I may have repaid in part through my own mentoring of students over the years. His model is always in my mind.
Mazel tov Art on this great accomplishment; as we say in Hebrew (which of course you’re also fluent in), “ad meah v’esrim,” may you live and learn till you’re 120!
I borrowed some equipment from one of Art's colleagues at UMass Boston. I told him I would return it in 3 weeks. As I worked on developing my stimuli, it became clear that I needed more time.
I started spending a LOT of time in the soundproof booth to try to finish in time. After 3 very late nights, the last of which was an all nighter, I was a wreck. Art came in and asked how I was doing, and I dissolved in a puddle of tears.
Once I explained the situation, he suggested that I call his colleague and ask if I could borrow the equipment for another week. Of course he said yes. Problem solved.
After the crisis was over, Art said, "Sarah, never construct your environment so it makes you crazy." It had never occurred to me that *I* had the ability to control my environment and change it so that I could function more effectively. This advice was, for me, life-altering.
I am so grateful that I worked with such a wise man.
When I first arrived, Art gave me a stack of papers about one foot thick that he said I needed to read. I took it all back to my desk, and as I worked my way through it I found the complete script for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It made me feel right at home!
Bloomington in 2007 was the first time I attended a Aging and Speech Communication (ASC) conference. It was my first visit to Bloomington and my presentation was the first of the entire conference, as it was part of the keynote lecture given by Prof. Tammo Houtgast in the evening before the official opening. The discussion following the lecture was tough.. …very tough…. (at the end of the three days, I learned that this had just been one of the usual type of discussions at an ASC conference, but at that moment I felt pretty miserable..). It was during the poster session the day after that lecture that somebody came to talk to me. I didn’t know this person, but his friendly words, his encouraging comments, the fact that he shared his own experiences with me and his sincere interest in my work couldn’t have come at a better moment. It was an unforgettable meeting. Later that day, I learned that the person I had spoken to was Arthur Wingfield, of all people!!
Art made an unforgettable impression on me then and throughout the years that followed. It is not only his surprisingly great sense of empathy that impressed me. His genuine interest in other people’s work, his integrity, his ability to encourage and inspire others, his scientific insights and thinking and the long list of influential papers he (co)authored made me realize that Arthur Wingfield is a unique person. I don’t know many researchers with all these qualities in one person. Arthur Wingfield is just one a kind. He is one of the best scientists I know. I thank Art for all his great work and invaluable contributions to our field so far. I am wishing him all the best and I sincerely hope that Art will stay around and active in our field for many many more years.