Philip K. Maini's 60th Birthday Meeting

Opening Remarks

Written by Santiago Schnell - January 17, 2020

The opening remarks for Philip K. Maini's 60th Birthday Meeting

Santiago Schnell

Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

18 September 2019

These are Santiago Schnell's notes for the opening remarks for Philip Maini’s 60th birthday Workshop held at the University of Oxford on September 18-19th, 2019. The meeting was entitled “On growth and pattern formation. A celebration of Philip Maini's 60th birthday”. Organising committee was Ruth Baker (University of Oxford), Derek Moulton (University of Oxford), Helen Byrne (University of Oxford), Santiago Schnell (University of Michigan) and Mark Chaplain (University of St Andrews). These notes were not in true sense what was exactly said during the opening remarks, but they were specifically written for the occasion and edited with references for publication.

Group picture of 60th meeting Let me first introduce myself. I am Santiago Schnell, Department Head and John A. Jacquez Professor of Physiology at the University of Michigan Medical School. I had the privilege of receiving my doctorate from the University of Oxford under the mentorship of Philip K. Maini. On this occasion, I have been asked to talk on behalf of the Society for Mathematical Biology, the international body representing the mathematical biology community. I served as President of the Society for Mathematical Biology between 2015 to 2017.

During my Presidency of the Society for Mathematical Biology, it occurred to me that it would be a fantastic idea to organize a scientific meeting to celebrate Professor Maini’s 60th birthday. I discussed this with Dr. Ruth Baker, and she subsequently discussed it with members of the University of Oxford mathematical biology community. Everyone agreed! The issue was convincing Professor Maini to accept this honour. Naively, I thought that my very questionable presidential powers would do the magic, but in reality I needed more help—much more help. In the summer of 2017, some members of the organizing committee for this meeting took up the challenge, and we corralled Professor Maini into a corner of the University of Utah Football Club during the dinner of the Annual Meeting of the Society for Mathematical Biology in Salt Lake City. After some arm twisting, potential coercion and maybe a few false promises, he reluctantly accepted, after we offered him a big birthday cake.

I wasn’t surprised that Professor Maini would be reluctant to accept this honour. I have known him since 1996, when I visited the University of Oxford for the first time to explore the possibility of pursuing my doctoral studies under his supervision at the (Wolfson) Centre for Mathematical Biology. In Professor Maini, I discovered a very special person: a great observer, deeply insightful, and incredibly modest. He was and continues to be the epitome of a mentor, a trusted counsellor and guide for life. Professor Maini is also modest and always shies away from honours. He has never considered himself to be special or a world renowned scientist. His demeanour towards honours reminds me of the epitaph taken from the epic poem The Iliad by Homer:
Οἵη περ φύλλων γενεὴ τοίη δὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν

“Like the generation of leaves, so are the generations of men”.

That seems about right about all of us: we are like leaves not only in our mortality, but in our similarity. An alien looking superficially at all of us might conclude that we human beings are not strictly speaking individuals, but all really part of the same organism: like leaves connected by invisible twigs and branches. We look very much the same, we rustle together, we are blown about the same winds, and so on.

Philip Maini However, the cultured appreciation of excellence of human living, our humanity, and our equality politically and under the law is distinct from vocational success. It would be a great mistake to assume that we – humans – are all equal intellectually and ignore that our vocational success does not produce inequalities. The reality is that universities are islands of aristocratic spirit and in them, there are unique individuals, who are most distinguished among us; we must honour and respect these unique individuals for their greatness. And this is what we are doing today; we are celebrating and honouring Professor Maini’s exceptional contributions to the field of mathematical and theoretical biology. There is no doubt that he has made and continues making a prominent difference to our academic community.

Now you must be wondering, how do I know this? Let me illustrate it in the best way that an academic administrator can do: by counting contributions in a CV rather than reading them!

Philip Maini Word Cloud Professor Maini has mentored over 85 doctoral and postdoctoral students in mathematical biology at the University of Oxford since 19901. To see what this looks like, I want to invite you to visit the poster with Professor Maini’s Mathematical Genealogy2. However, I also want you to imagine a typical annual meeting of the Society for Mathematical Biology. The average attendance for these meetings is approximately 400 participants; this means that Professor Maini has directly trained 20% of potential participants of an Annual Meeting of the Society for Mathematical Biology!

85 direct trainees is an impressive number, but I have to tell you that this is a lower bound estimate as many of his trainees are already well-established mathematical biologists, who have trained many others. Up to this point, there are over 140 direct and indirect descendants from Professor Maini.3

Professor Maini’s body of work is vast and includes more than 450 research publications in major scientific journals,4 with an h-index of 78,5 which is unusually high for any scientist, particularly a mathematical scientist! This high number of citations has placed him as one of the most Highly Cited Researchers in the world by 2014.6 His research has inspired significant new mathematics and new discoveries in biology. This isn’t surprising when you have published on average 13 papers per year, since you received your doctorate. Less than 3,270 scientists worldwide have had a publication output of 10 papers per year for more than 10 continuous years.7 If we put this into the context of the official journal of the Society for Mathematical Biology – The Bulletin of Mathematical Biology – Professor Maini’s contributions would be equivalent to nearly 8 years of papers of the Bulletin.

Professor Maini has also provided extraordinary service to the mathematical biology community. He was an elected member to the Boards of the Society for Mathematical Biology and the European Society for Mathematical and Theoretical Biology. For 14 years, he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology. Through his extensive editorial activities (over 20 journals and book series), his memberships of conference organising committees and mini-symposia organisations (over 140), his serving on the advisory boards of several interdisciplinary centres worldwide (over 10), he has a major influence on research in the field of mathematical biology.8

Philip Maini He has also received numerous honours and awards for his major scientific contributions, such as the Naylor Prize and Lectureship, Foreign Fellow of the Mexican Academy of Science, Arthur T. Winfree Prize, and Fellow of the Royal Society to name few.9

It is difficult to summarize 35 years of accomplishments in a brief introductory remark, particularly from someone who is finding it dismally difficult to follow in the footsteps of his mentor. What I can tell is the following: in exceptional occasions, we can say that so many owe so much to one individual. This is one of them.

On behalf of the Society for Mathematical Biology, its academic community, and all your descendants, collaborators, colleagues and friends, we are eternally grateful to you, Philip K. Maini, for all your contributions to mathematical biology, academia and especially our lives. It is a great pleasure to open this meeting, and from all the members of the mathematical biology here, and elsewhere, we wish you all A Very Happy Birthday to You! Philip Maini with cake

Footnotes

  1. https://people.maths.ox.ac.uk/maini/public/cv/res_supervision.html
  2. Philip Maini's Mathematical Genealogy, reposted at: http://blog.mathematical-oncology.org/img/inserts/maini/Mathematical_Genealogy.pdf
  3. For a list of doctoral recipients estimate, please visit the Mathematical Genealogy website
  4. https://people.maths.ox.ac.uk/maini/public/researchpubs.htm
  5. According to Google Scholars for September 17th, 2019. See, https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=jo5-8DkAAAAJ&hl=en
  6. ISI Web of Knowledge High Cited Researcher (top 1% of researchers 2002-14)
  7. Ioannidis JPA, Boyack KW, Klavans R (2014) Estimates of the Continuously Publishing Core in the Scientific Workforce. PLoS ONE 9(7): e101698. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0101698
  8. For a sneak-peak to his contributions, please visit his online CV on: https://people.maths.ox.ac.uk/maini/public/cv/cvfrontpage.htm
  9. For a more complete list, visit https://people.maths.ox.ac.uk/maini/public/cv/awardsph.html

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