Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Tribute to Godfried Toussaint: Mentor, teacher, advisor, friend by Jit Bose

Mentor, teacher, advisor, colleague, friend. Godfried Toussaint was all of these to me and much more. Godfried was a big influence on my life. Many of the ideals that shape my philosophy/outlook to this day stem from conversations with Godfried. Let me share a few of his thoughts:

"Always share your ideas freely and with everyone. Science is the promotion of knowledge, not the hoarding of knowledge for one's own self-promotion. There will be people who obfuscate or hide their ideas, but try to rise above that and share in the beauty of our field.".

Godfried exemplified this through the initiation of his workshop series in Barbados where groups of researchers were encouraged to work together to solve open problems. Godfried would spend months preparing many interesting research problems that he shared with the group.

"Always err on the side of inclusion when determining co-authorship on a paper. No paper is worth losing a friendship or causing someone pain. There will be people who will try to exclude you for various reasons, but remember, there are so many diamonds out there that you will find many more."

This was also abundantly clear in how Godfried conducted his research. And he helped me through some painful experiences.

"Do not put barriers between yourself and students. Try to learn as much from them as they do from you. Students are not afraid to go down crazy paths that you may discard because of the blinders that experience puts on you. Go down those paths and you may find some diamonds"

Godfried followed me down many crazy paths when I first started my PhD with him. In fact, at McGill, he with Luc Devroye, had instilled a culture where students and professors would have lunch together every day. These informal meetings were the highlight of my days. No barriers. Just a bunch of people who are passionate about research sharing a meal daily. This is an ideal that Godfried was able to transmit to our research group at Carleton.

"Do not just focus on work. Cultivate many other interests and hobbies. It is by diversifying your interests that you will grow and it will come back in many ways to help you."

This for me was best exemplified when Godfried was able to combine his passion for music with his passion for research which gave rise to his book "The Geometry of Musical Rhythm".

Godfried, you opened my eyes and helped guide me through this journey of life. You gave so much to our community, and you gave so much to me. I will miss you dearly, my friend.

-- Jit