On Friday, we bade a bittersweet farewell to one of the long-standing members of our team, Joe Cora. After 14 years, Joe is moving on to a new position as software engineer for the New York Times!
Joe began working at the insect collection in 2001 when he was a first-semester freshman majoring in computer science. He professed an interest in the interface between biology and computer science, and he came to the insect collection in response to job openings to help with curatorial tasks. I must also give credit where it’s due, and thank Luciana for recognizing the latent talent in that young applicant. Curatorial tasks for Joe were not merely something to be done to earn money, but were learning opportunities, the chance to understand not only how to do something but the reasons and goals behind them. In this way, he basically earned an unofficial minor in entomology over his first few years here. In 2004 Joe was the recipient of the first Undergraduate Student Employee of the Year Award at Ohio State University.
In retrospect, it would be easy to look back over the past 14 years and focus on the changes in hair style, fashion sense, and political sensibilities. But I’d much rather emphasize the substantive contributions that he brought to our growing biodiversity informatics program.
First and foremost, Joe brought a sense of professionalism to our efforts. He took our databasing operation and turned it into a robust platform, not only for managing information from our insect collection, but for data from a wide range of domains for users around the world. He has been an evangelist for the adoption, or least experimentation, of the platform – xBio:D – helping others to make the transition from smaller scale efforts to a web presence that implements all community data standards. To do all of this effectively required not only immersion in an existing data model, but expansion of that model from information about the provenance and identity of specimens to sequence data, multimedia, tools for semantic enhancement of publications, etc. This, in turn, requires a deep understanding of the data themselves. I don’t think Joe ever took a course in any aspect of biology or entomology, but he became as proficient in the intricacies of nomenclature, taxonomy, phylogenetic analysis, and genomics as any graduate student, and probably on a par with a lot of Ph.D.’s out there.
I’ll really miss the chance to simply walk into Joe’s office and talk through an issue of data structure, standards, or how best to accomplish a computing task. And, of course, this doesn’t take into account Joe’s ad hoc roles in troubleshooting and fixing hardware, software and networking problems. We definitely benefited greatly from Joe’s talents, and I must admit that we grossly underpaid him for the tasks he actually did. Such are the constraints in a university environment. I hope the new job in NYC satisfies his endless curiosity and leads to yet bigger and better things in the future. Live long and prosper!
About the Author: Dr. Norman Johnson is a Professor in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology at The Ohio State University and the Director of the Triplehorn Insect Collection. He studies the systematics and evolution of parasitoid wasps in the family Platygastridae (Hymenoptera).