Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Tim Shallice's description about Jon Driver's contribution to the UCL-ICN

I would like to share, with the world, Prof Tim Shallice's (the first ICN Director) sincere description/words towards Prof Jon Driver's enormous contribution to the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience (ICN), the world leading research institute in Cognitive Neuroscience.


Like everybody else, I was completely stunned when I heard the news and only  now I feel
able to say a few words about Jon and his  special role in the ICN. I think we should put on
record our thanks to him for the absolutely critical role that he has played in the ICN’s
success. Or it would be better to say the two critical roles he played.

Like everyone else I had my moment when I realised that Jon was really exceptional.  For
me,  it was when he came down to UCL from Cambridge sometime in the early 1990s and
gave a seminar on his beautiful divided rectangle experiment on neglect. The manipulation
that he used  was so effective, was so simple, elegant and clever, it really marked him out as
the brightest of his generation. Of course, he rapidly followed this up with many equally
elegant and clever studies, perhaps not quite so simple as that one. So it was obvious to me
that when the ICN was being  set up in Alexandra House  that  the first priority should be to
try to recruit Jon, who at the time was in Birkbeck, where he had moved from Cambridge.
Fortunately Derek Roberts, the provost, was very supportive at recruiting  talented younger
scientists.  And Jon more than fulfilled what  we had hoped for. In the six years that I ran the
ICN in Alexandra House,  Jon  developed from being a very promising young scientist to
someone who was generally seen as one of the leading cognitive neuroscientists  worldwide.
The attraction of working with him brought many able people from a variety of European
countries to work in the ICN.  His presence at the ICN  was probably the most important
factor in its  becoming rapidly seen as a very attractive  place to work.

When my period as director was moving towards its end I began to consider who might
succeed me. Obviously it would not be my decision, but the ICN was still a fairly fragile
beast administratively within UCL, very dependent on retaining the goodwill of powerful
individuals within the college hierarchy.  So  I  was very concerned that my successor should
be someone really good. It was clear to me that one person stood head and shoulders above
all others as far as judgements of how the field would develop and of which individuals
would be most productive and of getting clever ideas to work.  This was Jon. But I did not
think it likely that Jon would be interested.  A heavy administrative load would not
necessarily benefit his research career. But Jon had always played a full part in ICN activities
so I thought his public spiritedness might prevail, and indeed it did. The College, too, fully
appreciated that he was the ideal choice. Jon  did a marvellous job. He proved to have a talent
for being a Director, bringing in many  very able scientists and unobtrusively creating a
dynamic, stimulating but caring environment.   Not only did the ICN develop remarkably
under his directorship but he also found the time to play what seems to have been the leading
role in the detailed organising of the UCL bid for the new Gatsby Research Centre.

When Jon left the directorship, the ICN was clearly a leading, if not the leading European
research centre in the field. It was a really solid part of UCL administratively. Without him
these things would never have happened.  The College should think  of some way of
acknowledging the great debt we owe to him.Jon was always so youthful and full of enthusiasm. His absence will be a great loss to all of us and I cannot imagine how much the absence will be felt by his family, Nilli and his children.

Tim Shallic