Thanks Maxine

Today I found out – via Twitter, of all places – that Maxine Clarke, of Nature, died yesterday. In 2006, when almost nobody read my (old) blog, Maxine did. Back then I was in the middle of my PhD and had very low self-esteem. But, I would regularly tell myself (and others), someone at Nature read my blog, so I wasn’t a total failure.

Around that same time, Maxine also read an article about science blogs that I wrote for Hypothesis journal, back when that still published random stuff like that. She cited it in a short piece that she wrote for the internal Nature magazine, Nurture, which she edited at the time. She sent me a copy, and I keep everything that has my name in print, so I was able to dig this out tonight.

Attached to the copy of Nurture was a note:

“Thank you for your help.”

I don’t think I helped her – she was the one who helped me, by giving my article a bit of exposure, and boosting my self-esteem.

A few months later, I was invited to join Nature Network as a blogger. I don’t know for sure who recommended me, but I strongly suspect Maxine had something to do with this. She was definitely the first one to leave a comment on my blog there (that post – with her comment – is now here).

My Nature Network blog, in turn, got me several jobs, tons of friends, and lots of other indirect opportunities, such as an invitation to Sci Foo and two appearances in Open Lab. So, everything I care about, basically.

After Maxine got sick and after I left Nature Network, I had almost no contact with her, until a few weeks ago. I have been organising an advent calendar to appear on the Node in the days leading up to Christmas. It’s currently running. Each day features a paper that was recommended by a reader of the Node. A lot of these papers were behind pay walls, and we spent some time emailing editors we knew at various journals to try to ask them if they would be willing to open up the papers on the day they appeared on the calendar.

Of course, there was a pay-walled Nature paper among the submissions. Who did I know at Nature who could help? I emailed Maxine, and got a response at the end of November. She had arranged permission to open the paper, and put me in touch with the people who could take care of this. She also wrote “It’s a nice project; look forward to seeing it when it is live.”

The paper is scheduled to go up this coming Friday. She hasn’t seen it, and I don’t think she’s seen the rest of the calendar.

I was really busy with this advent calendar project, and had a bunch of other editors to reply to, so my response to her was short, but I think it covers everything:

“Thanks Maxine”

4 thoughts on “Thanks Maxine”

  1. Chall says:

    Very nicely written Eva. She gave me a nice email after a conversation on nn and its sad to hear she is gone.

  2. Henry Gee says:

    I met Maxine on my first day at Nature, almost exactly 25 years ago. She was always a great help to me. She was a big presence behind the scenes. She’ll be missed.

  3. Bronwen says:

    Thank you, Eva, for creating a place on the internet where I feel that I can comment.

    I am so sad about Maxine’s death. She gave so much encouragement and practical help, and genuinely wanted the best for people – a quality which is so rare.

  4. Well put, Eva. Reminded me of the times we’d all discussed/ debated/ agreed/ disagreed with Maxine both on and off the blogs in the old Nature Network days.

    My father Gerald knew Maxine from way back when she was one of John (JWS) Pringle’s PhD students in Oxford Zoology -this would be in the mid-70s when we first moved there. I remember him introducing me to Maxine at some London muscle seminar when I was a very green PhD student in about ’83 or ’84. I guess that was probably before Maxine went to work for Nature.

    Maxine was … ‘old school’, in the good sense of ‘unfailingly courteous and helpful’, even if you were disagreeing about something. Like you, I used to appreciate her occasional comments on my blog.

    Anyway, although I knew (via the grapevine) that she wasn’t well, it always comes as a shock when someone you didn’t think of as old is gone too soon.

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