Priscilla Tucker retired from active faculty status Dec. 31, 2021 and the Board of Regents of the University of Michigan has named her professor emerita of ecology and evolutionary biology and curator emerita of the Museum of Zoology.
Tucker received her bachelor’s degree from Colgate University in 1974 and her master’s of science and doctoral degrees from Texas A&M University in 1980 and 1984, respectively. Following a visiting instructorship in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Science at Texas A&M University and a postdoctoral position at the Jackson Laboratory in the early to mid-1980s, she joined the University of Michigan in 1988 as an assistant professor and assistant curator of mammals. She was promoted to associate professor and associate curator in 1995 and promoted to professor and curator of mammals in 2005. She was a senior fellow for the U-M Sweetland Writing Center from 2005-2006 and a senior fellow for the Learning Analytics Workshop in 2013. In September 2020 she was appointed program director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology-Evolutionary Processes where she served for a year.
As a faculty member and curator at the U-M, Tucker is known for her insightful and innovative research in evolutionary biology, focusing primarily on the genetics of hybrid zones and evolution of mammalian sex chromosomes. Her early work on the structure and evolution of the Y chromosome in the genus Mus was some of the first research to provide an evolutionary perspective to the study of the sex-determining locus Sry. Working with collaborators, she focused her attention on a hybrid zone in house mice across Europe, discovering unusual patterns of sex chromosome distribution and evolution. Her continuing research on this hybrid zone resulted in key contributions to the field of evolutionary biology including elucidating the importance of sex chromosomes in maintaining hybrid zones and the role and nature of critical mechanisms limiting introgression across these zones, as well as exploring the use of hybrid zones in understanding the process of speciation itself. A consequence of her work on house mouse hybrid zones has been the exploration of the makeup of strains of laboratory mice used in biomedical research. Overall, this research helped build an impressive list of publications, and the Mus hybrid zone has become one of the best-studied naturally occurring mammalian systems.
During retirement, Tucker said, “I hope to volunteer my time with local conservation groups in the Midcoast region of Maine. I plan to travel (and hike) and spend more time with family and friends in a post-pandemic world!”
Her advice for new students in the field is “Be curious. Take pleasure in scientific discovery. Be thorough in all aspects of the scientific process. Set short and long-term goals and feel good about yourself when you attain both.”
As for her long and successful U-M career, “I’m particularly proud of the research accomplishments of my students who have contributed to various aspects of biodiversity science including such topics as chromosomal and molecular evolution, speciation, hybridization, phylogenetics, landscape and population genetics and ecology.”
“Being a curator was a favorite assignment. My department is one of a handful that hosts museums, the UMMZ and University Herbarium, with world-class research collections of plants, fungi and animals. So much of my research was inspired through my participation in curatorial activities. When I served as the associate chair, first for the UMMZ, and then as interim for the UMMZ and Herbarium combined, I gained a greater appreciation for the totality of the collections and the dedication and expertise of the divisional collection managers and museum administrative staff.
Many of her associates shared their appreciation for their colleague, mentor and friend.
“You and I have a great interest in mammals in common,” said EEB Professor Catherine Badgley. “I’ve enjoyed talking with your class on topics that you’ve invited me to lecture on and I’ve also enjoyed being on the committees of some of your doctoral students. Thanks for all your service to the department and your cheerful presence here. I know you’ve done a lot with curatorial work and provided a lot of opportunities for graduate students to learn about working with mammal collections and the importance of collections.”
“I wanted to thank you for being a great mentor and for all the advice you’ve given me over the years,” said EEB Professor Tim James. “And also specifically for your hospitality and being such a welcoming person when I first came to the department. I will never forget you driving me around Ann Arbor when I was just getting here and trying to find a place to live.”
“I just wanted to say how much you’ve meant to me professionally and personally over the years,” said Professor Michael Nachman, Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley. “We’ve published lots of papers together, we’ve had two NSF grants together. I think back to when I first met you, I was a student member of the search committee that hired you at Michigan. I was so thrilled when you were hired. You ended up being a second mentor to me. That meant the world to me. I’ve really enjoyed our collaborations.”
“I’d like to thank you for your collegiality and your support over the 26 years we’ve overlapped at the UM,” said EEB Professor Diarmaid Ó Foighil. “Both of us started and got tenured in two units that no longer exist. But my recollection of being an assistant professor at that time, is that environment, although intellectually stimulating, could at times be challenging and on occasion even be somewhat hostile. So having you as a successful exemplar a few years ahead of me, setting up your lab, publishing cool papers, easily getting tenured, that was really inspiring and that really helped me focus on doing what I needed to do at the right time to follow in your footsteps.
“Thank you for that and thanks also for your leadership roles in the department and especially in our museums program. Your influence there is very extensive, not alone in overlooking and planning our epic move, which I know took an awful lot of effort and care and thought on your part. But especially I would like to thank you for your proactive leadership in going out and obtaining the funds to establish our cryo-facility. That was a really important programmatic innovation led by you and the facility continues to grow and it’s ever more impactful in terms of our overall research program.”
“Thank you for everything you’ve done to make Michigan, our department and museums a better place,” said EEB Professors Dan Rabosky and Alison Davis Rabosky.
“I was a grad student with Prilla from 1998 to 2005,” said Kate Teeter, associate professor, Northern Michigan University, Department of Biology. “She was a terrific adviser and mentor. I have no doubt I might not have made it through graduate school without her support. Prilla was not only supportive of my work in Ann Arbor and all of my lab and writing work there, but also field work I did on the house mouse hybrid zone when I was a graduate student. I spent three summers and falls attempting, with some success, to capture the house mouse in Eastern Germany.
“My last year in the field, Prilla and I went to a mammal conference, the World Mammal Congress in the Czech Republic. We toured around rural Eastern Germany and the Czech Republic. We spent a week and a half touring the various collection sites, staying in random tiny B&Bs and small towns. She was a terrific sport through all of it, and it’s one of the things I definitely look back on with great memories from my grad career.
I appreciated Prilla even more in my current position as a faculty member. Fifteen years or so into my career, I think of her example of mentoring and advising students. I still have my office and my lab very much modeled after Priscilla’s. I think, wow, it really did make a big impression on me. Thank you for all your wonderful mentorship.”
“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to come to Michigan over eight years ago,” said Cody Thompson, assistant research scientist and collection manager of mammals. “Thank you for the mentorship and friendship. Thank you for welcoming me and my family to your home for Christmas Eve and other celebrations.”
“I’ve really appreciated your support over the years, especially all the support and encouragement you gave me as a new professor and curator in the museum and all your important service as a museum director,” said EEB Professor Benjamin Winger. “I hope you have a great retirement in Maine and get to see a lot of great birds near your house.”
“Thank you for being such an important role model for myself and other female faculty,” said EEB Professor and Chair Patricia Wittkopp. I can’t imagine it was easy being one of the few female faculty when you started here.”
“Thank you for being such a great mentor and advisor to me during my time in Michigan and after and also for always being there, supporting and believing in me,” said Beatriz Otero Jimenez, postdoctoral fellow, Stony Brook University “I’m very happy you are part of my academic family.”
This article excerpts from U-M Board of Regents Retirement Memoir.
compiled by Gail Kuhnlein