Here are a few memories of a very special scientist, colleague and friend, Dr Robert Keers.
Dr Robert Keers, 25th October 1984 - 5th July 2020
Dr Rob Keers was a Senior Lecturer in Psychology and researcher at Queen Mary studying the genetic architecture underpinning environmental sensitivity and resilience. Rob sadly passed away in July this year.
Here we share a collection of tributes to Rob from colleagues across Queen Mary. If you would like to share your own tribute to Rob, please contact the School Marketing and Communications Officer, whose contact details are at the bottom of the page.
Rob was an internationally leading researcher determining how genetic architecture and environment interact to influence an individual’s well-being. He was also a brilliant educator, who inspired our students and led one of our most popular psychology modules. As part of his innovative research, Rob created a polygenic score for sensitivity and contributed to the development of the cogBIAS longitudinal study, examining the mechanisms underlying emotional vulnerability and optimal mental health. On top of this, he was also concerned with supporting the mental health of our undergraduate students at Queen Mary. He was truly a brilliant researcher in the field of psychiatric genetics and environmental sensitivity, with a tremendous record of publication and contribution. As well as delivering a great educational experience, Rob was also instrumental in developing the network of postgraduate taught programmes that form the departments’ growth plans over the coming years. Rob was a thoughtful, considerate, and much-loved colleague. He was the kind of colleague we always hope to find. He was kind and intelligent and always made people smile. His presence improved the School immeasurably and he is greatly missed.
My first memory of Rob was during my job talk day at Queen Mary. We applied in the same round, and after just a few minutes of talking to him during the campus tour, I really hoped he would be hired too (there were two positions!). Rob’s charisma and spontaneity made everyone feel very connected to him right away. We started one month apart (12/2015-01/2016), and this was the first lectureship position for both of us. We learned together, shared our victories, and helped each other deal with new challenges and frustrations all the way along. I will cherish my memories of our long afternoon coffees (and even longer evening beers!) talking about nothing and about everything, laughing at the absurdities of life. Rob knew very well how to do that, always managing to bring a laugh even when things looked a bit grim. Maybe this was helped by the absurd amount of sugar he had with his coffee; I used to have a stack in my office just for him!
Rob was a wonderful colleague. Generous, brilliant, and always ready to help. Rob was the first person to wear my lab’s EEG cap, just for fashion purposes. His contributions to the department were numerous (much beyond modelling EEG caps!). I remember when he took over admissions and we worked through the open days together, which consisted of a lot of meetings in which we used our creativity to engage students - our open days included a range of madcap devices, from EEG helicopters to virtual reality with robots. Our work meetings were productive but it never felt like work, Rob was always so much fun. He also had an excellent ability to not take himself too seriously (while still doing an amazing job!): I remember when he gave a subject talk at the Offer Holder day wearing EEG-powered cat ears (yes, he had a thing for bizarre headwear)… the talk was a success - this wasn’t a surprise to anyone, as Rob was a fabulous speaker.
Rob’s originality and sense of humour were incomparable (and his funny faces - his face was very expressive!), as was his brilliant mind. He was also extremely modest; I still remember the day he knocked my door asking me to read an email he got to confirm whether he was actually reading it right, that he had actually got a Wellcome Trust seed award grant. I was not surprised that he had gotten it: he totally deserved it. Rob not only inspired me with many ideas for my research on creativity and its link to mental health, but also with friendship when I was going through a difficult phase. I am eternally grateful for his support. Rob had a sparkle in his eyes every time he spoke about Kate, and every time he showed pictures of Alice and shared stories about his family. His love and care for everyone in his life was beautiful and inspiring.
I feel extremely privileged for having had Rob in my life and for having known him as I did. His warmth, smile, sense of humour, cheekiness, generosity, friendship, and spontaneity will always remain in our hearts and in our memories of him. I already miss you my friend.
Rob and I worked together in the department, were part of the resilience lab group, and had a research project together on student mental health. Rob blended two really really lovely things in a colleague and friend: he was great fun to be around and he was a very deep and critical thinker. Because of these two traits, he lifted up every single interaction you had with him, bringing it to a more fun but also a more insightful place.
One night at the pub, we were discussing some of the challenges that our undergraduate students faced and the disconnect between available interventions and their needs. Rob got really excited to try to work on this issue together, and we sought out various ways to push it forward. Based largely on his passion for trying to understand how to reduce mental health problems in the students, we managed to recruit a PhD student (Farah Saleem) and get a project off the ground. He just had this real way about him of being able to quickly identify an issue and how it could best be addressed, and then getting people really passionate about solving it together. I was constantly, constantly impressed by his insight.
I met Rob in early 2013 when we were both still working at King’s College London. He had just been awarded a prestigious MRC fellowship to study individual differences in genetic sensitivity to psychotherapy. As part of this project he developed and applied a highly innovative and creative approach to identify genetic sensitivity to environmental influences. He found that sensitivity is the result of many thousands of genetic variants which can be summarised into a polygenic score for sensitivity (Keers et al., 2016). He consequently showed that people that score higher on such genetic sensitivity are more affected by both negative and positive experiences.
I was delighted when he joined me as a Lecturer at the Psychology Department at QMUL in early 2016. We joined our labs shortly after he started at QMUL given that we worked on similar questions. We often recruited staff together, we shared the supervision of most of our PhD students, we published repeatedly together and frequently discussed our research ideas and plans. Rob was a brilliant and innovative scientist but also a wonderful colleague and collaborator. He was always positive and optimistic, usually full of creative ideas and keen to develop them, always happy to collaborate. With Rob I have lost a dear colleague and close collaborator. I miss him deeply but I will always remember his brilliance and kindness. Rob’s research legacy will continue as my team and others carry on applying and building on his important work. Thank you, Rob, for being such a wonderful person and lovely colleague. You will be missed dearly. May you rest in peace.
I first met Rob when he interviewed for one of the Psychology Lectureship jobs, and I remember being surprised at how remarkably relaxed he was. I had a chance to chat with him at the dinner and he also turned out to be friendly and funny, so I was very happy when he joined our department. In the time since then, I worked with him more closely and came to rely on him as a friend and colleague whose advice I could trust. It is hard to put into words just how much I valued Rob both as a scientist and as a person. He would lift the mood in any room and always dealt with difficult situations with humour and ease. He was kind and intelligent and I took great pleasure in our conversations. Rob was a special person and I miss him very much.
I had the pleasure of being in the same lab as Rob for the past four years, though already knew him from the SGDP Centre where we both did our PhDs. Rob was one of those rare people who could combine incredible intelligence – he was one of the most critical and original thinkers that I’ve known – with humour, modesty, and kindness. He was unfailingly supportive of those around him and always ready to offer his ideas and constructive feedback; this was always done with kindness and with the intention to lift people up. He also had the ability to lift the mood of any occasion. He always had a joke and no matter how stressful or difficult things seemed, we would always somehow end up laughing. I will really miss the lab meetings that would swing from serious discussion, to hilarity, and back again at frequent intervals.
Rob had an ability to cut through any issue – to find the flaws in a research study, to challenge accepted wisdom, to come up with an original way to tackle a problem – and genuinely inspired those around him. He didn’t shy away from controversial topics and was willing to take on the big ideas and difficult arguments. He had so much more to contribute and it saddens me to think what the world will miss out on without him. But he has inspired many of us – staff and students alike – to aim for his high standards and to keep asking the difficult questions. His influence will resonate through the many people whose lives he touched for a long time to come.
To contribute, contact:
Ellie MarshallSchool Marketing and Communications Officeremail: firstname.lastname@example.org