Introducing Doctor Robin Johnsson, PhD, MSc

Put down what you are doing. Grab a tissue. Settle in. We’ve all known this bittersweet day would arrive. It has and I should explain.

On Tuesday, July 27th, 2017 I received a Swedishly-succinct e-mail from a stranger:

“Hello Dr. Lesku and Prof. Roth, I am writing to apply for the open Phd position in Ecologically relevant sleep-dependent cognition in birds. I have attached my CV, covering letter and transcript of records. Best Regards, Robin Jonsson”

Intrigued! Not only because he spelt his own surname incorrectly (he actually didn’t). Rather for his immense qualifications. A BSc thesis on caching rooks (with The Anders Brodin); a MSc on vision (optokinetic reflex) in chickens (with The Almut Kelber and Mindaugas Mitkus); more research experience with chickens, budgerigars, and zebra finches. After a video call, the decision was an easy one.

And so, in May 2018, I collected a very tired and light-packed Swede from Melbourne airport. Robin quickly showed himself to be wholly and comprehensively smart, capable, thoughtful, but selfless. Intending to work on diverse birds, including great bowerbirds in Queensland (he did a bit), food-caching chickadees in North America (not a chance), perhaps cephalopods in New Zealand (ethics, yes, but plane tickets, no)… all came to a halt in 2020. Country borders closed. State borders closed. What to do? An improvised switch to the common, Australian magpie, along with teaming up with Dr Farley Connelly’s “Lennon” to Robin’s “McCartney” both he and they were off.

Since then, Robin collected original data on the homeostatic regulation of sleep in Australian magpies (Johnsson et al., 2022 Sleep); the cognitive consequences of sleep loss in Australian magpies (Johnsson et al., 2022 Sci Rep); purported tool use (Johnsson et al. 2022 Behaviour) and string pulling (Johnsson et al., in review) in Australian magpies; a lovely review on sleep and performance in birds with our dear friend, Dr Annie Aulsebrook (Aulsebrook, Johnsson, Lesku, 2021 Clocks & Sleep); and co-author on several other papers to boot. It was unsurprising when he secured a post-doctoral position at Franklin and Marshall College with Dr Tim Roth when he was only mid-way through his PhD. And even then – after submitting his PhD – instead of relaxing, he wanted 24 pigeons and planned an extensive and presently-underway project.

It will be a sad day this September 28th, when Dr Robin Johnsson leaves his apartment, boards a plane, and heads to the USA. Best wishes, my friend. Now and always.