Professor Michael Siegal (March 30, 1950 – February 20, 2012)

Photograph of Prof. Michael Siegal

The Department is shocked and in mourning for a respected and prestigious colleague.  Michael's contribution to Developmental Psychology has been great and he has held academic positions in leading universities across several continents. His loss to the discipline will be difficult to reconcile.

Currently the Department is trying assist Michael's family and friends in putting his affairs in order. . If there is anything the Department can do to assist, please contact Michael's secretary Josie Cassidy (J.Cassidy@sheffield.ac.uk) on  Tel: + 44(0)114 2226515 (Mon - Thurs). Please also get in touch if you would like thoughts or memories of Michael to be included on this page.

We are also considering how Michael's contribution to Psychology might be further recognised and honoured, perhaps through a conference or special issue of a journal. If you would be interested in contributing or helping to organise anything in Michael's memory, please do not hesitate to contact the Department.

Graham Turpin, Head of Department


Book of condolences

Biography

Michael Siegal (1950-2012) was Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Sheffield from 1998. Previously Michael held posts in Psychology at the University of Queensland. Michael carried out major research into many aspects of children’s development, including many very influential studies on children’s language and cognition. He was the author or editor of 8 books including, Marvelous minds: The discovery of what children know. Oxford: Oxford University Press (Siegal, M., 2008) in which he brought together many aspects of his wide-ranging research. Michael also wrote 150 papers and book chapters, with publications in all the leading Developmental and Cognitive Psychology journals. He received numerous grants, including a European Union Sixth Framework award that funded him for three years as the Marie Curie Chair in Psychology (2006-09) at the University of Trieste. Michael received many awards for his psychology research, and was a keynote or invited speaker on more than 150 occasions. He made a major contribution to developmental psychology, not only through his research, but also through his dedicated work as a journal editor, his work on a dozen editorial boards, and his involvement in many professional committees. His most recent book was Access to language and cognitive development. Oxford: Oxford University Press (Siegal, M. & Surian, L. (Eds.), in press).

Professor Luca Surian of the University of Trento has kindly given us permission to publish this obituary of Michael here:

Dear colleagues,

On February 20 our friend and colleague Professor Michael Siegal died of a heart attack, at 61.  He was found by his loving partner, Gila Taylor, lying in his bed, with a serene expression. Doctors said he probably passed away while asleep. He was scheduled to have a heart surgery a week later. No one was at home when he died, only the roses and, perhaps, the willow tits on the high pines of his garden.

Michael was a very good friend to so many people in so many parts of the world. Gila spent last week answering to all the messages that his friends had sent her.  I had the privilege of working with him for more than 15 years, after inviting him at the University of Padua as a visiting professor in 1996 and, more recently, at the University of Trieste, where he spend three years as a Marie Curie Chair holder.  All the people that met him have fond memories of him and were shocked by hearing the tragic news.

He had a Chair in Developmental Psychology at the University of Sheffield, where he was currently director of the Postgraduate studies. Previously he held a position as a Reader in Psychology at the University of Queensland, Brisbane. He studied for his PhD at Oxford University, for his M.A. at Harvard University and did his undergraduate studies at McGill University.

Michael made substantial contributions to psychology by carrying out experimental works in a remarkable wide range of research areas, including:

  • fairness and moral development,
  • theory of mind,
  • biological cognition and contamination sensitivity,
  • disgust and food psychology,
  • numerical cognition,
  • cosmological conceptions and spatial cognition,
  • pragmatics, conversation and bilingualism

He has worked mostly on typical development, but he has written several important papers, books or chapters also on children and adults with aphasia, deafness, blindness, autism and brain damage. Psychology has lost a great scientist, we can only hope that others will be able to continue his work on cognitive and moral development, cognitive architecture and the effects of conversational experience on social cognition.

We will all greatly miss Michael for many other reasons apart from his scientific merits and qualities.

He was a truly good person, able of a spontaneous and deep respect for others, regardless of their ethnic group, gender, religion, age or academic status.

He was kind and warm to everybody and had a nice sense of humour. It was so nice to spend time with him not only because he loved to discuss important scientific issues, but also because he loved good cuisine and wine, having a beer in an old pub, going for long walks on the Peak District moors, riding his mountain bike and paddling the kayak in the Venice lagoon.  He loved going to a garden centre to find a rare type of roses, listening to Leonard Cohen’s songs and reading Bill Bryson’s books on science and travels.  He did not care for expensive cars and clothes, and laughed at hypocritical attitudes when he noticed them in politics and academia.

Michael was a very generous person, he was generous especially with the most precious goods, time and attention: he was a hard worker, but rarely sent away people saying that he was too busy to talk to them. He travelled very often, every year, to many countries in Europe, America, Australia and Asia to meet relatives and carry out collaborative works.  He loved to work with people from different cultures, both as a colleague and as a teacher. He will be remembered with affection and by all his colleagues and doctoral students from the US, UK, Canada, Sweden, France, Italy, Australia, China, Japan, Israel and Iran.

Thank you, Michael.

Luca Surian