Retiring Purdue University professor Tom Turpin speaks during dedication ceremonies for a sculpture that depicts the work of entomologists. (Photo credit: Tom Campbell, Agricultural Communication)
After 45 years as a Purdue University entomology professor, Tom Turpin will retire July 1, leaving a colorful legacy of cricket-spitting, cockroach races, and ladybug-themed tuxedos. He helped establish Bug Bowl, the world’s largest insect-themed festival, and regularly brought along exotic and interesting creatures to share with his audience during his frequent guest lectures at local schools and community events - where he often appeared in bug-bedecked formal attire.
But Turpin will be remembered for much more than his showmanship. He encouraged his students to expand their learning horizons. Reflecting on his experiences at Purdue, Turpin said he would miss the people the most.
“I was just an entomologist when I got here, but we developed so many alliances with different groups of people, like theatre and education,” he said. “The Honors College coordinates classes that encourage diversity among fields. I will miss that diversity – it’s really fun to meet all those people.”
Many people know Turpin as the author of the popular blog “On Six Legs,” which appeared on the Purdue Agriculture website. He has recorded over 200 podcasts over the past 10 years, with topics ranging from grasshopper spit to cockroach races. He also developed the popular general entomology class many Purdue students now take as one of their electives.
“The goal is not to make entomologists, but to make them entomological consumers,” Turpin said. “One of the most exciting things about teaching is when someone comes up at the end of class and says they didn’t know that, they learned something, and they thought it was cool.”
An engineering student who had taken his beekeeping class was called back for a second job interview based on that one entry on her resume, Turpin recalled.
“It’s the little things that make students more marketable,” Turpin said. “In my experience, good students aren’t narrow in their interests. They’re broad.”
That includes having an open mind to appreciate nature. As he talks, Turpin produces a Madagascar hissing roach as long as his index finger from under his desk.
“People don’t think positively about insects,” Turpin said as the roach slowly made its way across his fingers. “We’re conditioned to not like them. Whenever we have people come up to try insects as food, the children are the most willing to eat them. It’s the parents that tell them no.”
This was part of the reason Turpin pushed so hard for events like Bug Bowl to happen. He loves to educate people and will continue to even in his retirement. While he intends to remain an active part of the Purdue community, he’s not making any promises.
“[I’m basing] my model for retirement after a person I heard on the radio,” Turpin said. “She said, ‘If I had planned a lot, it wouldn’t be retirement. It would just be switching jobs.’”