In This Issue
A Tribute to Charles Schuster, PhD
By William Woolverton, PhD
Bob Schuster: My Mentor and Friend
I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to reflect on Bob Schuster’s mentorship during my graduate years at the University of Chicago. In truth, there is so much that I cannot hope to give a complete story, but here are a couple of highlights.
I first became aware of Bob in the fall of 1971. I was taking Physiological Psychology and one of our books was Behavioral Pharmacology by Thompson and Schuster. My professor, Ron Trost, convinced me to consider a career in this field and to write to the authors about graduate school. I was intrigued and, with no better plan for life, I gave it a shot. Within a couple of weeks I received a reply from Bob. To me, this was unbelievable, a reply from a god. The next 35 years flowed from that letter. Bob was very supportive of my plan, and invited me to visit. I realized in retrospect that this was my first bit of mentoring from Bob: be open to the flow of life and say “yes” more than “no” to whatever comes your way. It’s all an experiment.
Bob invited me to visit in March of 1973 and showed me the lab. He had me sit in on a lab meeting about methamphetamine, a really heady experience. I met Chris-Ellyn [Johanson] and Marian [Fischman], both recent Ph.D.s, and received my second mentoring lesson: if you have to work in a laboratory, surround yourself with brilliant, capable women. I have tried to take this lesson to heart.
Later, Bob called and said I was accepted "with alacrity". I thanked him, looked up alacrity, and moved to Chicago in June of 1973. From Birmingham, Alabama, I might as well have been going to Mars. I was assigned to work with Marian on a project involving biofeedback in cats. This project ended after the summer I spent on it. The third mentoring lesson: assign the beginning graduate student to a project on which he or she can do no harm.
Shortly after this, I began my collaboration with Bob. Here I usually describe the time Bob and I tried to fit a closet door to the new carpeting in his new apartment by sawing the top off the door. That impressed him. The fourth mentoring lesson: be both patient with and a friend to your students. I have learned over the years that Bob was one of the few mentors who successfully achieved this.
In the meantime, Chris-Ellyn took over my nitty gritty training in the lab. Among other projects, she was working on unlimited access self-administration of stimulants, the first monkey project to which I was assigned. The fifth mentoring lesson: don’t be afraid to shove your student into the deep end of the pool. The hard way teaches well.
A second project, and the one that has been my continuing intellectual challenge and pleasure, was drug choice. At this point, I have to say that it was the enthusiasm of this mentor named BobandChris, or ChrisandBob, that grabbed me. And the simple question that Chris posed to me about her choice research, “Does this mean there is free will”, has bedeviled me ever since. The sixth mentoring lesson, and maybe the most significant: your own enthusiasm as a mentor can infect a student for a lifetime. This was Bob’s Jedi force. I have never met anyone with such a pure, childlike enthusiasm for his work, if we can call it work.
For me, the source of this joy for Bob was creativity. And, being a good behaviorist, he set up the environment to encourage creativity. Meetings were a big part of his creative process and he always smiled. He never made you feel like you had said something ridiculous and, as a result, ideas bubbled at these meetings. There was a Darwinian/Skinnerian model at work here: set up the environment to generate ideas and let the fittest survive. Bob made it clear to me that this creativity is what distinguishes our life as scientists and is what gives us the enthusiasm to get up every morning for years to go to work in a laboratory. The joy is in creativity and the process ain’t as magic as many think.
There were many "Schusterisms" (parallel to the Bradyisms that we know and love). I will mention two relevant ones that were formative for me as a scientist. To paraphrase:
"Ideas are a dime a dozen. Give me someone that can get it done." This is a source of productivity.
"Ideas belong to no one. They are a product of a field at a certain time." This one assumption reduces or eliminates the creative vanity that often impairs progress.
One should, of course, consider the source of these statements: a person who overflowed with ideas.
In the beginning, Bob promised that if I stuck with him he would "show me where it's at". I suppose that could mean anything. At this point in my life, I understand it to mean the pleasures of spending many years getting up every morning and doing something that I and my colleagues
dreamed up and are excited to do.
Dr. Schuster made a marked impact on the field of psychopharmacology and substance abuse research. In addition to his many scientific contributions, Dr. Schuster also served as the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) from 1986-1992, during the crack cocaine epidemic and the emergence of HIV and realization that HIV is spread through injection drug use. At NIDA he worked to shape many of the policies that remain in effect today. Dr. Schuster recently memorialized his time at NIDA in a publication printed in Drug and Alcohol
Schuster, C.R. (2010). The highs and lows of my years at NIDA (1986-1992). Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Vol. 107, pp 92-95.
In addition to being involved at the governance level, Dr. Schuster also conducted rigorous and highly influential research that was published in several prestigious journals. Below is a list of some of his most highly cited journal articles, which clearly demonstrate the breadth and duration of his influence on the field. A link to a full Pubmed listing of his citations is also provided. We are greatly indebted to his numerous contributions.
Schuster, C.R. & Thompson, T. (1969). Self administration of and behavioral dependence on drugs. Annual Review of Pharmacology, Vol. 9, pp 483-205
Fishman, M.W. & Schuster, C.R. (1982). Cocaine self-administration in humans. Federation Proceedings, Vol. 41, pp 241-246.
Woods, J.H. & Schuster, C.R. (1968). Reinforcement properties of morphine, cocaine and SPA as a function of unit dose. International Journal of the Addictions, Vol. 3, pp 231-237.
Balster, R.L., & Schuster, C.R. (1973). Fixed-interval schedule of cocaine reinforcement- effect of dose and infusion duration. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, Vol. 20, pp 119- 129.