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Spotlight - Faculty

Kurt Ackerman, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

Throughout his career at the University of Pittsburgh and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Kurt Ackerman, MD, PhD has been very active as a clinician educator and program administrator. He is a board-certified psychiatrist with a sub-specialty in psychosomatic medicine, and is the Medical Director for three of WPIC’s mental health service areas: Adult Mood and Anxiety Services; the Psychiatric Consultation-Liaison Service; and Behavioral Health Information Technology.

Dr. Ackerman earned his medical degree and a doctorate degree in Neurobiology and Anatomy from the University of Rochester in New York. He is a graduate of the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic Residency Training Program and completed postdoctoral training at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychiatry. Under the mentorship of Drs. Charles Reynolds and Christopher Martin, his research focused on interactions between the brain and immune system. More specifically, his studies focused on how the stress may exacerbate the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

Under his guidance, the Psychiatric Consultation and Liaison Program has grown into one of the largest and most diverse programs in the Country, providing inpatient consultations to nine UPMC Hospitals, as well as integrated services in a number of medical programs such as the Starzl Transplant Institute, University Internal Medicine, and Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. In addition to the Psychiatric Consultation Service, the WPIC Adult Service Line encompasses a number of diverse clinical areas including Traditional Inpatient and Outpatient Care, Intensive Outpatient Programs, Forensic Evaluations, ECT, and Pastoral Care Services. As the first Medical Director of Behavioral Health IT at UPMC, he is helping to coordinate the initial implementation of an inpatient Electronic Health Record System at WPIC which will go live in early 2013. A good citizen of the clinical community, Dr. Ackerman is on a number of WPIC committees for safety, ethics and health information management. He has taught numerous classes on confidentiality, consent and privacy, and has been a mentor to several residents and junior faculty. In recognition for his service in these areas, Dr. Ackerman has been the recipient of the Special Recognition Award for Services to Residency Training and an ACES award for Exemplary Service to UPMC.



Howard J. Aizenstein, MD, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Bioengineering,
and Clinical and Translational Science

Howard Aizenstein, MD, PhD serves as the Director of the Geriatric Psychiatry Neuroimaging Laboratory and Co-Director of Psychiatry Neuroimaging at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Aizenstein received his PhD in Computer Science (1993) and his MD (1995) from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. He completed a residency in general and adult psychiatry (1999), a fellowship in geriatric psychiatry (2000), and a research fellowship in functional neuroimaging (2001) at the University of Pittsburgh before joining the Department of Psychiatry faculty in 2001. Dr. Aizenstein is an internationally recognized expert on the cognitive and affective neuroscience of aging and geriatric psychiatry. His research program uses different converging methodologies, traditional computer tasks, as well as structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging, to identify key brain structures associated with affective and cognitive processing, and how these change over time with and without intervention. Dr. Aizenstein’s research team has developed automated methods of morphometric and functional MRI analyses. Due in part to the wide applicability of his neuroimaging methods, Dr. Aizenstein has developed collaborations with many investigators at the University of Pittsburgh and at other academic institutions around the country.



Boris Birmaher, MD
Endowed Chair in Early Onset Bipolar Disease
and Professor of Psychiatry

Boris Birmaher, MD, is the Endowed Chair in Early Onset Bipolar Disease and Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine. He has board certifications in both general psychiatry and child psychiatry. He received his medical degree from Valle University in Cali, Colombia and completed; training in general psychiatry at the Hebrew University, Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, Israel; training in biological psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York; and training in child psychiatry at Columbia University, New York Psychiatric Institute in New York.

Dr. Birmaher has been involved in clinical work and research in pediatric mood and anxiety disorders for over 25 years. His research interests include areas of phenomenology, course and outcome, etiology, and pharmacology and psychosocial treatments. He is currently involved in several NIMH studies including: 1) “Course and Outcome for Adolescents with Bipolar Illness,” aimed at describing the phenomenology, course, and associated factors in children and adolescents with bipolar spectrum disorder; 2) “Children of Bipolar Parents: A High Risk Follow-up Study,” aimed at studying the longitudinal psychopathology of children of parents with bipolar disorder compared with children of community controls; and 3) “Longitudinal Assessment of Manic Symptoms,” aimed at evaluating the predictive value of early-onset manic symptoms in a large sample of children ages 6-12 years old. Together with Dr. David Axelson, he is the Co-Director of the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Services (CABS) program, a program for the service, teaching and research of bipolar disorder in youth.



Cynthia A. Conklin, PhD

Cynthia A. Conklin, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry

Cynthia Conklin, PhD, has been known for her inquisitive nature and passion for her work throughout her academic career.  Her interest in addiction and tobacco/nicotine research began during her graduate training at Purdue University, where she earned Master’s and doctoral degrees in Clinical Psychology under the mentorship of Dr. Stephen Tiffany and was awarded the James D. Linden Award, presented to the graduate student who best exemplifies the scientist practitioner model of clinical psychology. 

Following a one-year Clinical Psychology internship at the Medical University of South Carolina, Dr. Conklin relocated to Pittsburgh in 2001 to begin her appointment as a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Pittsburgh Cardiovascular Behavioral Medicine Research Program.  As a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Conklin trained with Dr. Kenneth Perkins and examined the reinforcing effects of nicotine and cigarette smoking in adult smokers.  She also pursued external funding to support her development of an innovative strategy to examine personalized smoking cues by giving smokers cameras and having them take photographs of the places where they regularly do and do not smoke.  Her efforts resulted in a pilot grant from the Pittsburgh Mind-Body Center to conduct an exploratory study. This pilot work demonstrated the feasibility of having smokers create their own photographic stimuli materials and launched Dr. Conklin's independent research career focusing on proximal and distal smoking cues, and the impact of personalizing those cues on subjective and physiological reactivity in adult smokers.   

Dr. Conklin was appointed Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh in 2003 and was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor in 2012.  She is the Principal Investigator for four R01 grants funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and has served as a Co-Investigator for several other federally funded projects throughout her career.  This support has enabled Dr. Conklin to expand her exploration of how people, places and smoking-related objects function alone and in combination to affect both smokers’ craving and actual smoking behavior when they are confronted with salient cues to smoke and to not smoke.  A nationally recognized expert on nicotine dependence, smoking, cue reactivity and conditioning theory, Dr. Conklin has published her findings in Addiction , the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and numerous other scientific journals.  In addition, Dr. Conklin co-authored a book aimed at treating smokers," Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Smoking Cessation." She also is invited to present and participate in scientific meetings, conferences and workshops locally and nationally.  Dr. Conklin also gives generously of her time in service to the academic community.  She is been an ad hoc reviewer for the National Institute of Drug Abuse in the U.S., and for the Italian Ministry of Health and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, and as a reviewer for several scientific journals.   In addition, Dr. Conklin is an active participant on a number of committees and working groups in the Department of Psychiatry and for professional societies and organizations.

In addition to her extensive research activities, Dr. Conklin is an outstanding educator, teacher and mentor to students, fellows and junior faculty.  She has helped to foster an early interest in scientific discovery among high school students by actively volunteering as a Category Judge for the Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair. Her teaching activities at the University of Pittsburgh include serving as an instructor for the Introduction to Psychiatry course as well as Behavioral Medicine and Medical Decision Making classes for first-year medical school courses, and Dr. Conklin is a member of the Master’ thesis and dissertation committees for students in the U.S. and Belgium.   



Mary Amanda Dew, PhD
Professor of Psychiatry, Psychology, Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Clinical and Translational Science

Mary Amanda Dew, PhD is Professor of Psychiatry, Psychology, Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Clinical and Translational Science.  She is the Co-Director of the NIMH Center for Late Life Depression Prevention and Intervention, and the Director of the Center’s Research Methodology and Biostatistics Core.  Dr. Dew also directs the Clinical Epidemiology Program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and the Quality of Life Research Artificial Heart Program for Adult Cardiothoracic Transplantation at UPMC. 

Dr. Dew is a leading researcher in the interface of mental health, medical adherence, and quality of life outcomes in organ transplant recipients and their family caregivers. She has published over 300 peer-reviewed papers.  

In the Spotlight recently asked Dr. Dew about her own career and her advice for individuals in the early stages of a research career.

What are your primary research interests?  My interests focus on mental health, behavioral, and quality of life outcomes in individuals facing the challenges of serious medical illness.  I have focused on two populations:  advanced organ disease patients (transplant candidates and recipients), and older adults, most of whom live with physical health (and often mental health) problems.  My research has aimed to understand risk factors for poor mental health and other outcomes in these populations, and to understand the types of interventions that may promote mental health and well-being.  Most recently, as a result of my transplant-related work, I have also examined mental health and other outcomes in living organ donors.  They are a fascinating group because they undergo surgery, for which they have not medical need, in order to help another person.  The transplant community has an obligation to do everything possible to minimize risk for any problems, including emotional distress in these individuals.

What led you down this career path?  Mentoring.  I took a psychology course and began talking with the Assistant Professor who taught it.  Her interest and enthusiasm was infectious.  I slowly became involved with her research group, and she got me started on thinking that graduate school with the ultimate goal of a research career might be the logical next steps beyond college.

Have you ever doubted yourself regarding your ability as a researcher? If so, how did you overcome that self-doubt?   My first set of doubts had to do with the fact that, as an undergraduate,  I was very quiet:  as I progressed with classes, I ended up in seminars that were also attended by grad students, and  I felt that I had nothing to offer beyond their astute remarks.  So I said very virtually nothing and my mentor told me at one point that I would have a lot of trouble in life if I didn’t speak up!  As a graduate student I moved beyond this academic shyness and now my colleagues can attest that I am quite forthright!  My second set of doubts had to do with whether or not I could obtain external funding—this was not a point of emphasis in graduate school in an Arts and Sciences department.  But as a post-doc at WPIC, I learned that this was a critical area of activity and marker of success.  Fortunately, I had a range of mentors who supported me and taught me the skills I needed to overcome my self-doubts concerning development and writing of grant applications to support new research.

How can young researchers enhance their basic understanding of statistics and other analytic methods?   Well, there are some formal courses that can be useful, including brief, intensive ones that are more like workshops.  These can help but I don’t really think taking a course is the best approach.  I don’t think people really learn unless they actually do (or try to do) some analyses—or at least sit with their statistician and go over everything blow by blow.  It is important to find a work group of colleagues where a young researcher has time to hear in detail about others’ data and analyses and results.  Participating with such a work group regularly—where data are presented often—can really help a person gain an appreciation of issues that they need to be thinking about with their own data.

What strategies do you use to help you with time management? How do you create time to learn about new methods and to work on new projects?  It is easy to get bogged down in tasks that other people are requesting and seem urgent.  It can be seductive to complete these small tasks—it can convince a person they are “getting things done.”  But ultimately, I try to keep in mind that I have to set the priorities, not someone else.  So, I try to allocate time each day to the tasks that I see as critical for moving my projects forward.  If I am feeling that there are simply too many requests from others, I block out times on my schedule specifically that must be devoted to the new projects that I need to work on—so they appear on the schedule like another meeting and nothing else gets scheduled during those times.  In terms of learning about new methods, meetings, as I noted above, often alert me to new methods.  I might then look for resources to learn more, including attending educational sessions at national meetings.

What advice would you give to trainees considering a career as a scientist in mental health research?  Take advantage of the rich array of resources not only in the Department of Psychiatry but elsewhere in the University.  It is an ideal place for multidisciplinary research, and most research today does need to bring in expertise from multiple disciplines in order to be successful.  And it is critical to have a mentor.  It can be particularly helpful to have a mentor who works in the same field as you do but successful mentoring is possible even if the mentor is not exactly in the same area of research.  It is important to seek out additional mentoring advice from other senior researchers as well. We are fortunate to have a great infrastructure in the Department of Psychiatry to facilitate mentoring.  There are additional resources in the School of Medicine that can also be helpful (e.g., CaMP—the Career Mentoring Program for Junior Faculty in the School of Medicine).



Erika Forbes, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology


After earning a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard, Erika Forbes obtained her doctorate in Child Clinical and Developmental Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh.  She then completed a clinical psychology predoctoral internship and a postdoctoral fellowship at WPIC and joined our faculty as an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology in 2005.  In 2011 Dr. Forbes was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology, and two years later received conferral of tenure.  She has established an outstanding reputation as a scientist and a thoughtful mentor to students, postdoctoral trainees and junior faculty, and her career trajectory is truly impressive.

Dr. Forbes is interested in the role of reward function in the development of affective disorders, substance use, and reward-related problem behaviors during adolescence.  Her research employs fMRI, behavior observation, ecological momentary assessment and other approaches to examine neurobehavioral aspects of positive affect and reward processing in both typical and atypical development.  Dr. Forbes has served as the Principal or Co-Principal Investigator for multiple grants including three R01s, an R21, a K01 career development award, a Klingenstein Third Generation Foundation fellowship, and a NARSAD Young Investigator Award.   She has published over 75 peer-reviewed articles in journals such as Biological Psychiatry and the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, as well as a number of review articles and book chapters.  Dr. Forbes has also been invited to share her findings and expertise through presentations at numerous scientific meetings and conferences, including the annual meetings of the Society for Biological Psychiatry, the Italian Society for Biological Psychiatry, and the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

 While Dr. Forbes’ research accomplishments are impressive, she is also known for her outstanding training and mentorship of the next generation of clinical psychologists and clinical neuroscientists.  She has generously contributed her time and energy as a member of numerous predoctoral, dissertation, and postdoctoral research committees, and has provided valuable input to young investigators developing and carrying out career development award activities.  In fact, Dr. Forbes’ contributions in this area were acknowledged by the Department of Psychiatry in 2013 when she was presented with the Emerging Mentor Award.  

Dr. Forbes is also an esteemed member of the academic community.  She has served on a number of committees and task forces at the University of Pittsburgh and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC.  Dr. Forbes also is frequently invited by agencies in the United States and Europe to review research proposals for funding consideration, has served as a reviewer for a number of scientific journals, and is a member of the editorial board for Psychological Science and the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.




Anne Germain, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology

Dr. Anne Germain is Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from the Université de Montréal in 2001 and completed her post-doctoral training in clinical sleep research at the University of Pittsburgh in 2005.

Dr. Germain’s research program has two main areas of interest. The first focuses on the mechanisms underlying sleep disturbances occurring in the context of stress-related psychiatric disorders, with a special emphasis on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her work in this area utilizes multimodal sleep measurement methods including self-report measures, actigraphy and polysomnography, quantitative EEG, pharmacological probes, sleep neuroimaging techniques, as well as novel animal models. The second area of interest concentrates on the development, adaptation, and testing of treatments targeting stress-related sleep disturbances as a means to enhance psychological resilience and to hasten recovery from trauma exposure.

Dr. Germain has published over 45 peer-reviewed articles and 15 chapters and invited papers on sleep in the context of PTSD and other stress-related disorders. She has served on various committees of the Sleep Research Society (SRS) and American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).  Dr. Germain currently serves on the Editorial Board of the journal Behavioral Sleep Medicine, and is a regular peer reviewer for specialized journals on sleep, trauma, and psychiatry. She also serves on various study sections for the United States Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the National Institutes of Health, as well as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.



In the Spotlight
Jody Glance, MD

Dr. Jody Glance has combined her passion for teaching and mentorship with her gifts as a clinician to build a successful career as a clinician educator.

After completing a graduate degree in Speech-Language Pathology at Kent State University, Dr. Glance attended the Ohio State University where she studied Molecular Genetics. She earned her medical degree from Case Western Reserve University and began her career in Pittsburgh in the residency training program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC (WPIC).

Dr. Glance credited the Department of Psychiatry’s infrastructure and the mentorship that she’s received throughout her training and the early phase of her career for helping her to successfully establish her career and pursue her academic and clinical interests.

"It is not simply the sheer number and scope of opportunities available here that make this an outstanding place for clinician educators to build their careers. It is also the collaboration among faculty members, and especially the encouragement and mentorship that is so freely offered by more senior faculty to their junior colleagues.”
- Dr. Jody Glance

As a resident, Dr. Glance developed a significant interest in co-occurring psychiatric and substance use disorders, and women’s health issues. Her research with faculty mentors and resident colleagues resulted in peer-reviewed articles in medical journals and a chapter on the Neurobiology of Substance Use Disorders in the Pittsburgh Pocket Series on Substance Use Disorders published by Oxford University Press

Dr. Glance was appointed as an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 2011.  She also has served as the Medical Director of the Perinatal Addiction Clinic and Co-Medical Director of the Center for Psychiatric and Chemical Dependency Services at WPIC since her appointment to the faculty, and in 2014 began her role as the Associate Director of Medical Student Education for the Department of Psychiatry.  

In addition to her significant clinical and administrative responsibilities, Dr. Glance has been actively engaged in a number of training and mentorship activities.  In addition to is her role as the Course Director for the Introduction to Psychiatry course for the first year medical students, Dr. Glance has taught a weekly course providing first year residents with an Introduction to Clinical Interviewing for the past four years, and has presented at numerous seminars and workshops focusing on a range of medical education and clinical topics.  Dr. Glance is also recognized as a thoughtful mentor by the medical students, postdoctoral fellows and residents that she has supervised in WPIC’s Addiction Medicine Services programs, and psychiatry residents transitioning to the next phase of their careers. 



Tina R. Goldstein, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry

Tina R. Goldstein, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry is passionate about her work. An accomplished researcher, educator and clinician, Dr. Goldstein’s work focuses on the assessment and psychosocial treatment of youth with and at risk for bipolar disorder, with a particular interest in suicide prevention in this population.

A graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder, Dr. Goldstein earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology in 2003 and relocated to Pittsburgh, where she completed the Clinical Psychology Internship Program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC (WPIC) and a federally-funded postdoctoral fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychiatry. She was recruited to the Department of Psychiatry faculty in 2006 where she has established a well-deserved reputation as a thoughtful clinician, a highly engaged mentor and teacher, and a highly collaborative academic scientist.

Dr. Goldstein’s clinical work closely parallels her research interests. She provides and supervises psychosocial treatment services for youth with bipolar spectrum disorders and their families in the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Services (CABS) Clinic. She was appointed Director of Psychotherapy for Pediatric Mood Disorders in January 2014, and has played an important role in the training of residents, postdoctoral fellows and medical students in that area. Dr. Goldstein is a superb teacher and mentor committed to the training and career development of students and early-career clinicians and researchers. Her educational activities include leading didactic courses for PGY1 and PGY2 residents on Dialectic Behavioral Therapy, and serving as a member of the faculty for the WPIC Clinical Psychology Internship Program. She also gives generously of her time as a member of the training faculty for the federally funded Clinical Research Training in Child and adolescent Psychiatry T32 and for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Career Development Institute for Bipolar Disorders.

As an academic scientist, Dr. Goldstein is highly collaborative and has made valuable contributions to the field of child and adolescent psychiatry throughout her career. As a postdoctoral fellow, she adapted Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for the treatment of bipolar disorder in adolescents. She later tested the initial efficacy and feasibility of this intervention by conducting a randomized clinical trial with support from a K23 career development award from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). She was recently awarded a R01 from NIMH to conduct a larger clinical trial of DBT for adolescents with bipolar disorder. As an independent scientist, Dr. Goldstein has served as the Principal Investigator for two NIMH R34 grants - one to study early the assessment and intervention for adolescents at-risk for bipolar disorder, and another aimed at improving medication adherence among adolescents with bipolar disorder – and a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse on mood, substance use and suicidality in bipolar youth. She also serves as the Co-Principal Investigator for two grants funded by the Pittsburgh Foundation investigating risk factors for youth suicide, and as a Co-Investigator for several other federally-funded studies focused on the assessment and treatment of mood-disordered and at-risk youth. In recognition of her scientific contributions, Dr. Goldstein has awarded the New Clinical Drug Evaluation Unit (NCDEU) New Investigator Award (2008) and the Klerman Young Investigator Award from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (2012).

Dr. Goldstein has widely disseminated her work, collaborating on 45 peer-review publications in high-impact journals such as American Journal of Psychiatry, Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Archives of General Psychiatry, as well as numerous book chapters. She is also a popular lecturer who has presented her work at conferences and meetings in the United States, Turkey, Italy and Canada. She also gives generously of her time to service to the academic community, serving as a reviewer for numerous journals and as a member of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders Task Force on Suicide and an adviser to the Ryan Licht Sang Foundation.

We are delighted to have Dr. Goldstein as a member of our faculty and look forward to her ongoing contributions not only to the Department of Psychiatry, but to the field of scientific research.



Jordan F. Karp, MD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Anesthesiology,
and Clinical and Translational Science

Jordan F. Karp, MD is Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Anesthesiology, and Clinical and Translational Science. Dr. Karp earned a Bachelor’s degree from Emory University and his medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He completed his residency in Psychiatry at the Columbia University in New York. A native Pittsburgher, Dr. Karp wanted to return home for fellowships in geriatric psychiatry and clinical research and then to join the psychiatry faculty in 2006. His research interests include improving care for older adults living with comorbid low back pain and depression, for which he has been awarded a R01 grant from the NIA. Dr. Karp recently received a prestigious NARSAD award to study buprenorphine, an opioid analgesic, for use in treatment resistant depression. He is a frequent lecturer both locally and nationally on the topics of pain and aging, and the treatment of depression in late-life. A sought-after mentor, Dr. Karp helps advise several medical students’ scholarly projects. In addition to research, Dr. Karp is a skilled clinician with a busy private practice and is Medical Director for Geriatric Psychiatry at UPMC Pain Medicine at Centre Commons. In his spare time he enjoys running, playing with his two miniature pinschers, and sailing at Chautauqua Lake with family.


William E. Klunk, MD, PhD
Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology

Dr. William E. Klunk is a Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology and Co-Director of the Alzheimer Disease Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Klunk completed an MD/PhD degree at Washington University in St. Louis focusing on neuropharmacology and medicinal chemistry. Dr. Klunk then completed a general psychiatry residency followed by a Fellowship in Geriatric Neuropsychopharmacology at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC)/University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He is a member of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Council of the National Alzheimer’s Association. He has published well over 150 journal articles and book chapters and is Principal Investigator of several NIH and Foundation grants and has received a MERIT Award from the NIA. Dr. Klunk is a pioneer in the field of in vivo amyloid imaging in humans. His work spans from basic synthetic chemistry and neuropharmacological evaluation of amyloid imaging tracers to human PET studies of these tracers. His group’s 2004 paper was cited by Nature Medicine the most highly cited research paper on Alzheimer’s disease published since 2004. He shared the 2004 MetLife Foundation Award, the 2008 Potamkin Prize and the 2009 Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute Awards for research in Alzheimer’s disease with his colleague, Dr. Chet Mathis. Among his current research projects, Dr. Klunk is particularly excited about the prospect of determining how early amyloid deposition begins before clinical symptoms appear and what other mediators determine whether the presence of brain amyloid results in clinical symptoms.



David Kolko, PhD, ABPP
Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology

David Kolko, PhD, ABPP, is a Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Director of the Special Services Unit at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. He directs the SAFE Program (Services for Adolescent and Family Enrichment) at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, an outpatient treatment research program for sexually abusive youth that is operated in collaboration with probation officers from the Juvenile Court. He is board certified in Child and Adolescent Psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology and a fellow of the American Psychological Association.

His primary interests involve the study and treatment of disruptive behavior disorders and children’s antisocial behavior, including childhood firesetting, adolescent sexual offending behavior, and child physical abuse and related forms of maltreatment. He is the developer of an evidence-based treatment for physical aggression/abuse, child behavior problems, and family coercion/conflict, called “Alternatives for Families: A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” (AF-CBT; Much of his current treatment research is devoted to the dissemination and implementation of AF-CBT to community practitioners working in various systems that serve children, youth, and families, including pediatric primary care, juvenile justice, child welfare, public health/safety, and mental health.

His prior books include, Assessing and treating physically abused children and their families: A cognitive-behavioral approach (2002, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA), and the Handbook on Firesetting in Children and Youth (2002, Academic Press).A sample of Dr. Kolko’s clinical-research activities and articles may be found online at



Dr. Michele Levine has earned a reputation as an expert on the health and wellness of perinatal women, and as a thoughtful mentor who has helped gifted clinical psychologists and early-career researchers develop. Dr. Levine is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology, and an Investigator at the Magee Women’s Research Institute. She is currently the Principal Investigator for two R01 grants funded by the National Institutes of Health: a sequential multiple assignment randomized trial of perinatal lifestyle interventions, and a study examining the role of loss of control over eating and other psychiatric symptoms in gestational weight gain. Dr. Levine co-directs the Clinical Psychology Internship and Postdoctoral Training Programs with her colleague, Dr. Tina Goldstein.  She alsi is a mentor to undergraduate and graduate students, residents and postdoctoral fellows.  Dr. Levine spoke with In the Spotlight about her academic and personal life, and offered some advice for young investigators pursuing careers in clinical research.   

What led you down this career path?

I have a strong memory of the first time a teacher reminded me that it was possible to go find the answer to a question on my own. So, I guess I can credit my second grade teacher, Ms. Ditillo, with my first taste of the satisfaction in finding out the answer to an important question on my own. However, my path to the work I’m currently most excited by has been windy –although some of the twists, especially before I settled on graduate work in clinical psychology were exciting and satisfying.

Entering graduate school, I was interested in “food and mood,” generally, and particularly how stress affected eating. During graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, I was fortunate to work with Dr. Ken Perkins and Dr. Marsha Marcus, both of whom remain friends and colleagues of mine to this day.  As a graduate student, I worked with them to develop two different approaches to managing women’s concerns about gaining weight after quitting smoking and remained involved throughout the conduct and analysis of that large randomized clinical trial . That trial solidified my interest in understanding the ways in which even normative levels of concerns about eating, weight and body shape can affect health behaviors for women.

As I thought about the phases of life during which health behaviors change, I became fascinated with the many positive health behavior changes women make during pregnancy (like seeking prenatal care, taking vitamins, changing eating habits, quitting smoking, or drinking less alcohol), and I wanted to understand why these changes weren’t maintained postpartum. I have been lucky to merge my initial focus on mood and eating behaviors with my interest in health behavior changes across the perinatal period. 

What new projects you are excited to be working on?

I’m really looking forward to learning more about novel clinical trial methodologies. We recently geared up for a new trial designed to identify the sequence of lifestyle intervention across pregnancy and the postpartum year to mitigate maternal health risk by one year postpartum. This trial is a sequential multiple assignment randomized trial (SMART), where women are randomized early in pregnancy and then randomized again postpartum. I’m really excited to think about the ideas for other health and wellbeing topics.  Right now, we’re intervening on perinatal women’s weight and wellness, and I’m eager to learn new ways to deliver an intervention focusing on weight gain and wellness during pregnancy and weight loss and mood postpartum, and learning more about new clinical trial methodologies. 

What advice would you give to trainees considering a career as a scientist in mental health research?

A friend who I met early in my training said it was her goal to do interesting things with interesting people and that advice has helped me.  It has been helpful to me to take the long view and to remember what brings me joy and satisfaction from my work. It’s easy to lose sight of the things that make you “tick” or bring a sense of joy when the pressure is high and the demands constant. Having a solid sense of the kinds of questions I like to answer and why I want to study something helps me weather the ups and downs of daily work life.  I also think surrounding yourself with interesting and interested people that you really like helps!!

What accomplishment of your mentee(s) are you most proud of?

Mentoring is a huge source of joy.  I really love to watch people I care about accomplish things and grow. The pride I feel in my mentees is not only in their accomplishment, I think I get the most joy from seeing people really experience and notice their own successes. For me, feeling successful has always been about the process of accomplishing, not the accomplishment itself.  Life and work often unfold in ways that aren’t really straight line and careers develop and lives evolve, each individual’s sense of what constitutes a successful outcome changes over time. Thus, as a mentor it is important to me to try to understand a trainee’s aspirations and to work to balance these goals with where they currently see themselves and where they are in the process of meeting their goals. 

What do you do for fun/to relax?

I have a busy family life and spend most of my time with my husband, our three teenagers, and our dog.  We all like to ski and try to spend as much time as we can in the mountains.  My family time is full of noise, laughter, and I love to spend time on uncomfortable seats on the sidelines of various soccer fields or in school auditoriums.   I also am lucky enough to also spend time with my brother, who tries to get me to cycle, run, or work out, as much as he does, and with my parents, who live locally, as well as with fun and funny friends! To relax, I love to read, hike, visit old friends or completely lose myself in a television series. I like a good drama and will watch anything my very wise and witty girlfriends recommend!



Martin J Lubetsky, M.D.
Professor of Psychiatry

As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, Dr. Martin Lubetsky volunteered to coach a team of athletes for the Special Olympics.  He didn’t realize it at the time, but that experience was the first of many roles that Dr. Lubetsky would play in enriching the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities.  Dr. Lubetsky is Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and the Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders Services at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC (WPIC).  He also serves as the Chief of the Pediatric Behavioral Health/Behavioral Science Division at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.  Dr. Lubetsky is also a gifted teacher and mentor.  He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors in recognition of his work including an Innovation Award from the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania and the Temple Grandin Autism Professional Award.

Dr. Lubetsky talked with In the Spotlight about how he became interested in autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities, and how he and his colleagues are using telepsychiatry and other innovative strategies to expand and enhance services for individuals and their families.

What particular mental health disorders and populations are you interested in as a clinician?  I have been interested in working with children, adolescents and adults with developmental disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder throughout my career, dating back to my undergraduate and medical school years when I was a Special Olympics coach (with my wife).  I have been dedicated to the improvement of assessment and treatment services and development of continuum of care, starting with early identification and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder, to services in the community throughout the lifespan.  I am interested in integration of behavioral health in pediatrics, since I first thought that I would be a pediatrician, but then saw the light and changed to child and adolescent psychiatry.

When did you discover that you wanted to be a clinician-educator?  I have always had an interest in teaching and sharing information, as well as developing clinical services, since residency and child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship.  My first position was an attending psychiatrist for the Merck inpatient unit, and I immediately developed teaching curriculum for the trainees, expanded it to medical student elective, neurology and pediatrics elective and adult psychiatry elective, as well as staff training.  I created a three-hour Autism workshop for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry annual meeting, and it was so successful that I continued presenting an updated version of the workshop for 10 consecutive years.  I first developed the Autism course for PGY4 Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellows, and then developed the Autism course for PGY2 Adult Psychiatry Residents, which led to the publication of my Autism Spectrum Disorder book, co-edited and co-written by many WPIC and UPMC colleagues.  I have been passionate throughout my career to develop innovative clinical services, training, community advocacy, and continuum of care.  I did not expect to become service chief over four service lines across two hospitals and services across the tristate area, but it has been extremely rewarding.

What new projects are you excited to be working on?  We are working on the collaboration and synergy of Autism services across WPIC and Children’s Hospital, and across the lifespan.  We are expanding the integration of behavioral health in Pediatrics in Children’s Hospital’s inpatient and outpatient chronic medical clinics, and in satellite hubs in Pine Center Wexford and South Fayette, and in pediatric practices throughout the region.  Our program leaders are also working on expanding telepsychiatry consultation services in underserved pediatrics locations in northwest and southwest PA.  We are also developing unique early childhood mental health services on site and in the community.  In addition to those clinical initiatives, our faculty and staff have created educational conferences including the recent and very successful ADHD across the Lifespan Conference that attracted over 300 attendees.

What is the newest approach you are bringing to your work?  We have been seeking external funding through grants, contracts and fundraising to support our mission and goals.  Several of our program leaders have been awarded grants from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services for the Western Pennsylvania Regional Autism Center, Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, Autism Inpatient Consortium, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) Early Childhood Trauma and Mental Health Treatment Center, and many more.  We have been successful in fundraising to advance our clinical services through initiatives such as the UPMC Children’s Ball and the Ladies Hospital Aid Society to benefit the Theiss Child Development Center, the Family Life Fund to provide additional support to our Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Intensive Outpatient and Autism Services programs, and through our work with Autism Speaks.  I am very proud of our service line’s faculty, program directors, staff and leadership team, and their innovation in service development and obtaining additional support for these programs (I have to thank my amazing clinical administrator colleague Doug Henry).  The joy of a clinician-educator-leader is to see the success that your team accomplishes for the improvement of quality of care for their patients and families.



Dr. Karen A. Matthews has turned a lifelong passion for “figuring things out” into a successful career as a nationally recognized scientist and gifted mentor who has had a significant impact on the careers of researchers.   Dr. Matthews is a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Epidemiology, Psychology, and Clinical Translational Science. She also directs the federally-funded Cardiovascular Behavioral Medicine Research Training program and is actively involved in counseling faculty on career development.

Dr. Matthews’ research focuses on the psychosocial factors involved in the etiology of cardiovascular diseases, with a special emphasis on changing risk at developmental transitions across the lifespan. She has widely disseminated her findings through over 500 peer reviewed publications and presentations at numerous national meetings and conferences throughout the United States.  The mentorship that she received as a graduate student had a profound effect on Dr. Matthews’ academic career both as a scientist and a mentor. 

In the Spotlight recently asked Dr. Matthews about her own career trajectory and strategies she’s used to collaborate and find success along the way.

What are your primary research interests? I investigate the psychosocial determinants of risk for cardiovascular diseases and hypertension. I examine changes in risk at times of transition, adolescence and late midlife, with an emphasis on the intersection of the socioeconomic context, psychological resources, endocrine milieu, and stress reactivity. The rationale for the focus on transitional periods is that it is easier to observe associations during periods of change. My projects use both epidemiological and experimental methods. Currently, my primary projects focus on three areas: 1) investigating the impact of the menopausal transition on women’s mental and physical health in a multi-site, multi-ethnic cohort; 2) studying the association of pediatric depression with later cardiometabolic risk factors in young adulthood, and; 3) examining the impact of neighborhood, school, and family factors assessed prospectively on later cardiometabolic risk factors and sleep in black and white men.

When did you learn you wanted to be a scientist? In the fourth grade I wanted to be an astronomer because I loved thinking about the unknowable. However, I did not decide to train as a scientist until four years after receiving my undergraduate degree at University of California, Berkeley. In that interim period, I had odd jobs and traveled overseas and in Mexico off and on for about two years. My graduate program in personality/social psychology at University of Texas at Austin was a wonderful experience, in part because of my mentors, Drs. David Glass and Arnie Buss, and also the other graduate students with whom I shared the excitement of “figuring things out.” At that time, I conducted studies with Dr. Glass on Type A behavior, considered to be a risk factor for heart disease. The field of health psychology was becoming a recognized subdiscipline of psychology, and consequently I developed a professional identify as a health psychologist as a new faculty member and plunged into research and educating others regarding behavioral factors in cardiovascular disease.

What strategies do you use to help you with time management? My strategies have varied according to career stage. Early on, I tended to accept all opportunities to attend conferences, write book chapters, etc., in case I would not be asked again. I became more judicious in what I agreed to do once I realized that I would be asked to do more things! In general, I also schedule my “fun time,” otherwise, with my temperament, I would fill available time with work. I take off work completely one day a week, unless there are looming grant deadlines. Family meals and family vacations are protected to keep my life in balance.

How have you built collaborations with other scientists? My research interests require that I develop collaborations with other scientists across a number of disciplines. I am fortunate that when I arrived at the University of Pittsburgh, Drs. Thomas Detre and Lewis Kuller opened the doors needed to develop those collaborations. Lew Kuller and I have collaborated on a number of long-term projects, including the Pittsburgh Healthy Women Study of women transitioning through the menopause. Finding common interests and complementary skills are key to developing collaborations where all involved can benefit.

What accomplishments of your mentees are you most proud of? This is a tough question, as I have been fortunate to have many talented mentees who have made many scientific contributions. I am pleased that almost all are still in research. Perhaps the contributions that have had the longest impact are mentees’ review articles summarizing the field relevant to a specific question and specifying new directions of research.

What book, lecture, or author has had a major influence on your work or career? The book Successful Aging by Jack Rowe and Bob Kahn shifted my sole focus on disease mechanisms to include a resource perspective. I found the authors’ conceptualization of the tasks of successful aging, avoiding disease and disability, maintaining mental and physical function, and continuing engagement with life a refreshing take on adult development. I have tried to apply a similar perspective, such as identifying markers of successful transitions, into research on other life stages, including adolescence to young adulthood. 

Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know. I have been scuba diving for 30 years, despite being quite anxious about potential shark encounters.   

What is the most challenging aspect of being a researcher for you? Taking the time to reflect and not hurry. 



Karen Matthews, PhD
Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, Epidemiology, Psychology, and Clinical and Translational Science

Dr. Karen Matthews joined the faculty in 1979 and is now Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Epidemiology and Psychology. After receiving her B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, she traveled extensively (and very cheaply) in Europe, northern Africa, and Mexico – an invaluable life experience. She earned her PhD in psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, where her dissertation research was on Type A behavior, a potential risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Her subsequent research has been guided by several assumptions. First, epidemiological constructs associated with CVD provide opportunities to identify the psychobiological mechanisms underlie the associations. Her interests in Type A, negative emotions, race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status (SES), and most recently poor sleep arose from that assumption. Second, it is most informative to investigate epidemiological constructs at times of transition, because change often can provide a unique window on underlying psychobiological processes. Her interests in adolescence, menopause, and mid-life aging stem from that view. She is fortunate to have joined efforts with a remarkable group of investigators at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University in establishing the Cardiovascular Behavioral Medicine Research Training Program, academic health psychology doctoral programs, and the Pittsburgh Mind-Body Center. She has received the American Psychological Association Award for Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology; Cardiovascular Research Award from the North American Menopause Society; Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society of Behavioral Medicine; and President’s Award from the American Psychosomatic Society. She was elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine in 2002. She enjoys gardening and playing racquet sports, and is an avid Steelers fan.


Brooke Molina, PhDBrooke S. Molina, PhD
Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology

Dr. Brooke Molina, Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology, has dedicated her career to helping children and families through her clinical and research activities, and to helping early-career scientists make the transition to the next stage of their careers.

Dr. Molina earned a Master’s degree and PhD in Clinical Psychology from Arizona State University before relocating to Pittsburgh, where she completed the Clinical Psychology Internship Program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.  She obtained postdoctoral training as a postdoctoral scholar in the federally funded Alcohol Research Training Program at the University of Pittsburgh before her appointment to the Department of Psychiatry faculty in 1995.  Dr. Molina is also a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania.

The focus of Dr. Molina's research interests are the long-term course and treatment of behavior problems, alcoholism, and drug abuse among youth and young adults.  As Director of the Youth and Family Research Program, she oversees a robust research program engaged in the study of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other disruptive behavioral disorders as well as substance use disorders.  Dr. Molina is the Principal Investigator of a MERIT award from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in which she is studying the factors that contribute to risk of alcohol use disorders for children with ADHD.  She has been a lead investigator on the longitudinal, multi-site, study of ADHD treatment in children (known as the “MTA”).  She serves as a Co-Principal Investigator of an R01 award from the National Institute of Mental Health to examine neural correlates of adult outcomes of childhood ADHD. Finally, she is Principal Investigator of an R34 award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse funding the development of clinical management strategies to decrease sharing and selling of stimulant medications by individuals medically treated for ADHD.  A prolific writer, Dr. Molina is the first or senior author for 31 of over 98 peer-reviewed publications appearing in scientific and medical journals.  She has also presented her work at numerous national and international scientific meetings and conferences.

An important component of Dr. Molina’s academic career is work as a teacher and mentor.  In addition to her extensive research activities, Dr. Molina is also a dedicated mentor who has served as a member of the training faculty for five T32 postdoctoral grants and the Clinical Psychology Internship program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.  With her colleague Dr. Rob Sweet, she co-directs the Career and Research Development Seminar Series for postdoctoral scholars and associates in the Department of Psychiatry, and she has played an important role in the transition of many postdoctoral scholars and junior faculty to careers as independent scientists. 

Dr. Molina also is engaged in a number of activities in the academic community.  She has participated in, and chaired, federal study sections and serves on the Department of Psychiatry’s Research Review Committee and other departmental committees related to the training and career development infrastructure of the Department of Psychiatry.  Dr. Molina is a member of the editorial boards for several scientific journals and a reviewer for JAMA Psychiatry, the American Journal of Psychiatry and numerous other publications. 


Kenneth C. Nash, MD, MMM
Associate Professor of Psychiatry

Kenneth C. Nash, MD, MMM is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He is the Chief of Clinical Services at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and Vice Chair of Clinical Affairs for the Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Nash is a board certified child and adolescent and adult psychiatrist who is active in the clinical, academic and administrative arenas. He completed his Psychiatric Residency and Fellowship in Pittsburgh and has been affiliated with UPP since its inception. He served as the Director of Residency Training in the Department of Psychiatry for several years before assuming his current role as the Chief of Clinical Services at WPIC in 2005. As the Chief of Clinical Services, Dr. Nash oversees more than two hundred psychiatric members of the UPMC Presbyterian Medical Staff. In this position, he has worked to further the integration of research and clinical services and has implemented numerous quality projects related to physician performance. Dr. Nash has been a strong advocate for the importance of physician leadership.

Dr. Nash has been instrumental in the development and implementation of innovative psychiatric services throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He is the PI on the five-year Youth and Family Training Institute grant and is the Co-PI on the six-year Pennsylvania System of Care Grant. Dr. Nash has had a national presence on committees such as the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Committee of Business Relations and the APA Quality Committee.


The Department of Psychiatry is mourning the passing of Herbert Needleman, MD, recognized internationally for his pioneering scientific research on the effects of lead exposure in children. Dr. Needleman, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, was a valued member of our faculty. His research and his advocacy for social justice for the world’s most vulnerable populations has had a lasting impact on public health.

Dr. Needleman’s interest in the health effects of lead dates back to medical school in the 1950s, when he also worked at the DuPont Deepwater Plant in New Jersey. He noticed that some of his older coworkers demonstrated strange behavior, such as zoning out and walking with a clumsy gait, and was told that these men had worked in buildings for tetraethyl lead synthesis or “houses of butterflies.” Evidence of lead poisoning in this area was evident as early as the 1920s when more than 15 plant employees working in these buildings passed away after experiencing disturbing and unexplained symptoms. As a resident at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in the early 1960s, Dr. Needleman successfully treated a young girl with severe lead poisoning, but realized that by returning home to walls of peeling lead paint, the child was further at risk. He recalled the workers from the houses of butterflies and from that point on was determined to prove how lead was affecting children—and was even more determined to do something about it. He did both. His findings showed that even low blood levels of lead could result in lowered IQ, poor school performance, and behavior problems in children. Dr. Needleman's work played a critical role in the federal government's decision to remove lead from gasoline, which is credited with drastically reducing blood lead levels of American children. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, lead levels in young children have dropped by more than 90 percent since the 1970s when Dr. Needleman published his early research.

Dr. Needleman joined the University of Pittsburgh in 1981 and lived in Pittsburgh for the remainder of his life. He was well known as an advocate for social justice and the disadvantaged, and received numerous awards for his work, including the Heinz Award for the Environment, the Charles A. Dana Award, and the University of Pittsburgh's Chancellor's Award for Community Service. He leaves a legacy of vastly improved public health for children and their families.  




Dr. Vishwajit Nimgaonkar
Professor of Psychiatry and Human Genetics

Dr. Vishwajit Nimgaonkar is Professor of Psychiatry and Human Genetics, and directs the Program for Genetics and Psychoses in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh.  The program focuses on research into the genetic causes of psychotic disorders including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.   It serves not only an important laboratory for pursuing many types of genetic research, but also as a training ground for young scientists from the United States and international scholars.

In the Spotlight recently spoke with Dr. Nimgaonkar about what led him to pursue a career in academic research and his thoughts on what students, trainees and individuals embarking on scientific careers can do to achieve their career and academic goals.

When did you learn you wanted to be a scientist?  I decided to become a scientist in the final year of medical school.  It was a difficult decision, because I love clinical care and public health, too.  Making a diagnosis through clever observation, picking an economical medicine and then seeing a happy smile on a patient’s face formed a package that was difficult to resist.  At the same time, the enormous health care problems in India forced me to think of solutions that could help hundreds of patients, not just one individual.  This desire fueled my dual love affair with public health and research. In the end, research won out because it promised unimaginable rewards for thousands, if not millions of people.

Have you ever doubted yourself regarding your ability as a researcher? If so, how did you overcome that self-doubt? I doubt my ability as a researcher quite often.  To overcome my doubts, I work even harder.  My mantra:  how can today be better than yesterday?  My students and many brilliant colleagues never fail to inspire me. 

How do you stay informed of new, very high impact publications outside your immediate interests but that might benefit your research?   I begin my day by reading as many research journals as I can.  My colleagues and students also love to share interesting papers that they find – this is invaluable for filling the gaps in my knowledge.

What habits have contributed to your success as an independent researcher? Perseverance, not perseveration - paraphrasing Dr. John Hardy, my colleague.

How have you built collaborations with other scientists?  Collaborations have to be equitable in the eyes of the collaborators.  I look for a colleague with the skillsets I need, then see if I can help him or her meaningfully.  I try to give more than I get, and try to work with individuals with a similar attitude.

What advice would you give to trainees considering a career as a scientist in mental health research?  It’s a high stakes effort, but the potential rewards are worth all the risks and failures.


In the Spotlight recently interviewed Dr. Susan Perlman about her passion for research and her suggestions to help early career researchers take the next step to achieve their goal of becoming independent scientists.  We also asked her about interests outside of the laboratory.  Dr. Perlman is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and an active collaborator in the Department of Psychiatry’s Developmental Affective Science Collective.  She is the recent recipient of a prestigious BRAIN R01 grant from the NIMH and has published her findings in high impact scientific journals including the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Journal of Psychiatry.

What are your primary research interests? My research uses multiple methods to understand the neurodevelopment of individual differences in temperament in order to predict which preschool aged children are at greatest risk for future psychopathology.  I like to combine many different types of methodology (including multi-modal imaging, eye-tracking, actigraphy, cortisol, computer assessment, and parent-report) in order to answer a research question from multiple angles.  This is especially important when you study young children who can’t always sit still for long periods of time or tell you how they are feeling.

Have you ever doubted yourself regarding your ability as a researcher? If so, how did you overcome that self-doubt? What helped you to continue to pursue a career in research?  Of course I have.  I mean, we all do, right?  We all go to meetings or conferences and think that everyone in the room is so much smarter than we are.  And the truth is, everyone really is exceptional in this field.  I just remind myself that the reason science works is that everyone has their own set of unique perspectives, approaches, and skills to bring to the table.  Everyone is an expert in their own micro area and that’s why it’s important to form collaborations.  I think it’s important to be aware of your skills and limitations.  I may not be the most statistically talented scientist, but I get phone calls all the time from people who need help designing neuroimaging studies for young children or getting preschoolers to comply with experimental testing.

How have you built collaborations with other scientists? I’m really fortunate to work at a place where collaboration is highly valued (and a place with really stellar collaborators!).  I have two general rules for collaboration.  The first is to collaborate with people who are asking similar questions, but use different methodology.  Everyone brings their own unique skill set, so I think the best collaborations happen when individuals work together to approach a question from different viewpoints.  The second is to work with people you enjoy working with.  Science should be a fun experience, so work with people you like.  Following these two rules I’ve been really lucky to form long-term collaborations both inside and outside the university.  Of course, you have to remember to choose collaborations wisely because there are often so many people with whom I want to collaborate, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day!

What advice would you give to trainees considering a career as a scientist in mental health research? Know the type of person you are and whether or not you have the right temperament for the job (an obvious response coming from a temperament researcher!).  You have to be someone who is very self-motivated because no one is going to tell you what to do all day or impose deadlines on you.  You have to be someone who can handle long periods of unstructured time and be able to manage your time well.  It’s nice to have a very flexible schedule, but the downside is that there is never a definitive start and end to your work day.  You have to be someone who handles rejection and criticism well, because we face a lot of it.  Finally, you have to be someone who can follow through on long-term projects.  Most of the projects we do take years from start to finish.  Science just does not happen quickly.  So, you need to have a lot of different projects going on at the same time in order to be productive.

What new projects you are excited to be working on?  I am so excited about my new direction of research investigating interpersonal neural synchronization.  We are looking at how brain activation between two individuals coordinates while they are involved in social interaction.  I know it sounds totally crazy, but it’s working!  Right now we have ongoing projects looking at interpersonal neural synchronization in adults, parents and their children, and subjects with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.  I speak Spanish at home, I sew my kids’ clothes, and I have weird thumbs.  People may also be surprised to know that I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my entire life! 

Are there political or social issues you feel passionately about? I think the groundwork for psychopathology is solidifying during the preschool period (or even sooner).  We often overlook how many children there are in our country without access to basic healthcare, quality education, or safe neighborhoods.  The goal of my own research program is to understand the neural risk factors for early onset psychopathology and, ideally, be able to intervene when these neural systems are still malleable.  But none of this will really matter if there are not broad, sweeping, and dramatic changes to the environment in which our youngest generation is developing.


Dr. Charles F. Reynolds III is well-known for his scientific accomplishments and expertise in the field of geriatric psychiatry.  He also has earned a well-deserved reputation for his commitment to integrating biological and psychosocial perspectives in science, clinical care, and medical education.  

"Geriatric Psychiatry is a mixture of my three favorite medical specialties - internal medicine, neurology, and psychiatry,” Dr. Reynolds explained.  He is the UPMC Endowed Professor of Geriatric Psychiatry and Professor of Neurology, Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, and Clinical and Translational Science. The focus of Dr. Reynolds' research is on mood, grief, and sleep disorders of later life, with a particular focus on mental health services in primary care, improving treatment strategies, depression prevention, and promotion of brain health in older adults. In addition to serving as the Principal Investigator for numerous federally funded projects including P50 research centers, multiple R01 grants, and a MERIT award, he has collaborated extensively on numerous other projects in the United States and abroad.  His impressive publication portfolio includes more than 690 publications in peer-reviewed journals, and numerous book chapters, invited papers and other publications. Dr. Reynolds is recognized internationally for his groundbreaking work, and has disseminated his findings and shared his expertise at scientific meetings and conferences around the globe.

"I love working with older adults," said Dr. Reynolds, "Their wisdom and perspectives on life have helped to make me a better person and physician."

In addition to conducting his own federally-funded research, Dr. Reynolds’ role as a teacher and mentor has been instrumental to promoting geriatric psychiatry as a specialty area, and training the next generation of clinicians and academic scientists.  He has served for over 15 years as the Program Director for two NIMH-funded T32 training grants focusing on Clinical Research Training in Psychiatry and Late-Life Mood Disorders, and more recently as Co-Director of an R25 grant that provides for Training Future Generations of Mental Health Researchers. He also directs the John A. Hartford Foundation’s Center of Excellence in Geriatric Psychiatry and Training. As the Director of the Aging Institute, a partnership between UPMC Senior Services and the University of Pittsburgh, he oversees a program that serves as a model for other organizations by combining world-class health care delivery with groundbreaking research and scholarship opportunities.

"I had fabulous mentoring from David Kupfer and Thomas Detre,” said Dr. Reynolds. ”I feel an obligation to pay it forward as a part of my legacy. I am proud of the accomplishments of the physician scientists and PhD scientists I've been privileged to mentor. This allows me to touch many live to the better."

Dr. Reynolds also gives generously of his time to local and national activities. He is passionate about his service to the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine, where he has served as a Senior Associate Dean. His skills and accomplishments are so well-known and appreciated that both the Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for the Health Sciences have called upon to lead numerous committees and task forces. He has also served on numerous committees at the invitation of the Institute of Medicine, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and advocacy organizations. In recognition of his significant academic and scientific contributions, Dr. Reynolds has been presented with a number of awards. These honors include the American College of Psychiatrists Research Award (2007) and the APA Presidential Commendation for Pioneering Research into Late Life Sleep and Mood Disorders (2013), and most recently the Emily Mumford Award from Columbia University (2015) and the UPMC Grand Champion Award (2015) for his commitment to improving the lives of seniors.


Jason Rosenstock, MD

Jason Rosenstock, MD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry

Passionate about improving patient care and inspiring learners, Jason Rosenstock, MD has provided an indispensible service to both Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC) and the Department of Psychiatry as a clinician-educator for nearly two decades. As a physician, he delivers direct clinical care for individuals with schizophrenia, and has helped to develop and administer services on behalf of patients and families affected by this illness. In addition, his endeavors as an educator have inspired medical students, residents, fellows, and physicians to explore careers in both academic psychiatry and neuroscience. Through his teaching methods, he instills in his students and trainees the same commitment he has to providing patient care of the highest quality.

A graduate of Brown University, Dr. Rosenstock completed his residency in general psychiatry at WPIC of UPMC. He was appointed to the Department of Psychiatry faculty in 1996 and served as the Chief of WPIC’s Comprehensive Care Services prior to his appointment as the Director of the Office of Medical Student Education in 2005.

He is the recipient of numerous awards in recognition of his dedication to education and training, including the Golden Apple Teaching Award for excellence in psychiatry teaching, the Sheldon Adler Award for innovation in medical education, and the Kenneth E. Shuit Award for education-related contributions to the medical education curriculum. His teaching efforts have helped to foster an interest in psychiatry among medical students, and have undoubtedly contributed to the increase in the proportion of University of Pittsburgh Medical students who choose to pursue careers in psychiatry, which is currently 50% higher than the national average.

In addition to his many clinical and teaching activities, Dr. Rosenstock is actively engaged in service to the University and WPIC community. He gives generously of his time as a member of numerous committees and advisory groups at the UPSOM, including the Curriculum Committee Executive Subcommittee, the Department’s Academic Promotions Committee, the Standing Committee for Non-Tenured Faculty Promotions and Appointments (NTFPA), and the WPIC Department of Education Leadership Group. Dr. Rosenstock also serves as the Director of the Neuroscience Area of Concentration (AOC) for the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (UPSOM), the largest AOC at the University.



Christopher M. Ryan, PhD
Professor of Psychiatry

Christopher M. Ryan, PhD has dedicated his academic career not only to exploring the effects of various medical disorders and medical therapies on cognitive functioning in both children and adults, but also to promoting patient safety and ethical practices in scientific research.  A Professor of Psychiatry, Psychology, Health and Community Systems (Nursing), and Clinical and Translational Science at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Ryan is not only an accomplished scientist, but a highly engaged teacher and mentor to mental health practitioners and researchers in various stages of their careers, and has given generously of his time as a leader and/or member of various committees and task forces at the University of Pittsburgh and for federal agencies and professional societies.

After earning his doctorate degree in Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley, Dr. Ryan obtained extensive postdoctoral training through fellowships at the VA Medicine Center in Boston (sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), and the Department of Neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine (sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism).  He held academic appointments at the University of California, Holy Names College in California, and Regis College in Colorado prior to his appointment to the Department of Psychiatry faculty at the University of Pittsburgh in 1979. 

Dr. Ryan has earned a well-deserved reputation internationally for his research on neuropsychological functioning in medical patients.  He led the first study of diabetic patients to delineate changes in cognitive functioning from late childhood into middle-adulthood, and was a pioneer in research linking changes in brain functioning to diabetes-related biomedical variables.  In addition to serving as the Principal Investigator for eight federally-sponsored projects, Dr. Ryan has also collaborated as a Co-Investigator for numerous other externally sponsored projects at the University of Pittsburgh and other institutions, and has written or co-authored over 124 peer-reviewed articles in such prestigious publications as the Archives of General Psychiatry, Pediatrics, Journal of Pediatrics, New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet and  diabetes-related journals including Diabetes, Diabetes Care, and Diabetologia.   He has also contributed to more than 150 book chapters, reviews, editorials, presentations, and other publications.   He has serves as a member of the Editorial Board of Diabetes Care and Pediatric Diabetes, is the Associate Editor of Diabetic Hypoglycemia, and is a regular reviewer for more than 30 medical and scientific journals. 

Dr. Ryan spends much time mentoring students and junior faculty, and has served as a member of more than 20 dissertation committees. His advice to young investigators is to keep an open mind, and let the data speak.  He notes that in his own work, his original hypotheses often did not turn out the way that he had expected and that closer analyses of the data yielded some surprising and interesting results.  Dr. Ryan also advises investigators at all stages of their careers to interact directly with research subjects (and their Institutional Review Board) and maintain that hands-on experience, at least for a period of time, as it not only adds to their experience working with participants, but yields practical, valuable data as well.

In addition to his extensive scientific investigations, Dr. Ryan has served as the Director of the University of Pittsburgh Institutional Review Board since 2002 and is certified by the Council for Certification of IRB Professionals.  He also has shared his scientific expertise and advocated for patient safety and the ethical conduct of research through is participation on several national committees and agencies. These positions serving as a member of numerous National Institutes of Health Ethics of Health Research review panels, federal study sections, and consulting to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Dutch Diabetes Research Foundation, and other organizations in the United States and abroad.

Throughout his career, Dr. Ryan has taught numerous classes, seminars, and workshops on a wide range of topics, and has presented his research findings at conferences and meetings sponsored by a host of professional organizations, government agencies, and medical societies.  He continues to demonstrate his passion for training the next generation of mental health practitioners and scientists through is service on several thesis and dissertation committees, and his thoughtful mentorship of young investigators. 

We look forward to Dr. Ryan’s future contributions to the field of psychiatry and scientific research, and are honored to have him as a member of the faculty.



Etienne Sibille, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Clinical
and Translational Science

What molecular changes in the brain occur in major depression? And what alterations can be seen as the brain ages? These are the two major research foci of Dr. Etienne Sibille, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, who has developed a highly innovative translational research program that bridges animal models with the human condition. Dr. Sibille’s research involves post-mortem human brain tissue and in-rodent studies to examine the cellular mechanisms of major depression, and the effects of brain aging in the development of neuropsychiatric disorders and late life function decline. By employing this multidisciplinary approach, the work undertaken in the Sibille Laboratory  has consistently generated new lines of research into disease mechanisms. These studies have recently extended to genetic studies in human epidemiological cohorts and may ultimately lead to better diagnostic and treatment methods. 

After earning a PhD in Pharmacology from Cornell University Medical College in 1999, Dr. Sibille completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University in the laboratory of Dr. René Hen at the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior. He held academic appointments in both the Department of Neuroscience at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry prior to being recruited by the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh in 2004 where he also joined the Translational Neuroscience Program. In 2008 he was granted an appointment with the University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI). He was subsequently promoted to Associate Professor of Psychiatry in 2009 and received tenure in 2011. 

Dr. Sibille is currently the Principal Investigator of several federally sponsored grants including a career development award to study molecular characterization of a corticolimbic network in depression, two R01 grants (one focusing on the corticolimbic somatostatin related inhibitory dysfunction in major depression and the other examining the molecular aging of the human brain), as well as an R21 grant to explore peripheral biomarkers in major depression.  He is also a Co-investigator for several other federally-funded projects.  He has widely disseminated his work, serving as a lead author or co-author for 60 published peer-reviewed journal articles, three book chapters and numerous published abstracts.  He has received several awards and honors in recognition of his outstanding work, including the NIMH Independent Scientist Award (2009). An exceptional citizen of the academic community, he was elected member of the American College of Neuropscychopharmacology (ACNP) in 2009, and serves as a reviewer for several National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) study sections and for numerous scientific journals including Molecular Psychiatry, the American Journal of Psychiatry, Biological Psychiatry, and Neuropsychopharmacology

In addition to his significant research activities, Dr. Sibille’s teaching and mentoring activities have received high praise from his students and peers. He co-directs the T32 training program “Training for Transformative Discovery in Psychiatry”, has served on the Center for Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh’s (CNUP) Student Evaluation Committee, and was recently a co-organizer of the CNUP Graduate Program Pro-Seminar Series and annual retreat. He lectures on a variety of topics, including neuropharmacology, gene microarray use in genetic research, and the neurobiology of brain disorders. In recognition of these generous administrative, mentoring and teaching contributions, he was awarded the Department of Psychiatry Outstanding Mentorship Award in 2011.



Greg J Siegle, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Clinical and Translational Science

Greg J. Siegle, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Clinical and Translational Science, directs the Program in Cognitive Affective Neuroscience (PICAN).  His research examines neurophysiological substrates of cognition and emotion in depression and anxiety, and recovery through the lifespan using self-report, behavioral, physiological, and neuroimaging assessment, as well as computational modeling.

After graduating from the Joint Doctoral Program sponsored by San Diego University and the University of California, San Diego, Dr. Siegle completed a clinical internship at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.  In 2000 he relocated to Pittsburgh to obtain postdoctoral training under the mentorship of Drs. Stuart Steinhauer and Cameron Carter at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychiatry.  Since his appointment to the faculty in 2001, he has been an active member of the University’s Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition.  Dr. Siegle’s laboratory is devoted to understanding relationships between emotional information processing styles and emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety, with specific attention to how neural mechanisms of emotion can be used to predict recovery and inform the development of new interventions.  He and his team study mechanisms of cognitive and emotional information processing using a variety of tools such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalography (EEG), and peripheral physiological measures, e.g., pupil dilation, eye-tracking, and electromyography (EMG). Computational models provide a platform in which theoretical relationships between emotion, disorder, and recovery can be explored.  Laboratory investigators translate insights from their empirical and modeling studies into the development and testing of new mechanistically targeted interventions.

Dr. Siegle is currently the Principal Investigator for an R01 project examining blunted and discordant affect as a transdiagnostic construct in psychopathology, and for a new R21/R33 project to investigate a novel somatosensory intervention for intrusive negative thinking.  Dr. Siegle has also collaborated extensively with colleagues and serves as a Co-Investigator on numerous other projects.  In addition to presenting his work at scientific conferences in the United States and Europe, Dr. Siegle has produced an impressive portfolio of 100 peer-reviewed publications.  He has published his findings in notable scientific journals including Biological Psychiatry, the American Journal of Psychiatry, and JAMA Psychiatry. 

In addition to his research activities, Dr. Siegle is also very active in the areas of training, mentorship, and service to the academic community.  He has and continues to serve as a mentor to students, postdoctoral scholars and junior faculty.  His laboratory also provides important training and collaborative opportunities to researchers at different stages of their career.  Dr. Siegle also is a member of numerous committees and task forces for scientific societies and professional organizations, and is often invited to serve as a reviewer by the federal government for new grant proposals and by scientific journals evaluating manuscripts for publication. 




LalithKumar Solai, MD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry

LalithKumar Solai, MD is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and serves as the Chief and Medical Director of Geriatric Psychiatry Services at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC (WPIC).  He is also the Medical Director of WPIC Electroconvulsive Therapy Services program and the Associate Director of the Geriatric Psychiatry Services Fellowship program.  Dr. Solai recently talked with In the Spotlight about the important roles of clinician educators and offered some advice for individuals considering this career pathway.

When did you discover that you wanted to be a clinician-educator?  My first work as a psychiatrist was in the community of Beaver County. I enjoyed doing the clinical work but realized that there were limited resources for staff education in the community away from an academic setting.  I initiated a lecture series to address this issue and it was well received and appreciated by the staff.   Once I realized that I liked teaching as much as my clinical work, I started looking for opportunities to come back to an academic center. When the opportunity to move to the WPIC Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry service arose, I happily came back here. That was the best decision I made in my career. Once I came to WPIC and the Department of Psychiatry, I got involved in the Clinician-Educator Committee Meetings and started exploring ideas to further develop the infrastructure for this career path.  

What particular mental health disorders and populations are you interested in as a clinician?  I love working with the aging population and the challenges it brings with it.  My interest is in delirium education and improvement of care for delirious patients, particularly in nursing homes.

How do you make time to work on academic projects?  I was fortunate to get a Geriatric Academic Career Award grant early on to support my work with delirium education in emergency departments.  When that funding ended, I had a lot of support from Dr. Kenneth Nash and the Department of Psychiatry to pursue my interest in the clinician educator track.  I was able to work with colleagues to implement the Clinician Educator Faculty Development Program and contribute to the development of the Academic Administrator and Clinician Educator (AACE) track for residents. I actively seek funds to support my academic projects, but one challenge facing all clinician educators is the lack of external funding opportunities for educational projects.  Most support comes from private foundation grants.  

In what ways do you collaborate with other clinician-educators or researchers in our department?  This is the most fun part of the work we do. Having a cohort of clinician educators helps in collaboration with various projects. The Annual Clinician Educator Showcase hosted by the Department of Psychiatry and WPIC provides a great platform for collaborations through networking.  As a clinician in electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), I have also been part of research projects recruiting patients for various studies. Our research colleagues are easily approachable and guide us clinician educators in writing and seeking grants.

What is your favorite or proudest accomplishment as a clinician educator? I am proud to see our department continuing to advance  the career track for clinician-educators. Though my role in this initiative has been relatively small, I consider this a significant achievement. I also am proud of my “Mini-Fellowship in Geriatric Mental Health” program, which provides multidisciplinary training in geriatric mental health to help address the workforce issues in geriatrics.  The fellowship will sponsor its second annual training week in October 2015.

What advice would you give to trainees considering a career as a clinician educator?  Stay open, stay nimble.  Pick a mentor (or two!).  Pick a project that’s close to your heart and go all out for it.



Dr. Stephanie Stepp realized the synthesis between research and clinical practice early in her academic career. As an undergraduate, she was interested in neuroscience, but was focusing on a career as a psychotherapist.  By the time she entered graduate school at the University of Missouri, she had made the decision to pursue a career as a clinical scientist.  In 2006 Dr. Stepp moved to Pittsburgh to enter the clinical psychology internship program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.  Following the internship, she obtained additional training as a postdoctoral scholar in the Pitt Department of Psychiatry’s federally funded Clinical Research Training Program for Psychologists under the mentorship of Dr. Paul Pilkonis.  Dr. Stepp joined the Department of Psychiatry faculty in 2009 and is one of the few scientists in the field investigating the developmental trajectories of borderline personality in children and adolescents.  Her work holds much promise for the early identification and prevention of this serious mental illness. 

Dr. Stepp talked with In the Spotlight about the factors that students and trainees should consider when deciding if they have what it takes to pursue a career in scientific research.  She also shared some of the techniques that she uses to manage not only her clinical and research activities, but to insure that she has time for her personal interests (including shopping and binge-watching her favorite television series!).

When did you learn you wanted to be a scientist? When I began training in clinical psychology, I planned on becoming a psychotherapist for patients with borderline personality disorder. Understanding research (and even conducting research while in graduate school) seemed integral to becoming a cutting-edge clinician so I sought a mentor in a research-oriented program. Early in my training, I saw sharp distinctions between clinical practice and clinical research: practitioners help people with psychopathology; researchers discover new things about psychopathology. However, as I gained experience in my mentor’s lab, I observed how his work influenced other scientists and impacted the larger field.  By the time I began my dissertation, a synthesis had emerged between the practice and research elements of clinical psychology. Thus, when I began my clinical psychology internship at WPIC in 2006, I intended to become a clinical scientist with the ultimate goal of helping patients with borderline personality disorder and their families.

What advice would you give to trainees considering a career as a scientist in mental health research? First, I think it’s important to identify why you want to do this work and think about whether these reasons will be sufficient to sustain you through tough times (e.g., experiments fail, papers get rejected, grants do not get funded). The things that motivate me have changed over time but identifying the “bigger picture” has been helpful to me. It’s important to know going into this career that most scientists operate on a very lean reinforcement schedule – it takes years to complete a project and rejection is part of academic life. Internal incentives (e.g., feeling gratified when learning something new) and feeling passionate about your research (e.g., believing that this work is your duty) can keep you going when you might otherwise throw in the towel. It is also critical that you find a mentor. Early in your training and career, the research area of your mentor will largely determine your research area so choose accordingly! In order to publish, it is likely that you will need access to secondary data. Discuss whether or not your mentor has datasets that will be made available to you and the parameters of working with these data. You can then begin developing ideas for writing papers with your mentor while your own data collection efforts are underway.

How can junior researchers enhance their basic understanding of statistics and other analytic methods? You have to practice, practice, and practice some more! While a course usually requires you to complete homework assignments, these will not be sufficient practice to help you understand how to apply statistics in your own work. I think you need a solid background in statistics (at least two semesters worth) but then you really must find a mentor with data that he/she will help you analyze. Then, work together to develop an idea for a paper and devise an analytic strategy that you will implement. The first time you try a new analytic method, it is likely to be incredibly frustrating! You will probably receive cryptic error messages and have no idea how to fix them. Here’s when you read articles, review online forums, call software helpdesks, consult textbooks, and review course notes to search for clues. Then, ask your mentor or other collaborators for help. It can be incredibly useful to schedule a time when your mentor will walk you through each step of the analysis and how to interpret the results.

What strategies do you use to help you with time management? How do you create time to learn about new methods and to work on new projects? On most Sunday evenings, I review my calendar for the next week, make a to-do list (I use the Wunderlist app), and set priorities for what I want to accomplish over the next 5-7 days. To stay on track, I evaluate my progress every day. I continuously strive to improve my time management skills by trying out new methods for increasing efficiency (e.g., only open email program at specified times during the day and respond to emails during two brief time blocks). After a trial period, I evaluate their effectiveness in improving my productivity. When I start a new project, I block out time in my calendar. I approach these appointments in the same way that I approach appointments for meetings – this is protected time with an agenda.

What do you do for fun/to relax? I like to shop and am happy to have the designation of “personal stylist/shopper” for my family. I also enjoy binge-watching television drama series. (I’m out of Downton Abbey and Mad Men episodes and currently taking recommendations for a new series!)



Robert Sweet, MD

Robert A. Sweet, MD
Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology

Dr. Robert Sweet and his research team are interested in what causes psychotic symptoms (delusions and hallucinations). These symptoms are core features of the most common psychotic disorder, schizophrenia, but also occur in about 50% of individuals with Alzheimer Disease. Work conducted in his lab has determined that the risk of developing psychotic symptoms during Alzheimer Disease, like the risk of developing schizophrenia, is strongly influenced by genetic variation. He and his colleagues have been asking whether some of the same genes may contribute to both disorders. They have found some evidence suggesting this may be true and are actively pursuing a definitive answer.

Investigators in the Sweet Laboratory are also interested in whether there are shared alterations within the brain that result in psychotic symptoms. This group, and others, have found that the density of dendritic spines, the site of excitatory input, is reduced in the cerebral cortex of subjects with schizophrenia. Dendritic spine loss is also an essential feature of Alzheimer Disease. Indirect evidence indicates that individuals with psychosis during Alzheimer Disease have even greater spine loss. Dr. Sweet and his team are currently testing this hypothesis directly. Their working model is that alterations in the proteins which regulate the structural plasticity of spines render them vulnerable to excessive removal. This may occur during periods in which spine elimination occurs normally (adolescence) or occurs due to an independent pathologic process (early Alzheimer Disease). This model provides a basis for translation into novel interventions to prevent or reverse spine loss by targeting any identified pathologic proteins. Check out the SweetLab to learn more about his research, including training opportunities.




It can be challenging when it comes to balancing his clinical, educational and research activities, but Dr. Robert Sweet wouldn’t have it any other way.  He’s excited about extending findings from post mortem studies conducted in his lab to create novel molecular mouse and primary neuronal culture models that will enable him to test aspects of causation. His passion for teaching and mentoring is evident as he discusses how mentoring students, postdocs and junior faculty has enriched his own career and research activities. Outside of the laboratory and classroom, Dr. Sweet demonstrates that same passion when talking about issues that he cares deeply about, such as the inequality experienced by racial and sexual minorities.

Dr. Sweet joined the Department of Psychiatry faculty at the University of Pittsburgh in 1990, and is currently Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology.  His clinical work as a geriatric psychiatrist has played an important role in his formation as a translational scientist. Over the course of his career, he has established and led an extremely successful and cutting edge research program investigating the genetic liabilities for, and the neurobiological underpinnings of, psychosis in two main disorders – Alzheimer disease (AD) and schizophrenia.  Despite his significant research responsibilities, he continues to see patients as part of his role as the director of the clinical core of the Alzheimer Disease Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Sweet has also earned a much deserved reputation as a thoughtful teacher and mentor, and an excellent administrator and academic citizen.

In the Spotlight recently talked with Dr. Sweet about his career, keeping up on the latest scientific findings, and his interests outside of the clinic and laboratory.

What new projects you are excited to be working on?  My work has focused on identifying the structural and molecular changes in cerebral cortex circuitry present in postmortem tissue from individuals with two of the most common psychotic disorders, schizophrenia and psychosis in Alzheimer disease. Although I view these studies as essential to accurately identifying the brain phenotypes of psychosis, they suffer from a fundamental limitation of postmortem studies- we cannot assert whether the changes we observe may cause psychosis, or are alternatively consequences or confounds of the psychotic state. The two new projects I have been most excited about, one in schizophrenia and one in Alzheimer disease, have been taking our postmortem findings that next step further, creating novel molecular mouse and primary neuronal culture models that allow us to test aspects of causation. We use a multistep approach. First, we identify proteins whose levels are altered in the cortex of our subjects with disease. Second, from among these proteins we select for further studies ones that have been linked genetically to psychosis risk, as these have a high probability of contributing causally to disease. Finally, we evaluate the effect of altering these genes in our model systems, to determine if they generate the structural and molecular changes we have observed in the cerebral cortex from human. In mouse models we can also assess whether they generate psychosis-associated behaviors. In the past we have had to rely on existing transgenic or knockout models, or overexpression systems, to create these models. Now, with the advent of CRISPR/CAS9 gene editing, custom models can be created quickly, reliably, and inexpensively. We just generated our first (and perhaps the first) point mutation model of schizophrenia, and hope to be characterizing these animals soon. During the past year we have been behaviorally and pathologically characterizing a molecular model of psychosis in Alzheimer disease that we developed. In the coming year we have plans to test a novel pharmacologic approach to reversing the impairments we have observed in this model.

Have you ever doubted yourself regarding your ability as a researcher? If so, how did you overcome that self-doubt? What helped you to continue to pursue a career in research?  I don’t know how someone in this field could not doubt themselves periodically. I am sure I have not fully overcome it- every time I try to move into a new area, or use a new technique, it rears up again- often aided by manuscript and grant rejection. Early in my career, however, I was faced with my most serious doubts as I struggled to obtain my first R01 after my initial K award. Like many other early researchers, I substantially misjudged a number of factors regarding developing my “innovative” research pursuits to the point where others would view them as worth investing in. What ultimately allowed me to sustain my career was the support and guidance of several mentors. My Chairman, Dr. Kupfer, arranged clinical and administrative duties that were not overwhelming to support a portion of my salary while still leaving time for research. The Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (the research program I was most closely affiliated with at the time), Dr. DeKosky, found a way to provide support for my effort in the center and helped me to secure funding for a project grant within that center that ultimately developed into an R01. I developed a relationship with a new mentor, Dr. Lewis, who provided access to resources and convinced me to train in new techniques outside of my current interests. Perhaps most importantly, he put a lot of effort into teaching me the difference between writing a good grant and an outstanding one. At the end of the day, it was the “village” of mentors I had that made all the difference.

How do you stay informed of new, very high impact publications outside your immediate interests but that might benefit your research?  Every researcher needs to figure out how to identify the important developments that may influence the questions they ask and the approaches they use to answer them. I have several methods that I use. First, I have a number of interdisciplinary collaborations. I routinely draw my collaborators out on what is new in areas they know about, but which I don’t follow actively. In addition, my collaborators’ and I forward to each other articles of interest in our areas. Second, although I am not a subscriber to Science, or Nature, I make a point of cruising their websites regularly to look for interesting new research. Year-end issues are particularly helpful to find lists of the most important recent developments. Third, my lab reads articles of interest together every other lab meeting. I ask all of my trainees to nominate papers for review, which allows them to expand my view of relevant science. Fourth, I make a point of learning about big ideas which are new to me from plenary sessions at major conferences. While this can be informative at major psychiatric conferences such as Society of Biological Psychiatry or the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, I find I often learn of more useful developments in plenary sessions at what for me is the major basic science meeting for my work, the Society for Neuroscience. Finally, I should point out that we are fortunate to have a stream of nationally renowned speakers at WPIC and at Pitt almost every week. Going to talks given by accomplished scientists, especially those outside your expertise, is always a good idea.

As a mentor or mentee, what do you think are the top 2-3 elements in successful mentoring?  To me what is exciting about the mentoring relationship is the creative interplay of ideas between the mentor and mentee. This interplay also generates some of the challenges in the relationship. There will always be some unclear boundaries regarding intellectual contributions and ownership of data or products that arise from this shared effort. As a consequence, my experience has been that the most important attributes of the mentor and mentee are those that allow useful work to flourish in the face of this uncertainty. There needs to be a generosity of spirit in the mentor- a willingness to promote and offer opportunities to the mentee, and to give of his time and effort. For the mentee an ability to sustain trust in the face of the uncertainties and vulnerabilities inherent in the situation is critical. Finally, as a dyad they need the ability to communicate openly so they can creatively problem-solve together. In particular, they need to view their primary goal as an effort to generate win-win outcomes whenever possible, ahead of outcomes only beneficial for one of them.

Are there political or social issues you feel passionately about?  Through my experiences as an adoptive parent, I entered a community of inter-racial and transgender families. That experience has led me to be profoundly concerned about inequality experienced by racial and sexual minorities. I am a strong supporter of equal rights in all aspects of life for the LGBT community, but especially around the right to marriage and parenthood. I similarly feel deeply around issues of racism in America. Not just the obvious extremist forms, but more importantly the subtle (actually only subtle to those with white privilege), institutionalized racism that is present in our country. It is perhaps most visible within the courts and police departments of the criminal justice system, but also present in industry, the arts (the Motion Picture Academy has recently come under scrutiny again), and academia. In particular I am horrified by our failure to vigorously pursue a solution to the epidemic of deaths of young black men in the inner city from gun violence. To me this issue calls out for the same national effort used to reduce fatalities due to other medical and social causes, from polio to drunk driving.


Eva M. Szigethy, MD, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Medicine

Eva M. Szigethy, MD, PhD is Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine, and Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She is the clinical director of the Medical Coping Clinic, an integrated clinical behavioral health program nested in the Division of Gastroenterology at Children’s Hospital of UPMC as well as director of the Visceral Inflammation & Pain (VIP) Center in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at UPMC Presbyterian, a similar program for adults. Dr. Szigethy’s major research interest is examining the detrimental effect of depression on disease course in physically ill youth and adults with emphasis on the neurodevelopmental trajectory of mental and physical illness as adolescents transition to adulthood. She is conducting a NIMH funded R01 study to investigate the effects of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) on the emotional state of youths, 9-17 years with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and clinically significant depression. In 2007, Dr. Szigethy was chosen by the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to receive the prestigious New Innovator Award. Dr. Szigethy’s NIH award, established to stimulate highly innovative research and support promising new investigators, allows her to utilize a translational approach to combine brain imaging as well as physiological, neuroimmunological and genetic tools to understand emotional and cognitive processing in patients with IBD with and without depression. She currently serves as President of the Association of Women Psychiatrists, an American Psychiatric Association-affiliated group of 3,200 women psychiatrists worldwide devoted to fostering excellence in women’s health and professional development. More recently, Dr. Szigethy was awarded to receive Distinguished Fellow status by the American Psychiatric Association.


Michael Travis, MD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry

The American Association of Directors of Psychiatric Residency Training (AADPRT) is committed to the education and professional development of educators, program coordinators, and their trainees across the United States. Department of Psychiatry faculty and staff in the Office of Residency Training at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC) are actively involved in a number of AADPRT activities and continue to significantly contribute to the association’s mission.

“Involvement in stakeholder entities like the AADPRT is key to having the ability to voice our opinions and recommendations on relevant issues on a national level,” said Dr.  Michael Travis, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Residency Training at WPIC. 

Since becoming a member of the association in 2005, Dr. Travis has been invited to serve on a number of taskforces and committees, and in various leadership positions. He is a former AADPRT treasurer and representative for Adult Psychiatry for the Mid-Atlantic Region, and chaired the Ginsberg Fellowship Committee. In 2014 he was appointed as the AADPRT representative to the American College of Psychiatrists’ Editorial Board for the Psychiatry Resident-In-Training Examination (PRITE®). As a member of the Steering Committee and Executive Council Dr. Travis is highly engaged in helping the association to develop and implement initiatives to improve medical education.  Dr. Travis co-directs the National Neuroscience Curriculum Initiative (NNCI) Learning Collaborative. He has played an important role in the AADPRT’s efforts to enhance neuroscience training for residents, and to encourage psychiatrists to incorporate a modern neuroscience perspective into clinical care. He is a member of the association’s Neuroscience Education and Development committees, and since 2014 has been a co-organizer of the BRAIN Conference that precedes the AADPRT annual meeting. The BRAIN conference is attended by NNCI clinician educators from across the United States.

Kim Kirchner, Academic Manager for the WPIC Office of Residency Training, has also been actively engaged in AADPRT activities for several years. She has been invited by the association to present workshops at the association’s annual meeting on the changing role of program staff and how new training program coordinators can navigate accreditation and certification requirements. Kim served as the AADPRT Professional Development Committee Chair in 2015.  In 2016 she was appointed the Chair of the AADPRT’s Psychiatry Residency Coordinators’ Caucus, where she has overseen activities designed to help coordinators enhance the administration and management of residency training programs, and to provide them with important opportunities for professional growth. 

The annual meeting of the AADPRT has also regularly featured presentations by a number of our faculty, staff, and trainees on topics ranging from using technology to teach the DSM-5 to introducing psychiatry residents to psychotherapy for the seriously mentally ill patient. We’re proud of the many ways our Department has contributed to the association’s mission and their ongoing participation in AADPRT initiatives.