As a freshly minted postdoc coming from the Boston area, I was really excited about the prospects of my first faculty position in the Big Apple. With a background in pharmacology and a postdoctoral training in neuroendocrinology, I knew next to nothing about psychology and issues like biofeedback, learning and motivation, or behavioral medicine. So the possibility of collaborating with Jay Weiss in Neal Miller’s laboratoryy on the behavioral consequences of controllable versus uncontrollable stress was a challenge I readily embraced.
“Stress” was the common theme in the crowded lab we all shared for some time with Bruce McEwen’s group. And the paternal figure of Dr. Miller pervaded the lab. But it was some time before I was able to interact a bit more with him in person, given his busy national and international schedule of lectures and collaborations. Dr. Miller’s spacious office, with a great view of the East River, reflected his personal interest in – to me then – “exotic” places he had visited. I especially remember a small collection of beautifully illustrated small books on Japanese culture, which I promptly borrowed for reading. Such books, and other memorabilia, reflected Neal’s deep interest and respect for other cultures. He was interested in the knowledge preserved by indigenous cultures, which might provide potential contributions to our present day “stressed out” society.
This pervasive issue of “stress” eventually launched my own career in that direction once I left the Rockefeller University. Initially I immersed myself in my own research interest, namely alcohol research. But eventually I gravitated back to the problem of stress and the contribution it makes to excessive alcohol consumption – two present day pressing social and health problems.
I will always remember his smiling face and most importantly the kindness, interest, and encouragement Neal Miller provided to all members of his group.