Robert A. Steer, EdD, as told to Mary Ann Littell
A. Steer, EdD, professor of psychiatry, UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic
psychologist with expertise in computers and statistics, I
have been involved in numerous research projects throughout
my career - so many, in fact, that I now find myself unexpectedly
listed among the most highly cited researchers in the world.
This designation, which is given by the Institute for Scientific
Information, means that "the individual is among the 250 most
cited researchers for their published articles within a specific
time period. Citation is a direct measure of influence on
the literature of a subject."
professor of psychiatry at the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic
Medicine (SOM), my primary responsibility involves helping
clinicians design and conduct research projects. I have collaborated
with many researchers about a variety of topics, including
depression, substance abuse, suicide ideation, alcoholism,
child sexual abuse, geriatric issues, headaches, and pain.
My major interests include the application of computers to
the evaluation and treatment of psychopathology in psychiatric
patients and the development of psychological and psychiatric
scales to improve diagnosis and treatment.
to say that I work with geniuses: the clinicians who generate
the great ideas for research studies. They are out front,
while I work behind the scenes. Because of my statistical
skills and experience with data management, I help them translate
their ideas into operational hypotheses that can be tested.
The researchers are the ones who get the grants, and I provide
them with the tools to do their work.
in computer technology goes all the way back to my college
days. I first began working with computers in 1961, as an
undergraduate at Haverford College. Back then, faculty and
students were just starting to get access to large mainframe
computers, but few people knew how to use them. I was fascinated
by these computers and spent a lot of time learning how to
use them. Because I was majoring in psychology, I wondered,
'How do I tie these two things together?'
graduate student at Columbia University's Teachers College,
where I earned my doctorate in counseling psychology, I was
offered a job as a research assistant because of my computer
skills. The chair of the counseling department, Donald E.
Super, PhD, needed someone to help him with the statistical
analyses of the data from his famous Career Pattern Study.
The job was a perfect fit for me and gave me a chance to hone
my computer skills even more. Eventually, I completed my counseling
psychology internship at the Veterans Administration Hospital
in Coatesville, PA, and my doctoral dissertation was about
retirement satisfaction among educators. I was starting to
see a definite connection between computers and technology.
I became Chief of Addictive Research and Evaluation at the
West Philadelphia Community Mental Health Consortium and was
again offered the position because of my statistical expertise
as well as my knowledge of psychology. When I first met the
counselors who worked there, I noticed that most of them seemed
very dejected. They were also questioning whether their work
with heroin addicts had any lasting effects. Counselors who
work with chronically mentally ill or substance abuse patients
often feel that their efforts are futile because the patients
keep being re-admitted for the same problems. Today, the phenomenon
I observed would be called professional "burn-out."
to develop a project to help the counselors, and my medical
director asked me to contact Aaron T. Beck, MD, a psychiatrist
at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Beck sent me one of
his psychiatric residents, A. John Rush, MD, who helped me
conduct group counseling sessions with the staff. My introduction
to Tim Beck turned out to be a pivotal point in my career,
and we have now been collaborating on research projects for
more than 31 years. Tim was a world-renowned psychiatrist
back then, but I had never heard of him. Over the years, he
has developed a number of instruments for assessing mental
illness, such as the Beck Depression Inventory, the Beck Anxiety
Inventory, etc. In 1988, Tim became an adjunct professor of
psychiatry at SOM, and we began adapting his scales for administration,
scoring, and interpretation by desktop computers. He has actively
participated in a variety of different research projects,
not only with me, but with other SOM faculty members and psychiatric
to surveys, the Beck Depression Inventory is the most frequently
used psychological test in the world, and the other Beck scales
are also widely used. I have co-authored the majority of the
manuals for Tim's scales and published numerous articles about
them. Many of these articles have also involved other faculty
members from SOM's Department of Psychiatry, such as David
Rissmiller, DO, the acting chair, and Geetha Kumar, MD, the
vice-chair. Tim and I are continuing to revise and refine
his instruments for use in a variety of different areas. The
tests have been adapted for geriatric, pediatric and HIV patients.
In response to requests from HMOs to construct an instrument
that can be used to screen for depression in medical outpatients,
the Beck Depression Inventory-FastScreen for Medical Patients
was developed. Because the Beck scales are so widely used,
it's no wonder that I am so frequently cited!
hired at SOM in 1984 as a "bridge scientist"- to help clinicians
develop their research projects. I currently teach courses
in psychological testing and psychometrics, which is the psychological
science of measuring cognitive or mental phenomena, such as
personality or intelligence. I also help psychiatric residents
and medical students with various research projects. At work,
I speak computerese, statistics, the jargon of the American
Psychological Association's Manual of Style, and even English
to my position in the Department of Psychiatry, I am an adjunct
professor in SOM's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
because of my work in helping Theresa Scholl, PhD, with her
studies about adolescent pregnancy. For a number of years,
I have collaborated with Esther Deblinger, PhD, the Clinical
Director of SOM's New Jersey CARES Institute in Stratford,
and she has recently received a major grant to study the effects
of short- and long-term cognitive therapy vs. short- and long-term
exposure therapy for the treatment of sexually abused children.
I also have co-authored studies with SOM Dean R. Michael Gallagher,
DO, and Loretta Mueller, DO, about cluster headaches in men
and migraines in women.
1992, I have represented SOM on the Academic Information Technology
Advisory Committee (AcITAC) and have twice served as its chair;
this is the Committee that is responsible for recommending
the types of new educational, research, and clinical technologies,
such as videoconferencing and distant-learning applications,
that might benefit all of the UMDNJ schools. Finally, I have
also had the privilege of being the chair of the Camden/Stratford
Campus Committee on Research Integrity since 1990.