Honoring Bob Thompson

Saturday, May 9, 2015

On May 8th the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience held a thank you reception for Professor Bob Thompson at Bostock Library.  Thompson will be retiring in June but will continue to teach classes at Duke.

Thompson was lauded for his far-reaching impact on the University in a number of areas, from undergraduate education to campus culture to clinical psychology, as well as his personal integrity as a scholar and mentor.

 "Perhaps more than any other individual, Bob Thompson created the opportunities for pediatric and clinical child psychology to flourish at Duke,"  said longtime colleague John Curry.  "And this was all before he became Dean of Trinity College."

Thompson, who became Dean of Trinity College in 1997, returned to teaching full-time in 2008.  He holds appointments in the Departments of Psychology & Neuroscience and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Pediatrics.

Since 2009, he has consistently taught two undergraduate seminar courses:  Biological Psychology of Human Development and a first year seminar, Beyond Reason: Empathy and Identity.  Undergraduates rave about these classes, describing Thompson as a passionate instructor who is always engaged in the process of student development, especially taking the time to help students find topics of interest for final projects and meeting with them multiple times along the way.

"I do not know anyone at Duke who has been more committed to enhancing undergraduate education than Bob,"  said Associate Dean David Rabiner.  "Through his efforts and support, our department was able to launch and maintain an intensive summer research program that has provided a terrific opportunity for many talented students."

Liz Victor,  a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, has worked with Thompson since she was an undergraduate at Duke.  "When I first met Bob I was 18 years old and at that time I could not have fathomed the hugely significant role he would have in my professional and personal development," she said.  "His approach to mentorship is the perfect balance of providing empathy and support, while also pushing me to be a better clinician and researcher.  His passion for teaching, research, pediatric mental health, and personal student growth serves as a constant reminder for what I aim to achieve in my career going forward."

Thompson  was one of several  faculty members from Duke Psychiatry and  Psychology & Neuroscience  who created the Collaborative Clinical Psychology Program.  This group helped create  what is one of the top programs in the country, and one that is unique in its ability to train clinical psychologists for careers in academic psychology, academic medical centers, and the full array of scientific and professional options.  He was also founding member of the Association of Psychologists in Academic Health Centers, a professional home for psychologists in medical schools and other health centers.

Thompson became Dean of Undergraduate Affairs for Trinity College in 1997 and Trinity College Dean in 1999.  He was named Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education in 2004.  He also served as director of the Undergraduate Program in Human Development and co-director of the Faculty Associates Program. 

In 2008, The Thompson Writing Program at Duke was named in his honor.

One of Thompson's major accomplishments was helping craft Curriculum 2000, a major revision of the undergraduate curriculum that requires students to take courses in five areas of knowledge.  Thompson also promoted the creation of the Office of Undergraduate Research Support, and helped create Visible Thinking, an annual showcase of research in the natural and social sciences and the humanities by Duke students.  He was also chair of the Campus Culture Initiative Steering Committee.

As Dean of Trinity College, Thompson's open door policy and guidance was appreciated by many, said longtime former assistant Gail Hignight.  "I am not exaggerating when I say that I have seen thousands of students, faculty, administrators  and staff seek Bob out  for his guidance on everything from work issues to very personal problems," she said.

Thompson completed his undergraduate degree at La Salle University and his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of North Dakota, with an internship at Indiana University Medical Center.  He  came to Duke to be the Director of the Developmental Evaluation Center, after having been the chief psychologist at Georgetown Medical Center's interdisciplinary developmental center, and a faculty member at Catholic University.

About two years after arriving at Duke, Thompson was asked to lead the Division of Medical Psychology within the Department of Psychiatry, which he proceeded to do with great distinction for 20 years.  He increased the size of the division, the opportunities for psychologists to work with virtually all of the medical specialties, and the academic impact of Medical Psychology.

"Thompson personifies the scientist-practitioner, the psychologist who is guided in practice by the best current science, and who, when he sees gaps in the science, conducts research to find answers that will be helpful to clinicians, children and their families," Curry said.  "He has accomplished all of this with integrity, in a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect."