Linda Spear, 70, a distinguished professor emerita of psychology at Binghamton University, died on Tuesday, Oct. 13 due to complications associated with glioblastoma, according to a Binghamton University Dateline announcement.
The professor emerita received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Western Illinois University, and her master’s and doctorate degrees in psychology with a minor in neuroscience from the University of Florida.
Spear, who retired in August, began her BU academic career in 1976 as an adjunct and assistant professor of psychology. She went on to become an associate professor in 1983 and a full professor in 1988, specializing in behavioral neuroscience. In 1998, Spear was designated a SUNY distinguished professor.
Spear’s research often centered around developmental psychopharmacology, specifically neurobehavioral function during adolescence as well as the short and long term effects of alcohol and drug abuse during adolescence, according to the BU Dateline announcement. Spear’s research interests included the impact of stressors on alcohol sensitivity during development and alcohol drinking in a social context.
According to a 2014 interview with the American Psychological Association (APA), Spear’s work was motivated by her concerns about the culture of alcohol consumption among college students.
“One issue that I am particularly concerned about is that many people, including college students, think that individuals who can hold their liquor and who don’t act particularly inebriated after a night of drinking are relatively protected from later alcohol problems when compared with those who become intoxicated more quickly,” Spear said. “The opposite is actually the case.”
In addition to her work as a professor, Spear had served as founding director of BU’s Developmental Exposure Alcohol Research Center (DEARC), a collaborative alcohol research center that seeks to understand the functional and neural effects of alcohol exposure throughout brain development. In 2011, Spear served as its scientific director, also taking on the position of training director in 2017. Throughout her time, Spear was awarded over $4.6 million dollars from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in funding for the DEARC.
Spear earned numerous awards during her time at BU, as well as nearly $15 million in funding from federal sources. Some of Spear’s honors include the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA) Lifetime Achievement Award and the Chancellor’s Research Recognition Award, a SUNY-wide award for excellence in research and creative achievement.
Spear will be remembered as a symbol of inspiration in the field of STEM for women, according to Lisa Savage, chair of the psychology department.
“She not only shaped the trajectory of developmental neuroscience at [BU] but was a pioneer for women in STEM who steered the field of developmental exposure to drugs abuse,” Savage said.
David Jentsch, a psychology professor at BU, tweeted his condolences on Oct. 13.
“All that knew her recognized her exceptional gifts as a scientist, mentor, leader and colleague,” Jentsch wrote. “She will be deeply missed. My condolences to her family, friends, past trainees and other loved ones.”
Donations in Spear’s memory can be made to Plan International, a development and humanitarian organization that advances children’s rights and equality for girls, at https://www.planusa.org/donate.
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