Psychology Professor Reflects on 43-Year SCU Career as Retirement Nears
Numan taught, involved students in his brain research
By Ally O'Connor '20
This spring quarter, beloved psychology professor Robert Numan will teach his final class at Santa Clara University before retiring. Numan, whom current Department of Psychology Chair Patricia Simone (Psychology and Neuroscience) describes as “an integral part of the psychology community,” has taught at SCU since 1976.
Numan came to SCU after four years of postdoctoral research on the East Coast. He observed that coming to SCU fulfilled his dream of working in the Bay Area with a “large laboratory and fair amount of equipment.”
In his years at SCU, Numan has taught a variety of classes, including Introductory Psychology, Comparative Animal Behavior, and Psychobiology of Aging.
In addition to his teaching, Numan also pursued two lines of research during his tenure at SCU. One aspect of his research, supported by National Institute of Health grant funding, used rodents to study alcoholism. “Until about 1985, I developed [a] model of alcoholism using intravenous infusions. This model was successful and included physical dependence on alcohol (physical withdrawal symptoms when alcohol infusions were discontinued), and self-administration (via lever press in an operant chamber, a.k.a. a Skinner Box) of alcohol in large doses that maintained physical dependence.” The research informed further research on human alcohol dependence.
Numan’s research then turned to studying the brain mechanisms of rodents that is responsible for mediating the strengthening of memories. His research "studied the roles of the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus in the consolidation of episodic memory” noted Numan. As he worked on both projects, Numan published numerous journal articles regarding his findings.
SCU undergraduate students served as research assistants in both of Numan’s studies, and many of them are listed as co-authors on published manuscripts, having provided what Numan described as “essential assistance” that allowed his work to “come to fruition.” The students’ participation in his research “ultimately proved critical for the professional development of these students, many going on to professional careers in psychology, medicine, and law.”
Throughout his SCU career, Numan was an engaged member of the SCU community. He served as chair of the Department of Psychology for nine years. He also more recently served as president of the Faculty Senate. Numan “very much enjoyed my years at Santa Clara.” In his upcoming retirement, he plans to spend more time with his horse, Darlin’O, return to long distance running and pursue wildlife photography. He also is considering writing a book about memory and the brain.