Faculty and Staff Features for April 2018

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Robert Balster, Ph.D., affiliate professor, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology

Robert L. Balster, Ph.D.
Robert L. Balster, Ph.D.

The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics has awarded Balster the 2018 P.B. Dews Lifetime Achievement Award for Research in Behavioral Pharmacology. On April 21, ASPET recognized Balster for his achievements in research, teaching, and professional service in the field of behavioral pharmacology at the organization’s annual meeting in San Diego.

“Bob is known for his ability to form teams, to inspire others to work together and to develop new programs while being an accessible and amiable colleague,” said Katherine Nicholson, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at VCU School of Medicine. “He is one of the most collegial and positive individuals I have known.”

Balster is widely recognized for his seminal contributions to the development of behavioral pharmacology as a discipline and his work to advance the field of substance abuse research. He was first to utilize operant behavior to study the ability of animals to detect the interoceptive effects of psychoactive drugs, establishing the drug discrimination paradigm. He is also widely known for his pioneering work with phencyclidine (PCP).s

Balster received his doctoral degree in psychology from the University of Houston in 1970. He joined VCU as faculty in 1973. He is the co-founder and co-director of the International Programme in Addiction Studies and associate coordinator of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program in Substance Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Policy. He also co-founded the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products at VCU.


Dipankar Bandyopadhyay, Ph.D., professor, Department of Biostatistics, School of Medicine; director, Biostatistics Shared Resource Core, Massey Cancer Center

Dipankar Bandyopadhyay, Ph.D.
Dipankar Bandyopadhyay, Ph.D.

Bandyopadhyay has been named a fellow of the American Statistical Association. The distinction is one of ASA’s top honors, with only one-third of 1 percent of the total membership designated as fellows. Individuals are nominated by their ASA colleagues and the ASA Committee on Fellows evaluates each candidate’s contributions, including factors such as research, teaching, mentoring, occupation, service to the ASA and broader community, professional activities and accomplishments in other organizations. 

Bandyopadhyay was recognized for “innovative statistical applications to high-impact problems in oral epidemiology and public health; for excellent research contributions to survival analysis, correlated data, spatial epidemiology and robust regression; for extensive interdisciplinary collaborations; and for exemplary service to the profession.

He and 60 other fellows from across the world will be inducted at a ceremony July 31 at the 2018 Joint Statistical Meetings in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

“I am humbled and honored to be elected an ASA fellow,” Bandyopadhyay said. “This is a significant honor for the Department of Biostatistics and VCU. This recognition has elevated my career towards an upward trajectory and will continue to inspire me to contribute more towards the profession.”  

Bandyopadhyay joined the VCU faculty in 2015 after positions at the University of Minnesota and the Medical University of South Carolina. He received his undergraduate and master’s degrees in mathematical statistics from the University of Calcutta in Kolkata, India, and a doctorate in statistics from the University of Georgia. 

The ASA is the world’s largest community of statisticians. It is the second-oldest, continuously operating professional association in the country. Since its founding in Boston in 1839, the ASA has supported excellence in the development, application and dissemination of statistical science through meetings, publications, membership services, education, accreditation and advocacy. The group has nearly 19,000 members in more than 90 countries.


Jessica Salvatore, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Psychology, College of Humanities and Sciences.

Jessica Salvatore, Ph.D.
Jessica Salvatore, Ph.D.

Salvatore is the recipient of the 2018 Early Career Investigator Award from the Research Society on Alcoholism, the largest society for scientists studying alcoholism and alcohol-related problems. 

The award recognizes an early career scientist who has “demonstrated research excellence, potential to be a future leader and a commitment to the alcohol field.”

Danielle M. Dick, Ph.D., a professor in the Departments of Psychology and Human and Molecular Genetics and director of the VCU College Behavioral and Emotional Health Institute, said Salvatore started working with her as a postdoctoral fellow several years ago. Salvatore is now associate director of the EDGE Laboratory (Examining Development, Genes, and Environment) that Dick directs. 

“She subsequently moved into a faculty position and has established her own very interesting line of research on romantic relationships and alcohol use,” said Dick, who nominated Salvatore for the award, along with other researchers in the National Institutes of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism COGA project (Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism).

 “I have had the pleasure of watching her develop into a remarkable and widely respected early career investigator, as evidenced by the fact that the senior investigators across the COGA project, who are recognized and award-winning experts in our field, wanted to nominate Jessica for this award,” Dick said. 

Salvatore said Dick and the members of the VCU EDGE Lab “make doing the work a lot of fun.”

“I am fortunate to have an amazing group of mentors and colleagues at VCU and beyond who make the pursuit of a scientific career possible,” Salvatore said, adding that she owes special thanks to Dick, ”who sparked my interest in alcohol research and led my nomination for this award.”

Recipients of the Early Career Investigator Award receive a plaque and cash award at the research society’s annual meeting, which will be held June 16-20 in San Diego, California. The recipients also present a plenary at the following year’s meeting, which will be in Minneapolis in 2019.