A Commentary
March 2012
Peter E. Tanguay, M.D.

Jack McDermott (whose commentary appears in the Summer Issue of this newsletter) said it to me many years ago (apropos of a national psychiatric group to which we both belonged), "Whatever you do, don't ever leave this group, you'll need it in your old age!" Over many years of our friendship Jack has persuaded me to become involved in many activities and organizations: the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry, the American College of Psychiatrists, the Benjamin Rush Society, the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and a stint as Associate Editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Child Psychiatry when he was Editor. These have all proven very rewarding, not the least because they have given me and my wife, Margaret, numerous long-term collegial friendships. Old age has been defined as "ten years older than you actually are", and as we begin to approach this milestone we sincerely appreciate Jack's earlier council.

Jack was right. Our friendships here and abroad with various people in academia and research have become part of our everyday life. Meetings provide academic enrichment, but they are also the venues for continuing these friendships, much in the way the weddings and funerals play the same role in family life.

I continue to teach - academia is always looking for free expert advice - and what you who have learned through experience can be shared with others, providing that the economic realities of managed care still permit this. Fortunately my child and adolescent home at the University of Louisville still encourages mentorship.

For many years I developed video materials for use in my autism workshops. In my retirement I find that my videomaker skills are appreciated by my grand-children: they love to see themselves as they were in their earlier years. This may change with age. I can also answer questions, if questions are asked. The other day my nine-year-old grand-daughter took me aside for a serious query: "Grandpa, can I change my DNA?" she asked. They apparently are teaching about DNA in Grade 4 Science, and the school mascot is a tiger. She wished to know if she could acquire some tiger DNA to boost her genomic potential. We had a good discussion, we did. The answer, of course is "Yes, but?" Perhaps we can take it up again when she is in high school, or graduate school or when she is a post-doc.

I used to tell my young residents, "You should think of your career as something which evolves. It may move in periods of 10 or 15 years; at the end of one period, as you find the field has changed because of new knowledge, you may wish to re-invent yourself within psychiatry and pursue another line of clinical or research enterprise. That's what I have done and it has proven valuable to me. If what you are doing is no longer productive, find something else that is. In my own career I have made several shifts in my research enterprise, mostly driven by technology. Today, much of the front-line research in autism (a field in which I have worked for the past 45 years) has shifted to projects which require tons of money, numerous personnel from a variety of disciplines, and hundreds of research subjects. Genetic and Neurobiological studies will surely teach us what we do not know about genetics and neurobiology; eventually it should lead to a better understanding of the genetics and neurobiology of brain development and function. This should eventually lead us to a better a better understanding of the autism spectrum. To know more about the autism spectrum we will need to study what is currently called the "social brain". This may prove a daunting task. But I follow this research with great interest, hoping to learn more, which I can then teach to the residents and fellows.

I will be at the next Annual Meeting of the Academy. Hope to see you there.

Peter E. Tanguay, M.D.
Ackerly Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (Emeritus)
University of Louisville Medical School