Jay Schulkin

In Memory


Jay Schulkin, a remarkably broad and prolific scholar and intellectual, passed away March 17, 2023 at the age of 70. Jay was a behavioral neuroscientist, a philosopher, and a public policy commentator. At the time of his death, he was finishing his 40th book.

Jay grew up in New York City, drawn as a teenager to the rough and tumble of street life. He left high school in the 10th grade, until the overdose death of a friend prompted him to reconsider the importance of formal education. Jay then took night courses at a local college to pass his high school equivalency exam, and went on to attend SUNY Purchase as an undergraduate, where his close connection with two professors changed his life. The first was George Wolf, a behavioral neuroscientist, who infected Jay with his own fascination with the scientific method and its application to understanding brain mechanisms of sodium appetite (namely, the intense desire to seek out and consume sodium containing salts that results from sodium depletion). Wolf was a former student of Neal Miller (Yale), a pioneer and towering figure in the neurobehavioral analysis of motivation and reward, who described sodium appetite as a model motivational system. The second, crucial intellectual influence during Jay’s early years at Purchase was Robert Neville, a philosopher, who gave Jay a lifelong devotion to the history of philosophy, and a special appreciation for the school of thought called pragmatism begun by William James, John Dewey and Charles Sanders Peirce.

Jay went on for graduate study to the University of Pennsylvania, first entering its PhD program in philosophy and later finishing with a PhD in anatomy and neuroscience, with a special focus on brain mechanisms of sodium appetite. In truth, Jay pursued both lines of study throughout his graduate school years at Penn, and for four decades beyond. Jay formed strong interpersonal bonds at Penn while investigating the neural and behavioral mechanisms of sodium appetite (he referred to it as sodium hunger and used that term in the title of his second book in 1991). Jay worked on sodium hunger in two separate labs at Penn, both Alan Epstein’s in Biology and Harvey Grill’s in Psychology. His Penn collaborations led to life-long connections with many friends and colleagues, including Kent Berridge, Alan Spector, Paul Breslin, Mike Nitabach, Harvey Grill, Ralph Norgren, Micah Leshem, Laurival De Luca, Randall Sakai, and others. Eliot Stellar, professor and chair of Anatomy and former Penn Provost served as Jay’s Ph.D. mentor. It seems fair to say that Eliot Stellar and George Wolf together were Jay’s two chief scientific role models. Another important scientific figure for Jay was Bruce McEwen (Rockefeller U.), a leader in the analysis of stress hormone effects on brain and behavior, whom Jay first met through a NIMH program project group at Penn, and who later served as Jay’s postdoc mentor. Bruce and Jay pursued questions related to the neural analysis of adrenal steroid stress hormones, in a variety of animal models. Jay subsequently took a position as branch coordinator and research associate in clinical neuroendocrinology at NIMH working closely at times with Phil Gold, who further inspired his long interest in roles of corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) in stress and motivation. At NIMH, Jay pursued his interest in stress hormone neurobiology working on a variety of problems including fear, anxiety, allostatic load, and even shyness in children.

During his career, Jay Schulkin held positions at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Behavioral Endocrinology intramural division of the National Institutes of Mental Health. Jay also had professorial affiliations with Georgetown University and the University of Washington, and had many other academic liaisons, which culminated in his final appointment shortly before his death as a Visiting Fellow of Gonville and Caius College at Cambridge University.

Jay’s intellectual interests were vast, his energy prodigious, and he excelled at multitasking and switching back and forth between disciplines. Throughout his life, he had enormous intellectual energy and enthusiasm, taking up and finishing a project with impressive speed and focus, and instantly eager to move on to the next. In addition to his 40 books, Jay Schulkin published over 500 articles and chapters on topics ranging from practices in gynecology and obstetrics, fetal development, stress neurobiology, sodium hunger, history of philosophy, pragmatism, logic, and public policy.

Beyond his many scholarly and scientific contributions, Jay was a remarkably devoted husband, father, and friend. Jay leaves behind his loving wife of 33 years, April Oliver, and his children Danielle Schulkin and Nick Schulkin. Jay’s many friends remain grateful to his affectionate efforts continually to reach out and keep in touch with an enormously wide range of people in his social and intellectual universe. His compassion and concern for others was always at forefront. Jay Schulkin was especially prized, and is now dearly missed, by so many fortunate enough to encounter his intellectual enthusiasm, compassion, and zest for life.


Written by:
Kent Berridge and Harvey Grill