The so-called leaky academic pipeline has an especially severe drip as postdoctoral researchers move on to faculty positions. The transition can be markedly difficult for underrepresented minorities, including racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and those from socially or culturally disadvantaged backgrounds.
“This is a particularly vulnerable time in their careers,” said Sheri Mizumori, professor and chair of the UW psychology department. “Becoming a faculty member requires individuals to assume many more different kinds of responsibilities than what graduate school has prepared them to do. This can be discouraging to young scientists, especially minorities who lack role models with similar backgrounds.”
Mizumori, a neuroscientist, received a $1.3 million grant last year from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to create a professional development program to nurture neuroscientists who are underrepresented minorities as they enter faculty positions.
Now neuroscientists from around the country are invited to apply to the program, called BRAINS (Broadening the Representation of Academic Investigators in NeuroScience). The program is for underrepresented minorities in neuroscience who have their doctorate and are in postdoctoral research positions or in the first few years of a faculty job. Applications are due Aug. 15.
“Each doctorate-level underrepresented minority in science and engineering is so hard-earned, and we don’t want to lose any of them,” said Joyce Yen, co-principal investigator and program coordinator of BRAINS. She has been involved with similar efforts to boost numbers of women in tenure-track faculty positions in biology.
Neuroscientists further along in their careers will share tips and anecdotes about professional activities such as proposal writing, establishing an independent research program, navigating toward tenure and work-life balance. The symposium will be followed by peer mentoring and opportunities for in-depth career counseling.
“The idea behind these programs is to allow a community to form,” Yen said. “It’s really powerful to have a relatively small group of people meet in a remote location over the course of a few days. It provides a deeper version of networking than typical conferences.”
She added that many early-career scientists only have one career model – their doctorate adviser – and that can be limiting. “Maybe your adviser doesn’t look like you or have what you want,” Yen said. “But if you connect with other scientists and hear a multitude of career stories, that could open your eyes to a variety of successful paths through academia.”
While aimed at neuroscience – a field that, among others, has noticed a dip in diversity as researchers progress through academic jobs – leaders of BRAINS hope that it will become a model for boosting diversity in other science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.