BRAINS is diversifying academic leadership in neuroscience

National program positively impacts retention of over 150 neuroscientists from underrepresented groups

Seattle, WA--November 13, 2019--Retention of highly-skilled scientists from diverse and underrepresented groups is critical for increased innovation in neuroscience. Unfortunately, individuals from underrepresented groups often have higher turnover rates, especially early in their career, due to a greater sense of isolation and inequitable access to networks, mentors, and key resources that affect career success. Since 2011, Broadening the Representation of Academic Investigators in NeuroScience (BRAINS) has connected over 150 accomplished early-career neuroscientists from underrepresented groups to skill development opportunities and a dynamic network of professionals in the biomedical workforce. 

BRAINS is a national program based at the University of Washington designed to accelerate and improve the career advancement of neuroscience postdoctoral scholars and assistant professors from underrepresented groups (including certain race, ethnicity, and disability status groups). Participants access the program either through an in-person, 4-day immersive symposium (Fellows Cohort) or through a virtual workshop platform (Affiliates Cohort). In both types of cohorts, the BRAINS philosophy focuses on building a sense of community, self efficacy, and agency around topics such as mentoring, managing conflict, establishing a career, mastering teaching, and facing discrimination such as racism and sexual harrassment in academic environments. Since its inception, BRAINS has hosted 4 Fellows Cohorts and 3 Affiliates Cohorts. 

Funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke (NINDS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of the program’s long-term goals is to increase diversity in academic and scientific leadership. When Dr. Sheri Mizumori, Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington and Principal Investigator for the program, describes BRAINS to senior leaders in academic neuroscience, “they instantly see the value of the program and the unique contributions BRAINS makes to the lives of our participants and to the field of neuroscience.” The participants affirm this experience. “I have never felt more relevant or like I belong in this field than I feel now,” one Fellow recently said. “This program has provided me with literally every tool, resource, network that I need to survive as a URM in neuroscience.” 

Each year the BRAINS community and impact grows. Most recently, BRAINS welcomed its 2019 cohort of 31 Fellows and 11 Affiliates coming from institutions all over the United States. 

The 2019 Fellows Symposium covered an array of critical career development topics, facilitated by 12 senior-level neuroscientists representing academia, government, and industry. Topics included:

  • Getting the Mentoring You Need to Succeed
  • Moving from Time Management to Life Leadership
  • Thriving while In/Visible  
  • Communicating the Impact of Your Research 
  • Navigating Organizations and Tenure 
  • Connecting through Conversations: Race, Gender, and Sexual Harassment

“These sessions were fantastic!” said one Fellow. “I am leaving with a plan and things I can do to make my research more productive and help me achieve my goals. I feel recharged (yet exhausted) and ready to hit the ground running. The information and contacts I have made are irreplaceable.” 

The immersive experience also results in powerful connections. Another Fellow said, “After this symposium I can say I finally feel part of a scientific community. I feel more encouraged and empowered. I no longer feel alone even if I will go back to a less diverse and welcoming environment.”

The 2019 Affiliates participated in a virtual workshop series addressing Getting the Mentoring You Need to Succeed, Moving from Time Management to Life Leadership, and Thriving while In/Visible. One Affiliate said, of this online professional development experience, “[BRAINS] created an environment of trust and professionalism that allowed me to feel as a part of an important group.  It is composed of people who want to make a difference and who are working hard to move forward. In many ways it sends a clear message that you are not alone, you matter, and despite your differences you have a lot to contribute.”

As the program expands, there are more opportunities for cross-cohort exchanges. For example, in the 2019 Affiliates Thriving while In/Visible affiliates virtual workshop, two participants from past Fellows Cohorts were featured panelists. This exchange continues to increase the network. “For me…” said one Affiliate, “the greatest support I have received from BRAINS is the BRAINS network of peers (trainees) and established faculty.”

Every year, all BRAINS cohort members are invited to connect with each other at the annual Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting. At the most-recent meeting this October in Chicago, IL, the BRAINS community contributed over 30 posters, presentations, and mini symposia, and had the opportunity to connect in person at a reunion intended to facilitate engagement and further grow the BRAINS community. According to participants, this unique sense of community is an aspect that separates BRAINS from other professional development programs. “This family is unlike anything I’ve ever known,” said one Fellow. “The trust, the connection, the emotional & scientific encouragement/engagement, and unconditional support provided by BRAINS is unmatched.”

2019 BRAINS Fellows Cohort, September 2019

About BRAINS

BRAINS began in 2011 with financial support from the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke (NINDS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Today that support continues to a tune of about $2.66M. BRAINS is directed by Dr. Sheri Mizumori, BRAINS PI and Professor of Psychology, UW, Dr. Joyce Yen, BRAINS Co-I and Director, ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change, UW, and Dr. Claire Horner-Devine, BRAINS Co-I and Founder, Counterspace Consulting. We gratefully acknowledge the support received from the NINDS of NIH (grants R25NS076416 and R25NS094094) and the Washington Research Foundation.

For more information about BRAINS, please visit: http://brains.washington.edu 

CONTACT: brains@uw.edu, 206-543-4605