New program aims to increase neuroscience engagement and diversity across disciplines

September 12, 2020

A new program aimed at increasing diversity in the neuroscience community is launching this fall in the University of Chicago’s Biological Sciences Division (BSD). Supported by R25 funding provided by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), the Neuroscience Early Stage Scientists Training Program (NESSTP) will help increase the diversity of the neuroscience community and also rigorously evaluate the efficacy of the program’s components.

The BSD currently hosts a postbaccalaureate program (PREP) and graduate student training program (IMSD), both focused on trainees from groups underrepresented in the sciences, and has previously promoted the postdoctoral-to-faculty transition for underrepresented scholars through a four-year program conducted in partnership with the Big Ten Academic Alliance. These three programs are all funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NESSTP stands out as the first to incorporate multi-level training interventions across various platforms within a single program.

“This innovative program will integrate the campus community, since we have multiple strategies for engaging students and helping to carry them all the way through the different levels of neuroscience study,” said Nancy B. Schwartz, Professor of Pediatrics, Biochemistry, and Molecular Biology, Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs in the BSD, and Director of NESSTP. 

The program features multiple components, including a peer mentoring program and informal weekly workshops on various scientific topics that detail specific challenges students may face in the sciences. Summer research internships are available for undergraduate and graduate students, along with various professional development and networking opportunities. Financial resources may support research-focused travel and education, along with opportunities to take related courses through the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL).

Although NESSTP is based in the BSD, the program is open to applicants from other academic disciplines.

“The Neuroscience community is very broad and goes across all fields, even humanities,” said Peggy Mason, Professor of Neurobiology and Co-Director of NESSTP. “People don’t necessarily need to be neuroscience majors in order to participate.”

The program’s steering committee, which includes a mix of faculty, students, and a postdoctoral fellow, will monitor and analyze the overall success of the program including the outcomes among students who participate in NESSTP versus those that do not.

“We want to do everything we can to give more students opportunities to get into the lab as soon as possible, so hopefully they stick with it,” Schwartz said. “We also want to instill a sense of belonging among participating students, and make them feel like they’re really part of the neuroscience world. And ultimately, we’re hoping to increase the number of underrepresented academics in the field overall.”

For more information, visit the NESSTP website.