Diversity in Neurosciences

Encouraging diversity in the neurosciences

By Charlotte Gordon

In an effort to increase diversity in the neurosciences, Washington University has received a federal grant to participate in a national pipeline program with that mission.

“The future of neuroscience research requires talented, diverse scientists,” Herzog said. “We aim to attract, retain and train the next generation of neuroscientists in basic and translational research. We must, for example, recognize that diseases of the nervous system can affect populations that have been understudied.”

Erik D. Herzog, PhD, professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, and Rochelle D. Smith, assistant provost of diversity initiatives, received a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) for a program to encourage undergraduates from diverse backgrounds to pursue graduate study, such as PhD or MD-PhD programs, in the neurosciences or related fields.

The Blueprint Program for Enhancing Neuroscience Diversity through Undergraduate Research Education Experiences (BP-ENDURE) is an initiative of multiple institutes at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).Herzog is director of the program, and Smith is program manager. Smith also is the director of diversity, summer programs and community outreach for the university’s Division of Biology & Biomedical Sciences. Lorren Buck and Diana Jose-Edwards serve as program coordinators.

BP-ENDURE launched in 2005 to provide five-year grants for up to six undergraduate programs. In addition to training undergraduates in the interdisciplinary neurosciences, the programs aim to develop research tools and create research resources for the neuroscience community and research institutions.

In this round of funding, only three new programs were awarded, including the BP-ENDURE: St. Louis Neuroscience Pipeline Program. The St. Louis Pipeline is a collaboration among neuroscientists at Washington University, the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Harris-Stowe State University. Undergraduate minority students from these and other institutions around the country were encouraged to apply. Nine students were selected based on their strong academic records, letters of recommendation and deep interest in neuroscience.

Program participants engage in two paid summers and one academic year of intensive, independent neuroscience research under the mentorship of Washington University faculty. They receive a $5,000 stipend and will work directly with Herzog, Smith and the participating faculty to gain individualized career counseling and mentorship. In addition, participants engage in writing workshops, research seminars and social activities.

The first group began the program in late May. They are engaged in research on topics such as the genetics of Parkinson’s disease, the molecular basis of brain cancers, the cells involved in reward behaviors, the circuits underlying the response to stress and ways to improve the resolution of brain scans.

Some are students at WashU or Harris-Stowe, but others attend Carleton College, George Mason University, Harvard University, Oberlin College and San Diego State University.

For eligibility and other details, visit the BP-ENDURE St. Louis website.