A reflection: Neuroscience Diversity Commission one year milestone
The Neuroscience Diversity Commission is marking one year since forming. Commission Chair Manuel Gomez-Ramirez, Ph.D., penned a letter on behalf of the commission reflecting on the year’s accomplishments, impact, and future.
What a year this has been! During the past 12 months, we have all had our fair share of challenging and promising experiences that have really transformed us in a very meaningful and profound way. Some of these experiences have been bleak, but we have emerged from them full of hope and enthusiasm. For some of us, that hope began last August when we first met to form the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience Diversity Commission (NDC). The NDC is a diverse group of neuroscientists’ across multiple levels including students and staff. The meeting was the brainchild of a poignant letter written by the Director of the Del Monte Institute, John Foxe, Ph.D. It was a letter that went beyond saying the right thing, following the senseless murder of George Floyd, it instead laid out necessary actions and promised change in a way that has transformed our lives. One year later, we have now witnessed how it has also changed the lives of others.
We are all very proud of all that we have accomplished in the past year, despite being in the middle of the relentless COVID pandemic. NDC has been meeting every other week throughout this entire year to develop a targeted and pragmatic agenda with the primary goal of generating meaningful change in the community to ensure that aspiring neuroscientists of any background can feel like they belong. We take great pride in the pipeline programs we have created to bring bright young scientists, from underserved groups, into neuroscience labs across the Medical Center and the University. In a few short months, we developed and implemented a partnership program with The City College of New York (CCNY) called NEUROCITY. For 10-weeks this summer, eight undergraduate students from CCNY made Rochester home. This partnership allowed the students to understand what a career in research would look like and that it is a realistic and attainable goal. One of the rising seniors shared this with us: “The program has helped me tremendously to understand how graduate school and research work. It has also allowed me to explore the neuroscience field, something that I never thought of doing before, and now it is a career I am considering pursuing.”
We have watched this program change more than the lives of the students at the bench – it has also impacted the perspective of bench mentors and faculty who were there as these students excelled and grew as trainees and people.
We also developed a new partnership program with East High School in the Rochester City School District, wherein high school students are immersed in research experience in neuroscience labs at the University and Medical Center. This program, termed NEUROEAST, was such a success that we have doubled the student enrollment for this fall semester. Programs like NEUROCITY and NEUROEAST do more than inspire young scientists; they remove barriers and create the pipelines necessary to ensure future students have access to neuroscience and research. Progress like this is only possible because of the support of exceptional members of the community, including leadership from the Summer Scholars Program, Graduate Education and Post-doctoral Affairs, and Center for Visual Science, who have generously devoted their time and effort to ensure that our programs are successful. Our tremendous progress is also a reflection of the commitment made by the leadership of the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in our field. The institute provides us with enough financial and logistical support to ensure that our initiatives are ultimately successful and sustainable.
We are part of the great momentum happening in the work of diversity and inclusion across the University and Medical Center. This is evident in the many accomplishments of the Equity and Anti-Racism Action Plan, which is starting to gain traction after a year of infrastructure building. The plan called for each department to appoint a Diversity and Inclusion Officer and for those officers to receive training to help them be ambassadors for the plan. We felt this momentum building when we hosted a Round Robin event for neuroscience-related departments across the University and Medical Center to share their ideas, programs, and insight. The turnout was fantastic, with presenters from Biomedical Engineering, Biostatistics and Computational Biology, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Neurology, Neuroscience, and Psychiatry. We learned a lot about other efforts taking place across our campuses and have identified specific areas where we can combine efforts to further maximize our goals of diversity and inclusion at the University and Medical Center.
Attracting and retaining underrepresented faculty is key to the effort of the NDC. We believe that having a diverse bench will bring valuable perspectives and backgrounds. It also gives students faculty who look like them and who have similar life experiences. Assistant Professor Benjamin Suarez-Jimenez, Ph.D., is an example of this. He came to the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience in January 2021. Originally from Puerto Rico, he is also one of the 15 members of the NDC. Last spring, he came across a letter about diversity and inclusion that resonated with him – he would later learn that was the same letter that started the NDC. It helped solidify his decision to come to Rochester as he was already talking to John Foxe, Ph.D., about a possible faculty position. We hope the work of the commission continues to help bring in more faculty from diverse backgrounds.
There is much work to be done to make the systemic changes necessary to transform academia. We are keeping this in mind as we prepare our white paper to lend recommendations to leadership, and as we build and implement a badging system to provide diversity and inclusion training for faculty and bench mentors. This mentorship training will create accountability and ensure that all who enter the lab are treated equitably. As part of our pipeline initiatives, we are also developing a post-baccalaureate program to help prospective neuroscientists pursue a career in academia or industry.
What we have accomplished in the last year is just the beginning – as Dr. Foxe wrote last June: “Transformational change requires bold and decisive action.” Yet, we are moving in the right direction and with great momentum. The success to date gives us hope that we will change how we look at the bench, making sure the best and brightest – no matter their skin color, creed, or socioeconomics – have the necessary resources and opportunities to access the research world. It is imperative that science, neuroscience, is accessible to all because this ensures that transformational discoveries about the brain are made, thus ultimately benefiting our community and society in general. We at the NDC are committed to making the University of Rochester an exemplary institution that can serve as a model for others.
Manuel Gomez-Ramirez, Ph.D., on behalf of Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience Diversity Commission
Lab access: Diversifying the bench
(Image captured in July 2021)
NEUROCITY is one of two pipelines to neuroscience recently created by the University of Rochester Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience Diversity Commission (NDC). The program is a partnership with City College of New York aimed at giving underrepresented minority students access to neuroscience research labs. In a similar vein, NEUROEAST, another pipeline program with similar goals, welcomed two high school students from East High School in the Rochester City School District into The Haptics Lab in the Brain and Cognitive Science Department at the University.
“These programs have begun invaluable partnerships,” said Manuel Gomez-Ramirez, Ph.D., NDC chair. “Being able to provide these students a real-world experience in working research labs sets the foundation for the future of science. Progress in neuroscience depends on having the best researchers doing the work. And to find the best, we must provide access to all." READ MORE
NEUROCITY students find fun outside the lab
Members of the NDC organized a number of group activities for NEUROCITY students during their time in Rochester. The group worked together to try to get out of an escape room, visited the Rochester Public Market and tried cuisine from some of Rochester's favorite food trucks, and they also went rock climbing. The final group activity was held at Radio Social.
New program puts students from CCNY in neuroscience labs this summer
The Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience Diversity Commission (NDC) is working to create a pipeline for underrepresented minorities interested in pursuing neuroscience research. Eight undergraduate students from City College of New York (CCNY) are living and working at the University of Rochester this summer as part of a new program called NEUROCITY. NEUROCITY is a partnership between the University and City College New York.
“This is program has begun an invaluable partnership between the University of Rochester and CCNY. Giving these students a place to come and get hands-on research experience. This opportunity could have a significant impact on their future education, career, and ultimately on the future of science,” said Manuel Gomez-Ramirez, Ph.D. NDC chair. “We need to have the best at the bench, and part of doing that is removing barriers.”
For ten weeks, students are working in neuroscience labs across the University and Medical Center, each under a co-mentorship of University and CCNY faculty. They are also paired with a graduate student or post-doctoral trainee who will help them read journal articles, conduct lab work, and build a poster that they will present at the culmination of the program.
“Our goal is to give students interested in the field of neuroscience an experience and opportunity they may otherwise not have,” said Duje Tadin, Ph.D., professor and chair of Brain & Cognitive Sciences. One of the students, Yacinda Hernandez, is working in the Tadin Lab this summer, using virtual reality and EEG to understand sensory function in both neurotypical individuals and people with autism spectrum disorder. “The pool of students working with us this summer is exceptional and is yet another example of how the field of neuroscience benefits from being more inclusive.”
“This summer, NEUROCITY is giving eight very motivated and talented City College students the chance to study in a field normally out of their reach,” said Robert Melara, Ph.D., professor and chair of Psychology at CCNY. “They are loving the experience. We hope that this internship opens a door to their future doctoral education and a career in neuroscience. Indeed, some of the students have already begun their Ph.D. applications.”
The Institute is committed to providing all scholars interested in scientific research, particularly in the field of neuroscience, access to the best educational opportunities.
Pipeline program puts Rochester high school students in neuroscience lab
A new program is providing more access to neuroscience research. In May, NEUROEAST, a Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience Diversity Commission program, welcomed two students from EAST High School in the city of Rochester School District into The Haptics Lab in the Brain and Cognitive Science Department at the University of Rochester. The NEUROEAST program is designed to give underrepresented minority students access to scientific research in an academic setting.
“Being able to provide these students a real-world experience in a working research lab is setting the foundation for the future of science," Manuel Gomez-Ramirez, Ph.D., principal investigator of The Haptics Lab and Neuroscience Diversity Commission chair. "Progress in neuroscience depends on having the best researchers doing the work. And to find the best, we must provide access to all."
During the six week pilot program, students learned how to conduct scientific research, and were guided on how to navigate the education and training necessary to attain a career in research. In the fall, the program will expand to six students who will rotate through multiple labs for the duration of the academic year.
Growing Up in Science - Discussion Panel
The Neuroscience Graduate Program Student Solidarity Organization (NGP SSO) hosted a Growing up in Science panel discussion featuring Kaela S. Singleton, Ph.D., postdoctoral at Emory University and adjunct professor Agnes Scott College, and Sally Bernardina Seraphin, Ph.D. assistant professor at Trinity College.
Shraddha Shah of the Neuroscience Diversity Commission helped organize the event. Shah is a co-founder of NGP SSO and a steering committee member. Other co-founders/steering committee members are Mark Stoessel, Kathryn Toffolo, Luke Shaw, and Karl Foley.
Neuroscience Diversity Round Robin - March 2021
A fast-paced information session of micro-presentations providing an overview about diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives – both proposed and underway - happening within Neuroscience-related departments across the University.
Participating departments: Biomedical Engineering, Biostatistics and Computational Biology, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Neurology, Neuroscience, and Psychiatry
Del Monte Joins Global Commitment for Inclusion in Science
The Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience joins science organizations from across the globe committed to making science more inclusive by endorsing the ALBA Declaration on Equity and Inclusion. “This supports the work of the Neuroscience Diversity Commission,” said commission chair Manuel Gomez-Ramirez, Ph.D. “Our members have spent the last several months committed to creating an inclusive an equitable environment in the neuroscience community in Rochester. As we continue this work we hope actions like signing this declaration encourages other individuals and organizations in science to join this same commitment. The more we empower those studying neuroscience and those interested in the field, the more we will elevate this important work.”