Neuroscientists, Welcome to Washington!

Neuroscientists, Welcome to Washington!

This week, more than thirty thousand neuroscientists are coming to Washington, DC for the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN). The meeting is the largest scientific conference on brain and nervous system research, and I am looking forward to hearing about the latest science advances, speaking with NINDS grantees, catching up with colleagues and collaborators, and meeting investigators just entering the field. We are a growing field, fueled by heightened public interest, and I always leave the meeting feeling reenergized by the exciting science and individuals I meet.

At NINDS, we rely on this talented community to advance our mission; both researchers to drive the discoveries but also staff to lead and administer our programs. Growing a healthy neuroscience workforce is one of my top priorities. Among my focuses at SfN will be to share news about our new NINDS mentorship award, programs and policies at NINDS and NIH to help researchers balance family and personal needs with busy research careers, and to spread the word about important open positions within our own institute. For those attending the meeting, please come by booth 3404 to learn more.

As I’ve written about recently, NINDS is offering a new mentorship award, named after my predecessor, Dr. Story Landis. Nominations for the inaugural year of this award are due December 15 – please take a moment to consider nominating someone that has been an extraordinary mentor for you. This year, NINDS is seeking nominees for junior faculty members who have demonstrated dedication to training and ensuring that their trainees become exceptional scientists, I know how critical mentoring is, and we are hoping to reward and incentivize excellence in mentoring with the recognition and financial support that come with this award, which includes $100,000 in direct costs for an investigator to use to foster the career advancement for trainees. More information can be found here.

In concert with mentoring, we are working to enhance postdoctoral training by focusing the NINDS postdoctoral fellowship training (F32) on the beginning of the postdoctoral training period. By requiring an applicant to submit an application before the end of their first year in the new lab, and emphasizing the importance of an innovative, impactful project, and rigorous quantitative training, NINDS hopes to spur talented trainees to move successfully to the next phase of their careers more quickly. Indeed, our interest in bold new ideas is so strong that we hope that students will develop an idea with their future mentor before they start their postdoctoral training and apply while finishing up their predoctoral career. With the new NINDS F32, we actually don’t want preliminary data. We want great ideas to do important research. What NINDS does not want is to discourage researchers who have a child during this period from obtaining a fellowship  – extensions of the eligibility window are readily available for the F32 (and other training mechanisms, such as the K99/R00) for parental leave or other well-justified leave. Please reach out to your program director or the NINDS training director to learn more.

We also want the community to be aware that this FOA features new language for fellows who have children during their fellowship. Many early career investigators face a tough balancing act between work in the lab and starting families. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that having children is a major reason for why young female scientists opt out the academic pipeline before obtaining their first academic research jobs. While addressing this challenge will ultimately require a sustained, multi-pronged approach, as a first step NINDS is encouraging Fellows who have a child during the period of their F32 award and serve as the primary caregiver to request a six-month paid extension of their fellowship. We are considering this a pilot program, and after evaluation, will consider expanding it to other training funding opportunities.

We believe these flexibilities will not only train fellows to be better scientists, but will enable fellows to balance research with new parental responsibility.

The NINDS model for the postdoctoral training fellowship has been adopted by the NIH BRAIN Initiative, which just released a new postdoctoral fellowship opportunity (F32) for fellows who have the potential to become productive investigators in research areas that will advance the goals of the BRAIN Initiative. A special focus in this initiative is encouraging scientists from other fields to collaborate with neuroscientists. We welcome scientists in the fields of statistics, physics, mathematics, engineering, and computer and information sciences to get involved in experimental neuroscience. As with the NINDS fellowship, we are emphasizing the importance of scientific skills and rigor in these applications. As I have stated before, a focus on robust, reproducible results is critical to our mission of understanding the brain and nervous system and reducing the burden of neurological disease. Further, with this fellowship, we are providing the opportunity to support postdoctoral research on the ethical implications of recent advancements in neurotechnology and brain science

Lastly, NINDS is hoping to utilize our robust neuroscience workforce to recruit a few motivated leaders to direct critical programs here in our Institute. We are currently searching for a Director for our newly-established Division of Neuroscience. This individual will lead the largest portfolio in our extramural research program and is critical to charting the future of a vibrant, growing neuroscience research community. From a trans-NIH perspective, we are also looking for an exceptional scientist to lead the NIH BRAIN Initiative, a complex program involving 10 NIH neuroscience Institutes and Center that is aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain. The NIH BRAIN Initiative Director will lead the innovative trans-NIH component of this collaborative, public-private research initiative and coordinate with the multiple federal and non-federal participants to ensure we collectively meet the initiatives bold, audacious goals. More information on these exciting, high profile positions can be found here.

To learn more about all of these opportunities, please come visit booth 3404 at the meeting or reach out to the NINDS program directors and staff who will be attending. I am excited to meet and interact with many of you and make the neuroscience field the best it can be. 

Friday, November 10, 2017