Diversifying the Community of NeuroScientists (Diversify CNS) Program

A Longitudinal Mentoring Approach to Increase Diversity Among Neuroscience Researchers

Despite the existence of initiatives designed to increase diversity among neuroscience researchers, there has actually been a decline in the proportion and absolute numbers of minority researchers in the field of neuroscience. This failure is disturbing at a number of levels, but perhaps most notably highlights the inability of more senior investigators to effectively mentor junior investigators in their discipline. The loss of diversity among career scientists means a loss of diversity of thought, which in turn limits the generation of new ideas and scientific progress in the neurosciences. The inability of the multiple training programs to increase diversity is not an indictment of those programs, but rather it illustrates limitations in program approach. As a result, we propose to take a different route to addressing this problem. Our program is based on published findings that underrepresented individuals are lost in the system at transition points in their training, i.e., graduate school to postdoctoral training, postdoctoral training to faculty members, and tenure for young faculty. From self-report data, a principal contributing factor regarding attrition is that individuals feel isolated by not having meaningful ethnic and/or racial peer groups. In this program, recently funded as an R25 grant from the NIH, we will take a longitudinal approach to mentoring in which we establish peer groups across each stage of professional development and utilize these peer groups to provide interactive mentoring within a community. We will recruit from across the nation a cohort of trainees from underrepresented backgrounds, consisting of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and early stage investigators. For each of these cohorts we will provide longitudinal training in professional skills and mentoring. Through both mentor/mentee and peer-to-peer/peer-to-near peer mentorship structures, we will tailor professional development consistent with the progression of the trainee, while simultaneously creating a network of support amongst its participants. A key element of the program will be to teach the participants in the program how to be effective mentors themselves as a means to maintain the longitudinal development of program participants. Finally, we will provide access to high-level research cores and laboratories to enhance the scientific impact of the participants’ research. Participants will meet in Minnesota for one week each summer for professional training and guidance. For topics that span across career stage, the cohort will work together. There will also be specialized training sessions specific to academic rank. In addition to the on-site summer training, there will be two additional formal training events. In the fall, our trainees and mentors will meet at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting to participate in both professional development and a social event. In the winter, there will be an on-line video teleconference discussion following the group’s completion of an on-line professional development session. Overall, our goal is to fundamentally alter mentored training, and significantly enhance workforce diversity in the academic pursuit of research on neurological disorders.

Specific Aim 1: Provide longitudinal professional development to individuals underrepresented in research on neurological disorders: Longitudinal professional development will involve a combination of effective mentoring and specific professional development workshops held at the University of Minnesota and remotely. Such training sessions will include (but not limited to) participation in mock study sections, identification of local and national resources that are available in times of difficulty, recognizing unique challenges URSs face when preparing for a career in science, and planning for next stages of one’s career.

Specific Aim 2: Learning to be mentors: A sense of isolation is a commonly reported reason underrepresented individuals leave careers in science. We will offer our participants treaining in effective mentoring through the University of Minnesota’s nationally-recognized mentor training program. By developing effective mentoring strategies, the participants in the program will become better mentees themselves as well as provide a self-sustaining program for others.

Specific Aim 3: Provide impactful research experiences to enhance the scientific programs of our trainees: In addition to professional development, participants will have the opportunity to enhance their research impact. Individuals (along with their research advisors or for ESIs a lab member) will spend time at the University of Minnesota utilizing newly-developed, modern research cores. Each core highlights different state-of-the-art methods to interrogate alterations to the brain following exposure to addictive substances.

To ensure success, the program will draw upon a variety of unique resources, including the 20+ faculty participants in the R25 program, access to significant administrative resources in the Medical School and Graduate School, and emerging research cores in the Medical School.

For more information, please send inquiries to diversityCNS@umn.edu.