November 03, 2014

UAB launches roadmap for underrepresented grad students interested in neuroscience

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neuroscience roadmapA new University of Alabama at Birmingham program has been launched with the help of a grant from the National Institutes of Healthto support and encourage graduate students who are underrepresented in neuroscience to pursue careers in the field. The UAB Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars Program, the first program of its kind in the Southeast, is aimed at graduate students from racial and ethnic minorities and people with disability.

“Just as getting from point A to point B requires a map, this new program will provide a comprehensive system — a roadmap — to help graduate students who are among populations underrepresented in neuroscience develop their skills and prepare for careers within this field,” said Lori McMahon, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology, director of the UAB Comprehensive Neuroscience Center, and co-director of the Roadmap program. “The program will provide an in-depth guidance and support system focused on assisting students throughout their graduate careers.”

The Roadmap, launching this fall, is funded by a $250,000 per year, five-year grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Organizers expect to enlist six graduate students per year who are in training in a UAB neuroscience laboratory, ultimately serving approximately 30 students at any given time as the program matures.

Prospective graduate students will need to apply and be accepted into the UAB Graduate Biomedical Sciences, Behavioral Neuroscience or Vision Science graduate programs. The Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars Program is a supplement that will provide support, direction and mentoring to those from underrepresented groups.

In addition to faculty mentors, each participant will have a career coach, a member of the UAB faculty who is not directly involved in the student’s educational process. These coaches can provide life and career guidance independent of a student’s immediate academic supervisors.

“The Roadmap will provide a focused and individualized path for students interested in a graduate career in neuroscience while boosting diversity in the field,” said Farah Lubin, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Neurobiologyand co-director of the Roadmap program. “The benefits of diversity in the sciences include enhanced innovation and increased engagement and growth in scientific knowledge. Having a diverse scientific community brings a range of useful perspectives to the table, and there is a significant competitive advantage if scientists are able to optimize these differences in their colleagues.”

The Roadmap will feature regular workshops, lectures and retreats led by neuroscientists from UAB and other institutions. A major scientific conference, NEURAL, or National Enhancement of Under Represented Academic Leaders, will be held each summer for Roadmap scholars and graduate trainees from other universities in the Southeast. Brian Sims, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics, is one of the lead organizers of the conference. This annual event will provide a forum for students to share their research experiences, fortify presentation skills and build career networks.

In addition to faculty mentors, each participant will have a career coach, a member of the UAB faculty who is not directly involved in the student’s educational process. These coaches can provide life and career guidance independent of a student’s immediate academic supervisors.

The students will also be asked to serve as mentors themselves, for either a graduate student just beginning his or her training, or an undergraduate student who is interested in a neuroscience career.

“We know there are barriers that block minorities and those with disability from pursuing careers in neuroscience, and we hope this program will knock some of those barriers down,” said Lubin. “The Roadmap will give these students the tools, support and confidence they need to succeed. Neuroscience is strongest when it can attract and retain people across the full range of demographic segments.”

For more information, go to the UAB Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars Program website.