2013 SfN President Larry Swanson.
2013 SfN President Larry Swanson.
It is an extraordinarily exciting and challenging time to be a neuroscientist. We can expect important scientific developments in 2013 — from proteomics and epigenomics to functional analysis of complex brain circuits for cognition, action, and emotion. It is also a stark reality that as we pursue the research that will provide better mental health and productivity for all of us, political and financial circumstances outside the realm of our everyday laboratory routine make it harder to secure funding for research and career development.
In these difficult times, I have gained a better appreciation for the value of SfN — to us as individual members and to the field as a whole. The Society is our greatest champion, providing valuable resources and programs to advance personal goals as well as our collective ability to shape the future of neuroscience.
It is understandable that many scientists today feel unsure about their futures, wondering whether and how to pursue new aspects of science, or even careers beyond the bench. I encourage you to revisit SfN resources — looking at them in new ways. You will find programs that help you network with peers worldwide, explore career options, and advance individual professional growth.
To me, the annual meeting remains the single best venue to meet people and explore research areas that intersect with your own scientific interests across the wide interdisciplinary spectrum of neuroscience — and 2013 will offer an exceptional event in San Diego this fall. The meeting is also a prime place to explore your own professional growth. There are a dozen professional development workshops, a Meet-the-Experts session, a meeting mentor program, and an extremely popular Graduate School Fair. The exhibit floor not only showcases tools and technologies, but also allows you to explore other career options by talking with neuroscientists in other fields, from industry and government agencies like NIH and NSF to advocacy organizations for a wide spectrum of disorders related to the nervous system.
I have been to every SfN meeting — 42! — since the first one in 1971. Each meeting has served different needs through different stages of my career. As a young graduate student looking for a postdoctoral position at that first meeting in Washington, DC, it was exhilarating but disorienting to explore a new field and figure out how to chart my own path. I made a point of talking with others, including potential mentors; networking; and finding that next important bench position. Over the years, it has been a place to make new connections, explore new scientific ideas, find colleagues to collaborate with, and contribute to the neuroscience community.
Although the meeting is large and bustling, there are many opportunities for individual impact. It’s a great place to get personal feedback on a poster from peers or senior leaders, self-organize a symposium or nanosymposium, gain greater visibility for an emerging topic, or attend a networking event to meet a potential mentor or collaborator.
SfN offers ways to keep that going the rest of the year. NeurOnLine and local chapters enable us to connect with others around the world, seek career or grant advice, or spark discussion. Additionally, the new SfN website enables easier navigation and more integration of the Society’s programs, publications, and portals. It has the first set of a new series of online content resources about careers beyond the bench, including interviews with members in a wide range of careers.
Promoting the Scientific Enterprise
Beyond offering support for individual growth, SfN enables us to pursue collective actions that advance our field in vital ways, which is particularly important in challenging times.
Collectively, we can be much more effective when communicating with the public, helping our global scientific community explain the value and importance of basic science investment. BrainFacts.org is a public information partnership of The Kavli Foundation, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, and SfN that was launched just eight months ago and has already drawn more than 200,000 visitors, about half from outside the United States. Its goals are to help a wide audience learn more about the brain and to share our excitement for scientific discovery. Increasingly, SfN is partnering with organizations across regions and borders to broaden excitement about brain research, and we are delighted to begin new work in this area with the International Brain Research Organization and the Dana Foundation, among others.
We can also be a much more powerful voice to champion basic science investment and other major issues facing the field. SfN enables all of us to become more effective advocates for science funding and animal research, whether in the United States through Capitol Hill Day and legislative alerts, or through international advocacy grants with the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies. I have joined SfN for Capitol Hill visits and have seen firsthand how easy SfN makes it to connect with legislators to make the individual case for science.
Finally, our collective voice enables us to be a catalyst for growth and innovation. In the United States, SfN has engaged closely with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as it seeks to advance neuroscience through a dedicated White House initiative (see fall 2012 Neuroscience Quarterly for more information). Through all of this, SfN has been a strong advocate for the essential role of continuing basic science investment, and I am very excited to see that the first White House announcements have included a key emphasis on this investment, including research on the brain and its disorders. This work will continue in 2013 and will be critical for maintaining scientific momentum even in uncertain times.
In these very uncertain times, I hope you too will find the personal and collective value of SfN and explore how its programs can advance our individual science as well as our dynamic and growing field. As always, SfN’s Council welcomes your thoughts on how best to respond to the membership’s evolving needs. Member satisfaction is our top priority!