Message From SfN President Richard Huganir: What Drives Us as Neuroscientists
Like most adolescents, when I was in high school I spent a lot of time trying to understand myself and who I was. I became fascinated by the brain when I realized that my memories and emotions were all driven by the complex chemistry taking place inside it. My desire to unravel what makes us who we are led me to spend the next 40 years of my life studying how memory works and how it’s encoded in the brain by biochemical changes.
Many of my colleagues have similar stories describing how and why their passion for science developed, from a desire to help loved ones struggling with mental health disorders to a natural curiosity about the brain sparked by an enthusiastic science teacher.
As the science community faces some skepticism of our work and an unpredictable funding and political environment, we should strive to remind ourselves why we became scientists in the first place, remember the joy of science, and share that joy and enthusiasm with the public. During my year as SfN president, one of my goals is to make sure we don’t lose sight of the reward of discovery and the ability to influence innovation, despite the challenges we may encounter.
Exploring Untapped Avenues for Outreach and Advocacy
Tell Us Why You Love Science
Share your story with us! Send your 100-word story about why you love science to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hear inspiring words from some of your colleagues about what drives them in SfN's “Joys of Science” video series.
Now more than ever it is important that we communicate to the public and policymakers the value of neuroscience research. Only by explaining the critical importance of brain research to these audiences can we secure support and funding for the work we do.
SfN chapters are a font of potential opportunities for local outreach and advocacy efforts. Some of our chapters excel at engaging their local communities, and we should hold them up as models to encourage other chapters to emulate their successes. For example, the Louisville Chapter, winner of SfN’s 2017 Chapter-of-the-Year Award, hosted more than 30 events and dedicated more than 750 hours to outreach activities in 2017. Read more about their efforts, including Brain Awareness Week events and a public forum on the importance of science advocacy featuring a Q&A session with their local member of Congress.
This year’s Brain Awareness Week is coming up, March 12-18, so take advantage of this global celebration of the brain and join your local chapter to take part in activities connecting neuroscientists with members of the public to grow awareness of brain science in your community.
Increasing community support for science also helps scientists to effectively advocate for research funding with local policymakers. While NIH has seen notable budget increases the past several years, this has not made up for nearly a decade of underfunding. Helping augment public and policymaker understanding and support for science and ensuring a stable and predictable source of public funding for biomedical research remains a significant challenge for the scientific community.
As members of a global scientific society, we are well positioned to turn this challenge into an opportunity to spur greater international collaboration by coming together across countries to tell our stories about the incredible advances in science, what they can teach us, and how these advances can improve lives. Scientists around the globe did just that last spring at the March for Science, and we should continue to capitalize on this movement and reinforce the message that science is globally important and leads to discoveries for mankind.
I encourage neuroscientists to get involved in the science advocacy movement by joining SfN’s Advocacy Network and taking part in SfN’s annual Capitol Hill Day on March 8, as well as by participating in advocacy internationally through national and regional neuroscience organizations.
Enhancing Scientific Rigor
Researchers also are challenged more and more to ensure and explain the rigorous experimental design and methods that result in reproducible work. Not only is rigorous science necessary to earn the trust of the public, but also to produce great science that results in new discoveries.
SfN is leading in this area by supporting high standards for scientific rigor. The SfN Program Committee formed a Rigor Working Group that examined ways to increase transparency and rigor at the annual meeting. Based on this group’s recommendations, SfN revamped the instructions for abstract submissions to clarify experimental rigor and make suggestions on how to display the methods to be more transparent in the presentation.
SfN’s journals, JNeurosci and eNeuro, are dedicated to publishing rigorous, high-quality science and are employing several strategies to achieve this goal. eNeuro will soon implement Registered Reports, providing the option to have a study evaluated for its potential scientific interest and for the validity of the experimental protocol before actually conducting the experiments. This approach ensures the quality of the methodology by doing the peer review prior to any data collection. eNeuro also adopted a new policy regarding modeling/theoretical papers, which now must include the computer code, and strongly encourages including codes for in-house analysis software. Meanwhile, JNeurosci convened a group of editors to discuss what types of information are essential to evaluate the rigor of submitted studies and then updated JNeurosci’s policy on requirements after extensive conversations.
Finally, SfN is providing all members an opportunity to learn more about scientific rigor through a live virtual conference, Enhancing Rigor and Transparency in Neuroscience, taking place April 10 and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Registration is open to anyone and a recording of the conference will be available later on Neuronline for members to share with their students, PIs, labs, colleagues, and departments. The conference will feature expert faculty from different career stages discussing topics including experimental design to minimize bias, considerations for data analysis, NIH requirements for rigor, and how the field can incentivize rigorous research, among others.
SfN has also developed a suite of on-demand training resources on scientific rigor that includes a six-part webinar series, animated videos, articles, recordings of annual meeting workshops, and more.
Look for the Joy in Science
As we tackle these challenges and opportunities in the new year, I again encourage you to pause and reflect on why you love science and to commit to incorporating that passion into all you do inside and outside the lab. These stories will inspire you and your colleagues, and will help connect the public and policymakers to your research and advancements, helping uncover why they matter to every one of us.