Q&A: Joseph Coyle: Advancing Neuroscience Research Through AAAS
Joseph T. Coyle holds the Eben S. Draper Chair of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Harvard Medical School. Coyle’s research interests include developmental neurobiology, mechanisms of neuronal vulnerability, and psychopharmacology. He has carried out research on the role of glutamatergic neurons in the pathophysiology of neuropsychiatric disorders for 30 years. Coyle is a past president (1991) of the Society for Neuroscience.
SfN: What is the role of the neuroscience section within AAAS and how has it changed over the years with the growth of the field?
The Neuroscience Section is one of 24 sections that correspond to fields of interest among AAAS members. Each section arranges symposia for the annual meeting, elects officers, and provides expertise for association-wide projects. Section members are able to meet and interact with scientists from other fields and learn about other exciting and important research underway.
The Neuroscience Section serves three major purposes. First, members may be selected to serve on committees involved in AAAS governance, elevating the perspective of neuroscience within the leadership and direction of the organization. Second, members of the section can propose speakers and symposia for the AAAS annual meeting to the Neuroscience Steering Committee, which selects and puts forward those proposals for consideration as major events at the meeting. Third, those members of the section holding membership for at least five consecutive years are eligible to be nominated as AAAS Fellows. The Council selects a limited number of fellows in various fields of scientific endeavor, and that distinction is highly valued throughout academia.
The Neuroscience Section was created in 1994 at the behest of Larry Squire, who was then serving as president of SfN. Originally a small section, the Neuroscience Section has grown to include those from allied disciplines including mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer science, and many others. The section now has more than 7,500 members.
SfN: As a busy medical professional and an esteemed scientist, you are pulled in many directions, as are most SfN members. Why have you seen it as vital to join AAAS and get involved in its neuroscience activities, and how has it informed your work?
I’ve greatly appreciated the opportunity to participate in shaping the AAAS annual meeting and guiding its lasting impact. AAAS is the world’s largest scientific organization that advocates broadly in support of science education and scientific research. Its membership includes both professionals (scientists, physicians, psychologists, etc.) as well as laypeople with an interest in science and science policy. That diversity provides each member the opportunity to interact with a variety of individuals, all with the goal of promoting science.
AAAS is a great partner for both the neuroscience community and SfN, and we should support its work as individual scientists to ensure that neuroscience is well-represented in its ranks. For example, AAAS is at the forefront of science education, advocacy, and outreach, areas where SfN is also very active. It develops curricula for student science education and increases lay scientific literacy. The organization also advocates on many public policy issues, including science funding, climate change, and evolution.
AAAS, in partnership with other scientific organizations, also sponsors more than 40 fellowships for scientists to spend at least a year assigned to the office of a member of Congress, a program in the executive branch such as NIH or NSF, or to the White House administration. This tremendously successful program helps bring a scientific perspective to those crafting policy at the national level.
The AAAS annual meeting is also a key venue for sharing science with the public and has a big impact both in the United States and internationally. There were more than 9,500 attendees at the 2013 annual meeting in Boston in February, and fourteen symposia tracks, one of which was the Cognitive, Neural, and Social Sciences track. The meeting is especially well known for its effectiveness in communicating science to the public — this year there were more than 900 newsroom registrants from around the world. Each year AAAS also hosts an event called Family Science Days, which offers the local community an opportunity to explore science through interactive exhibits, hands-on demonstrations, and other activities geared toward kids and families.
SfN: How does the neuroscience section approach the multidisciplinary nature of neuroscience, in terms of how the section is integrated internally within AAAs, how it develops programming at the AAAs annual meeting, and how it interacts with the larger scientific community?
Neuroscience is, by nature, an interdisciplinary science that requires us to work in cooperation across disciplines and departments. The Neuroscience Section of AAAS recognizes this need for cooperation to ensure that neuroscience is appropriately represented within allied fields in AAAS and at the annual meeting. The maturation of neuroscience and its expansion into other disciplines such as molecular neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, neuroethics, and neuroeconomics has provided more opportunities for neuroscience to be represented in symposia that stress an interdisciplinary approach. By tradition, the program emphasizes interdisciplinary symposia.
SfN: How can SfN members get involved with the Neuroscience Section in ways that further the missions of both organizations and advance the field of neuroscience?
As scientists, it’s important that we advocate for the advancement of science and scientific research. Membership in AAAS helps advance that mission, and I would encourage more SfN members to join and get involved. AAAS provides a great resource in its weekly Science magazine and also allows members to stay on top of international and U.S. activities that are shaping scientific policy and research funding. AAAS provides a “macroscopic” appreciation of what is happening and how it might affect individual neuroscientists. This broad perspective complements the increasingly robust policy and advocacy activities within SfN. By growing the number of self-identified neuroscience members in AAAS, the budget for neuroscience programming at the annual meeting can increase, and the section is allotted more fellowships. Together with SfN, we can support the continued growth and prominence of the field, which advances the future of science and research.