Message from the President: Neuroscience 2013 Offers Great Opportunities for Advancing Science and Careers
By SfN President Larry Swanson
The annual meeting has been a source of inspiration for more than four decades, propelling me forward at every stage of my career. I attended the very first annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, DC, back in 1971, when I was third-year graduate student studying neurobiology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. From the beginning, I was hooked. 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 peers, experts, and potential mentors, building personal, professional, and intellectual relationships.
I’ve attended every meeting since — 42 in total — and every year, I’ve walked away with a deeper understanding of the field. It informed my research into neural mechanisms of the basic drives and emotions at the Salk Institute, where I worked for a decade, and at the University of Southern California, where I’ve been on faculty since 1990. The annual meeting has been the backbone of my career, providing the framework that has allowed me to make so many connections.
Enhanced Career Opportunities at Neuroscience 2013 and Beyond
What I remember more than anything about my first SfN annual meeting was seeing the famous scientists of the day in action, forming a broad network of colleagues, and interviewing for a postdoctoral position. So it gives me a great deal of pleasure to see that this year’s annual meeting in San Diego includes unparalleled opportunities for neuroscientists to engage in professional training, career development, and networking. The wide range of career development offerings include the popular Meet-the-Expert Series, mentoring roundtables, and workshops on career paths and grant funding. For undergraduate students, the second annual Graduate School Fair provides an opportunity to meet face-to-face with neuroscience program directors.
Outside of the meeting, SfN also provides ever improving resources all year long to help scientists build professional networks and advance their careers. The online NeuroJobs Career Center gives members a way to learn about a vast range of topics at their own convenience, offering informational videos, career profiles, and tools to help learn about how to get papers published and find mentors. It also can help with job searches, providing updates on available positions, and tips on resume writing and social networking. Additional information about how to apply for prizes and fellowships in the U.S. and abroad is more important than ever in this uncertain funding environment.
Important Investments in Neuroscience
It is never clearer than at the annual meeting that research is a global endeavor. I greatly benefit from partnerships I’ve created with scientists in Latin America, and have come to believe that these types of alliances are key to strengthening the field. For example, through sharing information and discussing science with colleagues around the world, I’ve seen advances in the systems neuroscience of motivated and emotional behavior that might otherwise not be possible because of narrower funding priorities in individual countries.
Of all our shared priorities, perhaps the most pressing is to secure adequate funding for the advancement of neuroscience research. Political and financial circumstances around the globe are making it more difficult to ensure sufficient funding. In San Diego, I encourage you to participate in the symposium “Enhancing Global Cooperation on Advocacy,” which I will cohost with Sten Grillner, secretary-general of the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO). We will discuss the importance of biomedical research funding, and examine ways to raise public awareness and advocate for government support for neuroscience across the globe.
Sequestration cuts in the U.S. are having increasingly dramatic effects on neuroscientists whose research relies on federal funding. A disturbing number of SfN members report they’ve had to consider whether they can keep their labs open. Many of us are concerned that the cuts, if sustained, will have implications that affect fundamental understanding of the brain, as well as progress on a range of diseases and disorders. In Europe, 17 national societies, led by the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS), and in partnership with SfN, are developing country-specific programs dedicated to advocating for neuroscience.
In regions around the globe, researchers are engaging in coalition activities along with clinicians and patient advocates to promote continued investment in the field. The American Brain Coalition plays a critical role in bringing together these constituencies in the U.S. The European Brain Council plays a similar role in advocating at the European Union, and Brain Canada has had enormous success in promoting public and private investment in brain-related research. Such efforts are essential for the future of global research and need to be expanded to other parts of the world.
I am hopeful that President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), and Europe’s Human Brain Project represent commitments to neuroscience research that will provide great advancement for the field. I embrace the goals of accelerating discovery by developing and improving technologies that can lead to better treatment for those who suffer from nervous system diseases and disorders. At the same time, I am mindful of the tremendous challenges these initiatives present.
President Obama concluded his announcement of the BRAIN Initiative by saying, “I don’t want our children or grandchildren to look back on this day and wish we had done more to keep America at the cutting edge. I want them to look back and be proud that we took some risks, that we seized this opportunity.” If we want our field to keep flourishing, we must keep being our own best advocates through these tough economic times. SfN is key to helping us all, individually, get the tools we need to succeed. The new SfN website is teeming with information on public policy, neuroscience funding, and taking action, as well as resources for career growth and advancement. The facts we need are at our fingertips.
I would like to close by saying this past year has been an absolute privilege. My final days as president will be at the annual meeting, which over the last four decades, I’ve watched grow from a modest gathering of about 1,000 scientists to a bustling symposium of 30,000 professional researchers, doctors, technicians, and a host of others interested in the brain. It’s been an honor to witness that growth, just as it’s been an honor to serve as president. The field of neuroscience is about more than physics, biology, and cognition — it’s about discovering who we are as human beings. After all I have witnessed, both as a scientist and as president, I am filled with more awe and wonder at the possibilities of our field than I was at 22. I would like to thank all of you for inspiring me along the way.
Planning to attend the annual meeting? Check out the new Neuroscience 2013 community on NeurOnLine to start or join conversations already underway about all the great science and networking events in San Diego — your emerging science, career development, networking, satellite events, and much more.