Q&A: Supporting Neuroscience Collaboration and Outreach Through the Friends of SfN Fund
Three neuroscientists share their perspectives on supporting global collaboration and public outreach and advocacy through donations to the Friends of SfN Fund, the single largest source of charitable giving to the Society for Neuroscience. William Martin, PhD, is head of research and development at BlackThorn Therapeutics Inc. and chair of SfN’s Government and Public Affairs Committee. Leslie Tolbert, PhD, is regents’ professor at the University of Arizona and a member of SfN’s Finance Committee. A past president of SfN, Bruce McEwen, PhD, is Alfred E. Mirsky professor and head of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at The Rockefeller University.
Donations to the Friends of SfN Fund support the SfN mission of advancing the understanding of the brain and nervous system through Trainee Professional Development Awards, which provide young scientists the chance to attend the SfN annual meeting to present an abstract and to network with peers and senior scientists, as well as through public outreach programs such as BrainFacts.org and a robust advocacy engagement program. Join these dedicated SfN volunteers and a global community of donors by giving to support the neuroscience community at SfN.org/donate.
How do donations to the Friends of SfN Fund help SfN to serve the neuroscience community?
William Martin: To me, contributing is an opportunity to give relatively modest donations, but enough to support one or two individuals who could travel to the annual meeting. Helping individuals to participate in the conference has downstream, beneficial consequences.
Leslie Tolbert: We think about the young student in China, the postdoc in Sweden, the doctor in the Congo who’s trying to make connections with colleagues whose research could make a difference in her clinic. The broad diversity of SfN membership means there aren’t simple solutions to how we can be most useful to each other, so the ability to have a fund like the Friends of SfN Fund for new initiatives is very important.
Bruce McEwen: I think it’s the flexibility, having funds that enable the Society to be creative, to support people who can’t afford their own travel, to create these educational opportunities. I think all of those are really, very important. The more funds that we have, the more that the Society can do these things.
How does the Friends of SfN Fund bolster outreach and advocacy across the globe?
Leslie Tolbert: Right now fundamental science is threatened. It’s absolutely the time to ensure unbiased inquiry into how our minds work. Once you understand that each person walking around in society has a brain in her or his head, it’s hard to imagine that we shouldn’t continue unfettered research into the mechanisms that make that brain what it is. Through this fund, we offer people an apolitical way to support the importance of scientific understanding.
William Martin: SfN has supported international advocacy through its professional partnerships, first with the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) and then with the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO). These global partnerships have actually enabled scientists at home and elsewhere to develop grassroots efforts on how to extend public communication about science within their local communities.
Bruce McEwen: In each country there are different issues, different pressure points, in terms of the funding for science. … But to some extent it works the same way: getting the information out so that people can make wise decisions. The materials that SfN has produced — like BrainFacts.org and the outreach materials about science and the vignettes of scientific discoveries that have led to outcomes that affect human beings — these help and I think are very useful everywhere in the world.
Friends of SfN in 2017
203 young scientists received Trainee Professional Development Awards
Donors hailed from 32 countries
More than 30 organizations supported the Neuroscience 2017 program
23% more revenue to Friends of SfN Fund in FY2017 than FY2016
What message would you share with someone who is considering donating to the Friends of SfN Fund?
William Martin: I would encourage those considering donating to SfN to really begin to see themselves as part of the larger whole. We can often become very focused on our particular lab, our particular institution, whatever it might be. It’s a sense of belonging that I think draws individuals to the overall organization, and I think being able to make these contributions really reinforces that sense of belonging.
Bruce McEwen: The Society is far more than the annual meeting, and the richness of what the Society does at many levels is obviously something that needs financial support.
Leslie Tolbert: There are few things that are as important as learning about who we are and what makes us who we are and finding creative ways to apply this knowledge. I think that’s what it is to be a neuroscientist, and I think that contributing to the Friends of SfN Fund is a way to have an impact for all of us. Having this particular fund to contribute to means that we can say, “Here, take something I can afford to give you and put it to good use.” I trust that SfN is going to put our donations to good use because it always has.