Supporting Female Neuroscientists in Their Careers
When it comes to graduate education, the percentage of women enrolled in neuroscience programs seems to have increased in recent years, based on survey results. In the 2010-11 academic year, women constituted 51 percent of U.S. PhD program applicants; that increased to 57 percent of applicants and 58 percent of enrollees in 2016-17, according to the SfN Neuroscience Training Committee’s Survey of Neuroscience Departments and Programs.
Even with this increase in application and enrollment, women continue to hold fewer faculty positions than men in neuroscience programs. A more diverse workforce allows for more meaningful scientific exchange and innovation in research, and SfN continues to make it a priority to promote the advancement of women in that workforce.
“I think that in any career, the diversity of who's involved improves innovation, so if you have a very similar group of people doing research, you don't add value to your thought process in the way you do with a diverse group,” said Fiona Randall, a senior scientist at Eisai AiM Institute outside Boston, Massachusetts.
The survey, conducted regularly for many years, first by the Association of Neuroscience Departments and Programs and now by SfN, helps neuroscience programs to identify and adapt to changes in the discipline. It found that during the 2016-17 academic year, women represented just 30 percent of all faculty in U.S. PhD programs, 32 percent in U.S. master’s programs, and 44 percent in U.S. undergraduate programs.
“It's important for students that are women to be able to identify to faculty that are like them. They're looking for role models. They want to see what the experiences of the women are, and therefore if you have a graduate program that's exclusively populated by male faculty, that's going to be a relatively unwelcoming environment for women,” said Elisabeth Van Bockstaele, chair of SfN’s Neuroscience Training Committee.
To break the cycle engendered by the imbalance, SfN is providing leaders of institutions and neuroscience programs with resources that help them to embrace their role in retaining women in the field.
SfN’s Professional Development Committee created four 30-minute presentations called Increasing Women in Neuroscience, or IWiN, toolkits, available on Neuronline. The toolkits offer practical strategies for mitigating obstacles that female neuroscientists may face during recruitment, hiring, promotion, and evaluation, focusing on such issues as implicit bias, faculty climate, and the promotion and tenure process.
Further, to connect female neuroscientists, SfN also hosts the Celebration of Women in Neuroscience Luncheon each year at the annual meeting. The luncheon honors women in neuroscience who have made significant contributions to the field, and additionally serves as a venue for finding mentors and collaborators, and discussing issues relevant to women in the field.
“Neuroscience training programs can provide a lot of additional professional development programs to students,” Van Bockstaele said. “In addition to the academic curricula that all students take, there need to be some programs which allow for networking of women and underrepresented minorities with like-minded individuals that may have struggled with some of the same issues, but may be able to model or chart a course for success for women and underrepresented minorities.”