Program Promotes Neuroscience Careers
By Sophia Glezos Voit and Debra Henken
The first meeting of students from the nation's top neuroscience research facilities who are participating in the NIH Joint Predoctoral Neurosciences Training Program was held recently at the Natcher Bldg. Extramural programs of eight institutes NIA, NINDS, NIMH, NIDCD, NIDCR, NICHD, NINR and NIGMS joined forces in developing the training initiative. The program's ultimate objective is to bolster the future of neuroscience research by offering broad-based training support during predoctoral students' first 2 years, a time when NIH funding is otherwise uncommon. Training includes core and multidisciplinary courses, laboratory rotations, and an emphasis on the molecular, behaviorial, psychological sciences, and the neurosciences. More than 100 students, scientists and NIH program staff attended the event.
"One of the main purposes of the meeting," said Dr. Walter Schaffer, research training officer, NIH Office of the Director, "was to enable the students to experience NIH first-hand, to meet each other, and to put these future independent researchers together with NIH staff who might be responsible for their portfolios someday."
In conceiving and developing the program, Schaffer said, NIH wanted to be proactive in helping to shape neuroscience research careers and not just let students find their own way through the maze of choices. "By investing in predoctoral neuroscience students," he said, "we're also investing in the various NIH neuroscience missions at the same time."
Presentations of cutting-edge research by senior scientists in basic and clinical neuroscience were a highlight of the meeting, with the keynote address given by Dr. Floyd Bloom, once an NIH intramural scientist and now chairman of the neuropharmacology department at the Scripps Research Institute and editor-in-chief of Science magazine. He briefly described the history of neuroscience, spoke on current aspects of the research field and discussed some of his own work. Bloom also stressed the pleasure of doing research, and praised the predoctoral program as a creative way of bringing people into the neurosciences and giving them a feeling of belonging to a community from the start.
"When you read your journals," he said, "you will find someone who will lay down a little piece of information, and suddenly you recognize that what you are working on relates to what somebody else is working on. So for me, doing neuroscience is like doing a giant jigsaw puzzle with 30,000 of your closest friends hovering in a Goodyear blimp above this great playing field of the neurosciences, waiting for someone to make a breakthrough that can allow you to contribute again."
In addition to scientific presentations given by a panel of distinguished researchers from academia, the students also heard from intramural scientists who discussed postdoctoral opportunities and presented talks on topics ranging from neuronal mechanisms in selective attention and early markers of age-related cognitive impairment to gender-related differences in pain and human pain mechanisms. They later toured several NIH labs.
Among other activities, the meeting featured an overview session on grant-writing and a reception where students could interact informally with presenters and NIH staff. To further promote an interactive environment, each institute also arranged booths where program and review staff could meet one-on-one with students to explain their specific research missions and respond to various questions about career opportunities. These sessions were also designed to foster ongoing relationships between participants and NIH staff.
"The meeting was a tremendous success," reported NIMH's Dr. Walter Goldschmidts, chairman of the joint predoctoral neuroscience training committee. "Our goal was to engage and challenge the students as much as possible, and we succeeded."
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