Encouraging Women to Enter Neuroscience

If you read a lot of neuroscience articles, or even just news about the brain, you’ll likely notice that there’s a significant gender imbalance: almost all of the big names are men. But a 17-year-old girl from Denver is trying to change that.

Grace Greenwald founded The Synapse Project to connect young women with professors and scientists to establish mentor relationships that will help them learn about, develop a passion for, and enter the field of neuroscience. In her own words, the site seeks to “ignite interest in the brain and help the next generation succeed in this rewarding career.”

These mentoring relationships not only create interest in the topic, but provide crucial support and advice that young women need to succeed in pursuing careers in the field. The Project’s website includes information on grants, awards, volunteering opportunities, and jobs that might appeal to young women, further helping them identify potential pathways into neuroscience.

Grace Greenwald is the granddaughter of Glenda Greewald, the founder of the Aspen Brain Forum, an annual conference that seeks to bring together some of the brightest minds in neurosciences and other fields to help progress their fields as well as those of technology, education, and medicine. Her grandmother’s passion for the study of the brain inspired Grace to start looking for opportunities to learn more, but she quickly found that there were limited opportunities at her high school.

So she founded The Synapse Project, seeking to encourage more girls to go into neuroscience and to call for more support for the subject in high schools, which often don’t teach it, fearing that it would be too advanced for young minds.

Also included on the site are recordings of virtual field trips, which allow a high school classroom to connect with a neuroscience lab via online communication and presentations, giving students a rare and valuable opportunity to look into the day-to-day lives of neuroscientists around the world. (You can organize a virtual field trip for your own classroom by getting in touch with The Synapse Project.)

The Synapse Project is guided by an advisory board of women in neuroscience, including professors at universities such as Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, and Berkeley, among others.

Gender imbalance in science is something that’s often not discussed by members of the field—and although the disparity between male and female researchers and professors isn’t as drastic as it is in the technology field, it’s still something that’s omni-present. A website dedicated to gender balance in Norwegian science states that about 40% of academic positions are held by women, but only about 20% of full professors are women.

And while these statistics aren’t specific to neuroscience, it’s clear that there’s a gap between genders when it comes to academia. The site doesn’t provide many statistics about research positions outside of academia, but I’d be willing to get that the gender gap is the same, or possible even wider, in the private and government sectors. And it’s certainly not limited to Norway.

The Synapse Project seeks to help close the gap between the genders by getting more girls interested in neuroscience. Other organizations have sought to do the same thing, but they’re often limited to issuing statements that boil down to “hey, we need to hire more women as researchers.” (See, for example, the European Commission’s Gender and Research policy initiative.) This initiative takes a proactive attitude toward putting young women in touch with neuroscientists, getting them interested in the field, and helping them find opportunities to progress.

What do you think? Will the Synapse Project help address the gender balance in neuroscience? Or will the prevailing attitudes of academia stifle potential growth that’s created by the initiative?


The Synapse Project

Gender Balance in Norway—Research, Statistics

Image via luchschen / Shutterstock.

Daniel Albright, MA, PhD (c)

Daniel Albright, MA, is a PhD student at the University of Reading, studying the lateralization of linguistically mediated event perception. He received his masters in linguistics from the University of Colorado-Boulder. Get in touch with him at www.dannalbright.com or on Twitter at @dann_albright.
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