New Neuroscience Research Program Improves Access for BIPOC Students

February 7, 2021

McLean Hospital is launching a summer research program aimed at improving access to research-focused education and training for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) college students. The McLean Mental Health Research Summer Program (MMHRSP) seeks to engage scientific curiosity, create mental health research opportunities, and promote academic success in mental health research for promising BIPOC undergraduate students who are considering a research career—or may have never considered it.

“By increasing early exposure to mental health research opportunities for BIPOC students, we can effectively nurture, train, and promote the success of a diverse generation of mental health researchers,” said Oluwarotimi Folorunso, PhD, a post-doctoral research fellow in McLean Hospital’s Translational Psychiatry Laboratory and director of the MMHRSP.

The program will offer undergraduate BIPOC students a hands-on research experience at McLean Hospital, the largest psychiatric teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School (HMS). The overarching goal is to increase representation and diversity in basic and clinical neuroscience mental health research.

“Increasing diversity among investigators and the scientific workforce is such an important mission, and this program garnered immediate support from many departments involved in research and training at McLean,” said Shelly F. Greenfield, MD, MPH, McLean’s chief academic officer.

Young research works in a science lab
The McLean Mental Health Research Summer Program offers an intensive neuroscience training opportunity for BIPOC undergraduate students

The program is a paid 10-week mental health research experience that includes three main components: mentoring, workshops, and community engagement. The mentoring will focus on the students’ research experiences in basic and clinical neuroscience laboratories. The workshops will teach and promote strategies for success in a scientific research career. And the community engagement will be done in collaboration with McLean’s Brains Matter outreach program. Brains Matter educates young students and other community members about mental health through fun and engaging brain activities and personal storytelling.

The impact of the MMHRSP will be measured by answering the following four questions. Do MMHRSP students get accepted to neuroscience graduate programs? Do MMHRSP students explore mental health research as a career? Do MMHRSP students publish their research findings in peer-reviewed journals and present their work at national conferences? Do MMHRSP students become actively involved in educating their communities about mental health research?

“McLean can offer unique opportunities to learn more about how neuroscience and psychiatry align, putting these students in a position to be leaders in future generations of physicians, scientists, and physician-scientists,” said Bill Carlezon, PhD, chief of McLean’s Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport Center of Excellence in Basic Neuroscience Research. “It has been amazing to see this program evolve from an idea to a reality.”

Six laureates—rising juniors or seniors at a four-year college or students in their second year at a community college—will be selected for the 2021 program. Four of the students will be attached to a basic neuroscience lab. Two students will be attached to a clinical neuroscience lab.

Mentors will work with each student to help them choose a project, develop the research skills needed to advance their project, prepare their project for presentation at a conference, and lay the groundwork for the student to publish a paper about their research after leaving the program. Program leaders will support students through weekly check-in meetings and various professional development workshops, including Navigating Personal and Professional Identities in Scientific Research Settings, Squad Goals: Building a Scientific Community (a joint session with other HMS summer programs), and a panel discussion with neuroscience program directors at various research institutions, BIPOC graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows.

Each laureate will be given a generous stipend to help support them during the 10-week program. The program will also cover costs associated with the laureates attending a national scientific conference to present their research. Program leadership insisted that the laureates be adequately paid, as 10 weeks without pay would be a significant barrier for the students who are being considered for the program.

“It is very important for us to provide a very generous stipend to these students, as a lack of sufficient pay has historically prevented low-income BIPOC students from participating in summer research programs like ours,” said Folorunso. “This is due to the need for such students to work in the summer to sustain themselves or support their families.”

The 2021 program is being funded through multiple generous McLean donors. Program leadership hopes that a successful first year for the MMHRSP will lead to funding from other sources so that the program can continue in 2022 and beyond.

“Racial and ethnic diversity in science is essential to delivering excellence and superior innovation,” said Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, PhD, McLean’s chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer and director of the hospital’s College Mental Health Program. “This program brings us a step closer to addressing inequities among the scientific workforce. As our scientific workforce becomes more diverse across identities, all of humanity will reap the benefits.”

Learn more about the McLean Mental Health Research Summer Program, including how to apply.

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