“Racial and ethnic diversity in science is essential to delivering excellence and superior innovations,” said Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, PhD, McLean’s chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer.
McLean President and Psychiatrist in Chief Scott L. Rauch, MD, Pinder-Amaker, and other members of McLean leadership have championed this concept and are working together to develop a variety of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives across the hospital. McLean’s new Mental Health Research Summer Program (MMHRSP), directed by Nigerian-born neuroscientist Oluwarotimi Folorunso, PhD, is one of the hospital’s newest efforts in this arena.
Folorunso would like to see more people who look like him have access to the training and support needed to embark on careers in research. Toward this goal, McLean leadership teamed up with Folorunso and a group of his colleagues to develop the new program for promising BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) college students, with funding from several generous donors.
Seven such students were selected as fellows and placed into McLean research labs within the Jerry and Phyllis Rappaport Center of Excellence in Basic Neuroscience Research and the Center for Depression, Anxiety and Stress Research (CDASR). Each fellow received a $6,000 stipend for the 10-week program.
The McLean Mental Health Research Summer Program (MMHRSP), however, is more than just an opportunity to gain research experience and committed mentorship. Through interactive workshops, guidance on effectively communicating research, and advice on applying to graduate school, MMHRSP exposes its fellows to resources and skills that are critical to the success of a budding scientist.
In addition, the MMHRSP is supporting each fellow to apply for and present their work at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students. “One of our immediate goals is to get the students into good graduate programs where they can do top-notch research in an environment that allows them to flourish,” explained Folorunso. “Creating a scientific abstract and presenting at a national conference is experience that will make them more competitive graduate school applicants.”
Aspiring BIPOC Scientists Often Lack Support and Role Models
“At McLean, we’ve been exploring how to address what we call ‘leakage’ in the neuroscience pipeline for BIPOC students,” said Folorunso, who works as a research fellow in Dr. Darrick Balu’s Translational Research Laboratory.
That “leakage”—when BIPOC students leave the neuroscience field—is attributable to many factors, including late exposure to neuroscience research, which may increase imposter syndrome, a lack of committed mentors, as well as the number of culturally sensitive and competent non-BIPOC scientists around them, according to Folorunso.
“To fill this void, BIPOC scientists often take on multiple roles, including serving on diversity committees and acting as a spokesperson for underrepresented groups, which puts a strain on their primary focus, which is to conduct research.”