Introducing Youth to Contemporary Neuroscience Research

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By Gabby McConnell


The Behavioral Neuroscience Diversity Task Force began with PhD, postdoctoral and undergraduate students and faculty members assessing how diversity, equity and inclusion is incorporated within the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. As part of that work, PhD students Annie Ly and Helen Strnad created a code of conduct to establish the values of the task force. Another PhD student, Anne Pierce, initiated the Application Assistance Program to assist students applying for the Behavioral Neuroscience Graduate PhD Program who may not have mentorship in academia. The task force also aimed to broaden and share knowledge with middle school and high school students who may not realize they can pursue studies or a career in science, prompting the initiation of the Neuroscience for Schools Outreach Program.  

A Micro Grant from the Office for Outreach and Engagement initially made a one-session Neuroanatomy Lab possible. After reapplying and receiving a Community Impact Grant, the task force expanded and turned the lab into a three-day event. 

Dillon McGovern, a PhD student who was involved in creating the task force, explained, “We aren’t trying to leave the institutions making these students into neuroscientists. We are just trying to get them excited about science in general. Sometimes even just engaging with higher education lets them know these kinds of paths exist.” 

Participating middle and high school students are intrinsically interested in learning about how the brain functions, what happens when things go wrong in your brain and how you can correct them when that occurs. They do all kinds of activities ranging from using pipe cleaners to build 3D models of neuron structures to learning the different functions of each neuron they create, then dissecting layers of tissue to show the distinct functions of the brain and eyes. Without these three-day workshops, most students do not receive much, if any, neuroscience curriculum.  

“Hopefully, we have introduced them to new ideas about all the wonderful things the brain can accomplish,” said Baratta.  

The Behavioral Neuroscience Diversity Task Force has shared the wonders of neuroscience with middle school and high school students and provided resources and assistance for aspiring graduate students. By showing students they can explore neuroscience, the task force’s work exemplifies the power of community engagement. 

You can learn more about the Application Assistance Program or the Neuroscience for Schools Outreach Program, by visiting their webpages or by contacting the director of the Behavioral Neuroscience Diversity Task Force, Assistant Professor Michael Baratta.