Celebrating Black in Neuro Week

And why diversity matters in science

What is Black in Neuro?

Black in Neuro is an organization committed to celebrating Black excellence in neuroscience-related fields. As always, celebration of one particular group does not preclude celebration of any other group or posit superiority. What I love about Black in Neuro is that it celebrates a typically under-appreciated group within neuroscience and science more broadly.

This week (Jul 27-Aug 2) has been the first annual Black in Neuro week. It appears the heart of the events/panels/discussions are taking place on Twitter and Youtube. There are panels such as Neuroracism as well as support for black neuroscientists and interviews about the Grad journey.

Before #BlackinNeuro week, I didn’t know a single Black neuroscientist, yet thanks to Twitter, I’ve now been introduced to many. Stick around for the end for a limited selection of some amazing Black neuroscientists and their work!

Below is just one discussion panel from Black in Neuro week, this one focused on Neuroracism:

Why Diversity Matters in Science

This blog in Scientific American provides a compelling summary of the imperative of diversity in science, and the ideas apply to all industries. I think a lot of people generally recognize the value of diversity of all forms (i.e., not just race/ethnicity or gender), yet there is still an underlying belief that diversity is the antithesis of a meritocracy. That is, valuing diversity is incompatible with the notion that jobs in science belong to those that “earn it.”

However, this belief is demonstrably false.

First, an assumption underlying the supposed fairness of meritocracies is that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. However, this is simply not the case. Whether through systematic inequalities or simply random events, no one is playing the game on a level playing field. Moreover, success in science is often a function of connections and hard work. I’ve gotten multiple research opportunities because of excellent mentors and I’ve learned how to do research not because of some innate ability, but through repetition and practice.

There is no evidence of one’s social or ethnic identity having any effect on one’s ability to do science. But even if there were, Kenneth Gibbs makes what I think to be a compelling argument that problems in science are solved by the ability of a group, not an individual—and that diversity of ideas and backgrounds are integral to a group’s diversity and intelligence.

Even if you hold the ridiculous belief intelligence or otherwise scientific ability differs between groups in meaningful ways, as the author Matthew Cobbs writes about in his book The Idea of the Brain, history has shown that the impactful discoveries in neuroscience have come not from amazing intelligence or ability, but from thinking in new creative and radical ways.

Featuring…

Below are some fantastic Black neuroscientists that I’ve been introduced to on Twitter. Be sure to give them a follow!

Olamide Abiose

Ola is a rising 3rd year JD/Neuroscience PhD candidate at Stanford working on how chronic stress affects AD w/ neuroimaging/CSF data. She is also interested in how the legal system marginalized people by contributing to chronic stress. Follow Ola on twitter here.

Andre Walcott, Ph.D.

Andre is a scientific program management scholar at OHSU. He received his Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience in 2019 and was the first African American male to receive a Ph.D. at OHSU. He is passionate about making STEM accessible for all. Follow Andre on Twitter here.

AZA

AZA works at the intersection of science, music, and community. He’s currently at Yale studying how neural circuits bias social computation and how music and mindfulness can be combined to heal the Black community. Follow AZA on Twitter here.

Rebekah Rashford

Rebekah is a 3rd year Ph.D. student at Princeton and studies the effects that early life stress has on epigenetics in reward regions of the brain. Follow Rebekah on Twitter here.

Tanya Mangoma

Tanya is a 2nd year PhD candidate at Cambridge and studies 3-D printed electronic circuits that work like the brain. Follow Tanya on Twitter here.

Concluding

I am blown away by what these scientists, and more, are working on. There are too many to list here, so check more Black in Neuro scientist profiles here.

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