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Seeking Diversity Through Neuroscience

Last Updated on October 18, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Originally published October 18, 2017

By Briana Pinales

Pathobiology Doctoral Student

I am a third-year Ph.D. student at The University of Texas at El Paso working toward my degree in pathobiology. This summer I participated in the Summer Program in Neuroscience, Excellence and Success (SPINES) at the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woodshole, Massachusetts.

Briana Pinales
Briana Pinales

SPINES focuses on professional development for those who are interested in a scientific academic career. The program is designed to expose students to research, computational skills, and professional development.

My peers and I were involved in cutting-edge research that focused on mental health- related neuroscience under the mentorship of Kevin Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Michigan. Our team integrated MATLAB computational programming to analyze the research, with supervision from Demetrio Sierra-Mercado, Ph.D., assistant professor from the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine.

Additionally, we talked about the importance of grant writing, publications, networking, mentoring, and teaching during several workshops. Our speakers included UTEP’s Professors of Psychology Eddie Castañeda, Ph.D., and Laura O’Dell, Ph.D. They described some of the incredible research conducted at UTEP, and shared their personal experience as students. Previous SPINES alumni also participated in the workshops and shared their own success stories.

SPINES is unique because it focuses on the lack of diversity in the scientific community. As a Hispanic female paving a path into a career in neuroscience, it was invigorating to see other successful scientists persevere through similar issues and doubts that I have. This year’s student participants had colorful backgrounds, and made me feel like part of a community that shared the same beliefs and took the necessary steps to move forward.

The science community does not often talk about its lack of diversity, but it is something that needs to be addressed. The course focused on some of the implicit and explicit biases many minority individuals encounter. The course was driven by two female scientists – Carmen Maldonado-Vlaar, Ph.D., professor of biology at the University of Puerto Rico, and Gina Poe, Ph.D., professor of integrative biology and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles – who successfully set out to make a difference in student’s lives.

Overall, the course prepared us to face the world and thrive in the scientific community. It brought us together as a team as opposed to the typical competitive nature in science. After all, science is a field of integration and collaboration, with a goal to bring more knowledge to the world.