The Society for Neuroscience recently twittered a brag about it’s Neuroscience Scholars program.

It was the “38 years” part that got me. That is a long time. And we still do not have anything like robust participation of underrepresented* individuals in neuroscience. This suggests that particularly when it comes to “career growth” goals of this program, it is failing. I stepped over to the SfN page on the Program and was keen to see outcomes, aka, faculty. Nothing. Okay, let’s take peek at the PDF brochure reviewing the 30 year history of the program. I started tweeting bits in outrage and then….well, time to blog.

First off, the brochure says the program is funded by the NIH and has been from the outset “.. SfN has received strong support and funding from the NIH, starting in 1982 with funding from what was then the National Institute for Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke (NINCDS). … with strong and enduring support from NIH, in particular NINDS, the NSP is recognized as one of the most successful diversity programs“. Oh? Has it accomplished much? Let’s peer into the report. “Since the first 8 participants who attended the 1981 and 1982 SfN annual meetings, the program has grown to support a total of 579 Scholars to date. During that time, the NSP has helped foster the careers of many successful researchers in neuroscience.” Well we all know foster the careers is nice pablum but it doesn’t say anything about actual accomplishment. And just so we are all nice and clear, SfN itself says this about the goal “The NSP’s current overall goal is to increase the likelihood that diverse trainees who enter the neuroscience field continue to advance in their careers — that is, fixing the “leaky pipeline.”” So yes. FACULTY.

[Sidebar: And I also think the funding by the NIH is plenty of justification for asking about grant success of any Scholars who became faculty, but I don’t see how to get at that. Related to this, I will just note that the Ginther report came out in 2011, 30 years after those “first 8 participants” attended the 1981 SfN meeting.]

Here’s what they have to offer on their survey to determine the outcomes from the first 30 years of the program. “The survey successfully reached 220 past Scholars (approximately 40 percent) and had a strong overall response rate (38 percent, n=84).” As I said on Twitter: ruh roh. Survivor bias bullshit warning alert…….. 84 out of 579 Scholars to date means they only reached 14.5% of their Scholars to determine their outcome. And they are pretty impressed with themselves. “Former Scholars have largely stayed within academia and achieved high standing, including full professorships and other faculty positions.” “Largely”. Nice weasel wording.

And more importantly, do you just maaaaaybe think this sample of respondents is highly frigging enriched in people who made it to professorial appointments and remain active neuroscientists? Again, this is out of the 38% responding of the 40% “reached”, aka 84/579 or 14.5% of all Scholars. And let’s just sum up the pie chart to assess their “largely” claim. I make it out to be that 50 of these scholars are in professorial appointments, this is only 8.6% of the total number of Scholars assisted over 30 years. Another 4 (0.7%) are listed separately as department heads. This does not seem to me to being a strong fix of the supposed leaky pipeline.

Now, as a reminder this is 8.6% out of an already highly selected subset of the most promising underrepresented burgeoning neuroscientists. The SfN brags about how highly competitive the program is “A record 102 applicants applied in 2010 for 20 coveted slots.” RIGHT? So the hugely leaky pipeline of Scholars reporting back for their program review purposes (38% responding of 40% “reached”) is only reflecting the leaking AFTER they’ve already had this 1/5 selection. What about the other 80%? Okay so let’s take their faculty plus department head numbers, multiply by the 0.2% selection factor from their applicant pool (don’t even get me started about those URM trainees who never even apply)…1.86%.

Less than 2%. That’s it?????? That sounds exactly like the terrible numbers of African American faculty in science departments to me. And note, the SFN says it’s program has since 1997 enrolled 48% Hispanic/LatinX and 35% Black/African-American Scholars. So we should be focusing on the total URM faculty numbers. I found another SfN report (pdf) showing there were 1% African-American and 5% Hispanic/Latinx faculty in US neuroscience PhD programs (2016).

This SfN program is doing NOTHING to fix the leaky pipeline problem from what their numbers are telling us.


*I shouldn’t have to point this out but African-Americans constitute about 12.7% of the US population, and Hispanic/Latinx about 17.8%.