Working towards diversity, equity and inclusion in the sciences

Bulbul ChakrabortyBulbul Chakraborty
Enid and Nate Ancell Professor of Physics
Division Head, Sciences, School of Arts and Sciences

This blog is addressed to my colleagues in the division of science. 

As scientists, we pride ourselves on solving problems, often ones that lead to paradigm shifts.  A challenge that we have all grappled with is how to cultivate and nurture a truly diverse community of scientists.  How do we create an environment that is inclusive and accessible to all that seek to enter the sciences and experience the invigorating practice of  science that  we live and breathe?  How do we open our doors and not be gatekeepers? 

I am writing this blog because the many conversations that I have had over this summer has convinced me that this is the right time for a concerted effort to push towards our objectives. As scientists we know that half the battle is going to the core of a problem, and representing it in a way that tells us what actions to take.   What I have become aware of is  that the anecdotal evidence on who leaves the sciences is being made quantitative and rigorous.  Words are being put to our experiences and structures are being offered that we can use to take actions.  We have colleagues at Brandeis and in the broader community of science educators that have thought long and hard about how to bring about change in STEM education. We can all learn from them.  

I am urging all of you to share resources that you are aware of that will help us create actionable goals and structural changes.  Towards that, here is a link to an organization called “SEA CHANGE”, within the auspices of the American Association for the Advancement of Science: https://seachange.aaas.org/.  In particular, they are hosting a series of Webinars under the banner “Talking about Leaving Revisited”: https://seachange.aaas.org/events  that I have registered for and I encourage you to do so if you can.

I intend to make this a monthly blog that reflects my thoughts on diversity, equity and inclusion in the sciences at Brandeis.

Applied Mathematics and AI meet Law and Social Justice

Jonathan Touboul

For the past two years, Applied Mathematics Professor Jonathan Touboul and his team has been working in collaboration with Law Professor Samuel Dahan at Queen’s University (Canada) in modeling legal decisions and predicting court decisions on Canadian labor law. Their academic work covers the determination of a worker’s status or the calculation of a severance package (paper appearing in a forthcoming issue of the McGill Law Journal). With the COVID-19 crisis and nearly 2 million Canadian jobs lost in 2 months, Touboul, Dahan, Prof. Maxime Cohen (McGill) and their colleagues realized that their research could be applied to assist more people, and serve to help democratize legal services, particularly towards those who lack proper access to law and legal information.

Joining their efforts with a team of law and computer science students at Queen’s University, Jonathan Touboul and his team provided modeling and data science expertise to develop predictive algorithms that helped launch MyOpenCourt.org. This is a free AI powered platform that offers easy access to their research and algorithms to provide personalized predictions, explanations, list of most similar situations from the case law, and offers the option to connect the user with a network of pro-bono lawyers for a free consultation.

Learn more:

• “Championing AI for social justice”, Queens University
• “Conflict Analytics Lab launches app for workers laid off during the pandemic”, McGill University

SPROUT and I-Corps Applications are Open

Sprout logoThe Brandeis Innovation SPROUT and I-Corps programs offer support for bench and non-bench research. Both programs offer funding in different amounts, mentorship, training and help in further exploring the commercial potential of inventions. SPROUT supports bench research, while I-Corps emphasizes training for both bench and non-bench researchers in developing the commercial potential of discoveries, with small grants and extensive training programs. You can apply to one or both programs.

  • If you have a technology / solution that you have started developing and you would like to get funding for it via SPROUT and/or I-Corps, then please complete this form
  • If you do not already have a technology, then you can complete this form to qualify for the I-Corps training program and be matched with a team

Icorps logo

SPROUT teams will get the chance to qualify for up to $30,000 in funding. The I-Corps program provides entrepreneurial training and covers the core of commercializing a technology or building a startup. It comes with an NSF $750 travel and training stipend and an NSF I-Corps certificate/digital badge.

Apply by February 25, 2020 at 11:59PM

Alumni and Student Researchers Wow Crowd at 2019 SciFest

With a new alumni symposium in the morning and a poster session filling three floors of the Science Center atrium in the afternoon, this year’s SciFest IX set a new standard for Brandeis Science’s annual celebration of undergraduate research.

SciFest 2019

Photos: Heratch Ekmekjian

Since 2011, a poster session featuring the results from ongoing projects belonging to undergraduates doing science research has been the high point of summer in the Division of Science at Brandeis. This year, for the first time, we invited Brandeis alumni scientists to speak in a morning symposium entitled “A Celebration of Brandeis’ Undergraduate Science Education”, including:

Students and faculty in the audience were treated to a history of Brandeis and reflections on many of the Brandeis professors and courses that set them on their career path and whose influence persists to the present in how they approach their science, and on lessons they learned that continue to guide their work.

After lunch in the campus center, the crowd climbed up to the Shapiro Science Center for the poster session. 123 students presented 117 posters on topics from high-energy physics to biomaterials and from quantum chemistry to fruit fly behavior. As President Ron Liebowitz noted in an email to the Science community after the event:

The energy in Shapiro during the poster session was electric.  The students’ confidence and excitement over sharing their research can only give us great optimism about the future: they are “all in” when it comes to doing basic research, but also seeing how such research can be applied in the name of helping others.

Many of the posters can be found in the hallway in Gerstenzang – look for them when classes start again in a few weeks!

SciFest IX by the numbers

  • 117 posters
  • 123 student presenters (out of approx. 210 summer student researchers)
    • 105 Brandeis students
      • 99 presenting research done on campus
      • 6 presenting work done over the summer off-campus
    • 18 visiting students
  • 45 Brandeis faculty advisors from 7 departments
    • Biochemistry (7)
    • Biology (18)
    • Chemistry (8)
    • Computer Science (1)
    • Physics (6)
    • Psychology (5)
    • Sociology (1)

Eve Marder and Irving Epstein named University Professors

 

Eve Marder & Irving Epstein

Congratulations to Eve Marder, Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfield Professor of Neuroscience and Irving Epstein, Henry F. Fischbach Professor of Chemistry, for being named University Professors. This is one of the most prestigious academic honors at Brandeis University. This honor is bestowed on faculty members whose renown crosses disciplinary boundaries; who have achieved exceptional scholarly or professional distinction within the academic community; and whose appointment will enhance the university’s reputation. Read more at BrandeisNow

A celebration Eve, Irving and the 25th anniversary of the Volen Center will be held on November 17, 2019.

NeuroSeq and cell diversity in the nervous system

The central nervous system has the most cellular diversity of any organ in the body, but how does this diversity arise?

While the presumption is that genetic programs specify each neuron type, our understanding of these programs is in its infancy. To begin uncovering the underlying design principles of neuronal architecture in the brain, scientists from the Nelson Lab at Brandeis University and the HHMI Janelia Research Campus jointly formed the NeuroSeq project to profile genetic programs in a monumental number of neurons throughout the nervous system. Selected neurons were from transgenic animals to facilitate access among the scientific community for future functional studies. While single cell sequencing is the most popular method for transcriptome profiling, its technical limitations only provide a shallow view of molecular profiles. To go deeper, the NeuroSeq program assessed transcription in pools of nearly 200 genetically identified mouse cell types. NeuroSeq captured 80% of single gene copies and could even assess splice isoforms.

What did the NeuroSeq effort find?

Interestingly, two unique classes of genes lie at the heart of adult neuronal identity. Homeobox transcription factors and long genes explain a great deal of the neuronal diversity in the central nervous system. This extends the role of homeobox genes well beyond development and into neuronal identity maintenance. It also highlights long genes as an important class of neuronal identity effectors. Long genes are long due to insertion of foreign elements, and they come with costs, namely increased energy consumption and risk of mutations. These costs seem to be overcome by the benefits of neuronal diversification. We are excited to spotlight the NeuroSeq project in providing a unique resource for future discoveries concerning neuronal diversity and function.

The data resource is available at neuroseq.janelia.org, and the findings are described in a recent paper in eLife. Brandeis-affiliated authors on the paper include Professor Sacha Nelson, former postdoc Ken Sugino PhD ’05 (now at HHMI Janelia), current postdoc Erin Clark, and former research scientist Yasuyuki Shima.

Genome illustration

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