Brain science acts to manage a scientist surplus while averting a brain drain

It’s a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem: There are more PhD students training for careers in neuroscience research than academic institutions can possibly employ.

A new paper sounds the call for numerous stakeholders, from funding agencies to industry captains, to put their heads together and come up with broader training approaches. The authors’ aim is to prepare promising yet frustrated neuroscientists for alternative career paths while warding off a major brain drain.

Commentating in the journal Neuron, Huda Akil, PhD, from the University of Michigan, and colleagues laid out a plan that includes such action items as:

  • Enhancing neuroscience training programs with more focus on computational science, statistics and programming in order to guide students in assimilating input from brain imaging, genetic sequencing, molecular analysis, bioinformatics and other fields.
  • Building skillsets around communications and teamwork, with an emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration with geneticists, mathematicians, physicists, engineers, social scientists and psychiatrists.   
  • Providing courses and internships highlighting the ins and outs of various other-than-research career opportunities—and presenting this material in such a way that “the academic enterprise continues to flourish and that young neuroscientists will have an opportunity to make critical future discoveries about the brain.”

In the past, a non-academic career was viewed as a “plan B,” Akil and co-authors wrote. By contrast, the current crop of students entering graduate school is more open to “the wide variety of available opportunities both within and outside of academia. It is the responsibility of neuroscience training programs to provide trainees with the tools, skills and knowledge that enable the trainees to make effective contributions to the workforce.”

“The rewards for a better understanding of the brain are difficult to overstate,” the authors wrote. “Such knowledge will not only inform how we treat devastating brain disorders, but it will also alter our self-concept as humans and inform how we see and treat each other. The key step is to train and support the talented neuroscientists of the 21st century who will continue this exciting journey of discovery.”

The journal has posted the full paper.