NIH Working Group Discusses Diversity in the BRAIN Initiative

Inclusion was at the center of a meeting of the NIH BRAIN Initiative Multi-Council Working Group on May 20. During the meeting, staff reported that the largest share of BRAIN-funded researchers are engineers and that 18.3 percent of these researchers are psychologists or behavioral scientists. Working Group members raised concerns that the focus on engineering may be handicapping inclusion efforts. According to the National Science Foundation, Psychology is one of the STEM fields with the most female representation, while Engineering trails far behind. Seemingly confirming this suggestion, NIH staff shared statistics showing that female applicants for BRAIN Initiative funding are just as successful as their male counterparts. Nonetheless, they make up a much smaller percentage of applicants than at NIH overall, leading to disparities in representation.

Dr. John Ngai, Director of the BRAIN Initiative, assured the Working Group that he sees broadening participation as a priority. BRAIN has recently rolled out a new diversity initiative whereby most FOAs require that applicants include a Plan for Enhancing Diverse Perspectives (PEDP) in the proposed research. An application that fails to include such a plan will not be considered. Dr. Ngai explained that this effort is meant to tap into the imagination of a broad group of applicants to generate new and varied ideas for broadening participation.  

In March, a small group of FABBS leadership had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Ngai and Deputy Director Andrea Beckler-Mitchener to discuss opportunities for behavioral scientists in the BRAIN Initiative. The conversation included contributions of behavioral research and future funding opportunity announcements. Participants also discussed opportunities for facilitating engagement including being mindful of vocabulary that might differ by discipline and encouraging behavioral and cognitive scientists to compete for BRAIN initiative grants. It was agreed that a deeper engagement of behavioral research has the potential to provide clear benefits to the scientific goals of the BRAIN Initiative as well as foster a more inclusive community of researchers.