A successful transition to an academic position and the subsequent career progression depends on several factors, and often represents a demanding period for early career researchers (ECRs) – a challenge that is frequently exacerbated for those coming from underrepresented groups.

Aiming to facilitate this process and increase the retention of diverse, early career neuroscientists into faculty positions, the SEE (Scholarships to Enhance and Empower) Diversity to Success Workshop program provides researchers with long-term mentoring and professional enrichment. The program starts with an in-person workshop, focused on the preparation, submission and revision of grant applications to funding bodies. In addition, the workshop intends to train negotiation skills and address issues which may impact the long-term retention of diverse neuroscientists in academic careers, such as the perception that they do not belong in the scientific community and imposter syndrome. After the initial workshop, participants continue being mentored by a senior faculty member for 6-10 months, with the overarching goal of helping ECRs hone their grant planning and writing skills.

In this interview, Dr. Lisa Maeng, who is part of the 2023 cohort of the SEE-Diversity to Success Workshop, tells IBRO about her background and shares her experience as a participant in the program.

Could you tell us about your background?

I am a first-gen, Korean American and a proud mother of three children. In terms of my career background, I received my B.A. in the Biological Basis of Behavior from the University of Pennsylvania and my Ph.D. in Psychology-Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience from Rutgers University-New Brunswick. After receiving my Ph.D., I was a postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School. I was then a Visiting Professor at Wheaton College for three years prior to accepting my current position as an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

What is your research about?

My research examines the neurobiological and neuroendocrine mechanisms underlying the sex differences observed in stress and threat responses. My primary research questions are: (1) Do stress and fear engage divergent neural mechanisms between the sexes to cause sex-specific changes in cognition and behavior? (2) How do gonadal hormones modulate sex-specific effects of stress on cognition and behavior? and (3) Can the gonadal hormones linked to sex-specific stress effects on cognition and behavior be targeted or manipulated for clinical treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders? I use a rodent model and a variety of behavioral paradigms to address these questions with the aim of identifying clinical targets for more effective, sex-specific treatment of mental illness.

What motivated you to apply for the SEE-Diversity program?

I applied to the SEE-Diversity program because it offered an opportunity to improve my grantsmanship while, at the same time, growing my professional network and enabling me to build relationships with diverse researchers from around the US. I didn’t have connections with many researchers who could recognize and relate to my positionality prior to joining the SEE-Diversity program, and I saw applying as a starting point to building that community and creating a space where researchers like me can learn from each other.

2023 cohort of the SEE-Diversity to Success Workshop 

How was the in-person workshop? What have you learned?

The in-person workshop was inspiring and informative. From funding mechanisms to strategies for maintaining a positive work-life balance, the workshop covered many topics that researchers often do not receive formal training in but we are expected to navigate on our own once we arrive at our faculty positions. My experience in the SEE-Diversity program has filled in those gaps and given me the tools needed to keep pushing my career forward.

Regarding the online, long-term mentoring, how was this experience for you?

The mentoring has been going on for eight months now, and has been generally good. I would do it again if given the choice, and I would definitely encourage others to participate if given the opportunity. I learned a lot about my needs as a mentee and also a lot about how to be an effective mentor myself.

How has your participation in the SEE-Diversity to Success Workshop helped you and your career? What has the long-lasting impact been on your career development?

The knowledge and experience shared by the SEE-Diversity program mentors gave me a new level of understanding of the grant review process, and that has helped me develop a new approach to my writing. I have a more thorough understanding of how each piece of the grant puzzle fits together and also of how to convey the project management, financial projection, and scope of the projects that I propose more effectively. In short, the SEE-Diversity workshops gave me the skills needed to write a compelling proposal. 

Dr. Lisa Maeng and her lab team <

How have you applied the lessons learned during the workshop/mentoring to your job? How are you planning to keep applying those skills?

I’ve applied a lot of what I learned through the SEE-Diversity workshops and mentoring to my grant writing process, but I think the biggest impact the program has had on me is seen in my own mentoring. My graduate student and undergrads are applying for a number of programs right now, and I’m incorporating the writing and peer-revision strategies I’ve been practicing in SEE-Diversity in my guidance to them. I also consider things I’ve picked up as a mentee. For example, there were times when the coaching schedule and expectations seemed unsustainable for me, and reflecting on that experience, I recognized that something similar might be happening in my own lab. In the SEE-Diversity workshop, we discussed self-care and, bringing in some of those conversations, I have taken further steps to meet my mentees where they are, check in with them individually to see how comfortable they are with our pace and projects, and provide flexible options for deadlines, when possible, to accommodate changes in their schedules.

Have you received a grant since the SEE-Diversity to Success Workshop? 

Not yet, but I will!

What were your expectations of the program and have they been met?

I hoped that the SEE-Diversity program would position me to build a sense of community with other neuroscientists like me, working together to achieve our goals in our respective positions. Thankfully, I can now say that the program delivered on this promise. I have met some incredible scientists, and by sharing our experiences and challenges, I believe we have all been able to support each other.

Do you have any recommendations for future applicants?

I would advise future applicants to come to the program prepared to receive honest and informed, but also blunt, critique of their work. Peer and mentor review can be a difficult process, but I’ve found that my best results came when I was most trusting of the process and open to making changes. The mentors and participants bring extensive, varied experience to the table, but you can’t really leverage that until you are willing to be a bit vulnerable and honest about your own areas of weakness/potential for growth. I also think it’s important for future applicants to understand that the guidance they receive, however well-informed, might not always answer all of their questions. They need to be able to recognize and take what they need from the feedback and then use it to push forward in their own direction.

Join Dr. Lisa Maeng and apply to be part of the SEE-Diversity to Success Workshop. Applications for the current call are open until 1 May 2024.

The SEE-Diversity to Success Workshop receives significant financial support from IBRO, the American Psychological Foundation, the Burroughs-Wellcome Fund, and the Alzheimer’s Association.


If you are an IBRO awardee and would like to share your experience, contact the IBRO Communications team at communications@ibro.org.