As the only woman working with neuroscience in her department at the Stellenbosch University, South Africa, Dr. Lihle Qulu is familiar with the challenges women may face in the field. Discrimination, insufficient support, and impostor syndrome are just some of the difficulties she has pinpointed, not only in her country but also worldwide. While it is hard to determine the greatest challenge, in her opinion, the lack of preparation for an academic career is central to, and indeed aggravates, the other issues.
Dr. Lihle Qulu
Through the IBRO Diversity Grants program, a program which supports activities or events that promote gender and regional diversity in neuroscience, Dr. Qulu found the means to propose a solution to the issue of insufficient preparation for a career in academia. In 2022, supported by an IBRO Diversity Grant, Dr. Qulu and the Southern African Neuroscience Society (SANS) were able to successfully host an event on Capacity Building for Women in Neuroscience.
The event, attended by 20 female Master’s students, PhD candidates, and early-career professionals, aimed to provide women with training for two essential academic skills with a long-term impact on one’s career: grant applications and scientific writing. The workshop participants, instructed by two female experts, learned how to better prepare grant applications, from conception to submission. Attendees were also instructed on how to write a high-quality scientific paper that would be more likely to be accepted for publication. The creation of a writing lab was proposed as an outcome of the workshop, to offer participants a place to meet and help each other with writer’s block.
Participants of the Capacity Building for Women in Neuroscience
The IBRO Diversity Grant was used to support accommodation and transportation for speakers and attendees, as well as to cover the expenses of the final reception, which happened in parallel to a mentoring circle. In the latter, female principal investigators met the participants to discuss issues affecting them all, independently of their career stage, such as prejudice or lack of support. When asked if her expectations for the event were met, Dr. Qulu replied “My expectations were exceeded. I wish more women in neuroscience [would] hold such events to remind others: you’re doing okay, your problems are not unique, we’re going through the same thing and let’s come up with solutions.”
IBRO Diversity Grants also serve to promote regional diversity in neuroscience. Dr. Chinna Orish, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, saw an opportunity to use the grant to support the Nigerian National Brain Bee. The International Brain Bee (IBB), an organization supported by IBRO, organizes a competition that aims to engage and inspire school students to study and pursue careers in neuroscience. Each year, the winners of National Brain Bees are sent to represent their countries in the IBB World Championship. Dr. Orish was able to use the IBRO Diversity Grant funds to support the attendance of 12 Nigerian school students, who came from six geopolitical regions in the country, to take part in the competition that happened during the meeting of the Neuroscience Society of Nigeria at Ibadan. The grant was used to cover expenses related to accommodation, food, and transportation, as well as for awards and for the preparation of study materials for the students and the competition.
Dr. Chinna Orish
“The competition was a success, the students were very engaged, and the parents were so happy! It was such an impactful moment”, says Dr. Orish. In the feedback she received from the students after the event, many said they want to pursue a career in neuroscience and neurosurgery. Based on their continued interest in the field, as an outcome of the event, the Nigerian Brain Bee has begun organizing webinars for secondary school pupils on topics related to the study of the nervous system. Extremely satisfied with the results of the event and the funds she received from the IBRO Diversity Grant to support it, Dr. Orish encourages others to apply for this and other IBRO grants: “My advice is that folks should always be proactive in whatever they are doing because proactivity increases the chance of success.”
Neuroscience Society of Nigeria members and the participants of the Nigerian Brain Bee
Join Dr. Lihle Qulu and Dr. Chinna Orish: apply for an IBRO Diversity Grant. Applications for Diversity Grants will open in February 2023.
If you are an IBRO awardee and would like to share your experience, contact IBRO Communications Manager, Carolina Araujo Sousa, at firstname.lastname@example.org.