On Thursday, June 8, 2023, the School of Medicine held the 2nd Annual Diversity in Neuroscience and Immunology Symposium. This Symposia has grown in recent years, starting as a virtual Juneteenth Seminar in 2020 led by Neuroscience Associate Professor Ukpong Eyo, PhD, to the all day, in-person celebration of DEI and science it is today. In support of these efforts, we thank UVA’s Neuroscience Department, the Brain Immunology and Glia Center, the Carter Immunology Center, the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Cancer Biology, the Immunology Training Program (T32A1007496-21), the integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia (iTHRIV), the Neuroscience Graduate Program, Provost Office Mini-grants to Enhance Faculty Diversity and Inclusion, the Graduate Biosciences Society, and Biolegend.
The Symposia included fantastic talks from keynote speakers from across the country. Bryan Bryson, PhD, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spoke about the global impact of tuberculosis (TB) and a “Beacon of hope” for improved TB vaccine development and treatment where his group is using mass spectrometry to identify candidate mycobacterium tuberculosis antigen epitopes for more effective vaccines. Michael Yassa, PhD, from the University of California, Irvine, presented on his group’s work in developing more precise, comprehensive, and specific cognitive testing for Alzheimer’s early diagnosis and identification of relevant brain circuits and vascular states in disease and the declining aging brain. Dr. Yassa emphasized the team’s efforts to move towards culturally informed research practices, such as hiring Spanish speaking staff and research technicians, and their goal to focus on marginalized groups to understand the social and structural determinants of health. The final keynote speaker, Marguerite Mathews, PhD, from NIH NINDS’s Office of Programs to Enhance Neuroscience Workforce Diversity (OPEN), began her talk with Pride acknowledged and spoke on her work with Supporters of 8CRE who are promoting culture change in the workplace through 8 Changes for Racial Equity, (@Support8cre) through which #19DaysOfWellness is currently ongoing, to make Juneteenth a time for family, self, and community. Dr. Mathews then proceeded to give a fantastic overview of all of the different funding opportunities in NINDS and especially focused on awards available for diverse trainees.
The day also included wonderful invited and internal postdoctoral speakers. Christine Vasquez, PhD, from the University of Pennsylvania, presented her work studying pathogenic and non-pathogenic Enterovirus-D68 infection using a brain organoid model and the global health importance of studying emerging and re-emerging viruses. She finished her talk emphasizing the importance of remembering the human beings that conduct research as much as the scientific findings. Tania Velez, PhD, from UVA described her work studying antigenic responses as hallmarks of fibrotic Interstitial Lung Disease independent of their underlying etiologies, using a large human sample cohort, and the importance of studying rare diseases. Finally, Iker Etchegaray, PhD, from UVA spoke on his work studying a distinct mechanism for insulin production in the eye triggered by daily phagocytosis of cells in the retina that ensures glucose supply to the retina independent of the circulating homeostatic levels.
A highlight for many was the invited speaker panel “Thriving in Academia: panel discussion for trainees and their mentors” where the speakers touched on mental health, work-life balance, normalizing failures, and the difficulties and increased stress diverse scientists face when navigating academia and identifying the skills and tools they might need. At least 60% of attendee survey respondents reported the panel discussion stuck with them the most from this day, one attendee mentioned, “I find it amazing how different PI’s bring so many different ideas and perspectives to the topic of mentor and mentee training.” Finally, the Symposia rounded off with a poster session and reception where Graduate Students Matthew Flores and Lexi Johnson won the 1st and 2nd Prizes for best posters. The Diversity in Neuroscience and Immunology Symposium will continue to be a growing and yearly event to showcase brilliant minds and the work they do in the lab and in the DEI space. We look forward to seeing you there next June!
Article written by Morgan Coburn, PhD, and Mirna Perusina Lanfranca, PhD.
Filed Under: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion