What would it look like if a neuroscientist and a psychologist used their knowledge of how we learn to reshape graduate training? 

The answer is the Impact Neuroscience Program funded by the National Institute of Mental Health for graduate training in the neurosciences at Duke.

It’s no secret that science is hard. A big reason is that, to learn something truly new, we have to push well beyond what we (and others) understand. Every day, scientists experience the discomfort of feeling confused and uncertain. That difficulty is essential to being a scientist. The payoff for enduring that discomfort is a fundamental human motivation -- the joy of discovery.  But breaking through moments (or months or years) of uncertainty to achieve new knowledge requires more than just stubbornness and study.

Another reason science is hard is its history of exclusivity.  The joy of research has been available primarily to those from privileged backgrounds, and those with an interest in pursuing "pure science" as a career path. This program will therefore work to remedy unnecessary challenges that are not inherent to science, such as the narrow culture and structure of science training and career paths.  

What can we do differently?

PIs Alison Adcock and Greg Samanez-Larkin drew on their expertise in motivated learning, resilience, and well-being to identify conditions that optimize learning and cognitive performance, such as: 

  • We learn best when we feel safe, valued, included, and supported. 
  • We are motivated to achieve goals and work through difficulty when we have the right tools and equipment. 
  • When one avenue becomes closed, having varied opportunities allows us to approach important questions from different angles. 
  • Interacting with people from diverse backgrounds promotes innovative thinking. 
  • And, of course, it’s easier to learn when we are genuinely curious about a subject. 

Resources for the Duke Neuroscience Community and Beyond

This new grant and training program provides broad resources for the whole community and supports a graduate Fellows program. The overall goal of the grant is to provide a supportive training program that prioritizes the joy of discovery, career progression, and a sense of belonging to the scientific community. An important goal of this program is to shift the culture of graduate training in the neurosciences and related disciplines.  To achieve this goal, most activities will be open to the Duke community and some will be open to the public. Most of the activities of this grant will be open to all graduate students, with a few initiatives specific to formal graduate Fellows.

Impact Neuroscience Fellows

Graduate students in the neurosciences broadly defined are encouraged to apply to become Fellows. Eligibility includes one or more of the NIH criteria for being under-recognized in biomedical sciences including individuals from low-income or other socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds (Individuals from Disadvantaged Backgrounds), with disabilities (Individuals with Disabilities), and/or who are Black, Hispanic, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (Underrepresented Racial and Ethnic Groups). Women from any of these groups are especially encouraged to apply.

The key components of being a Fellow in this program are:

  1. Being part of a supported cohort.  Students will become part of a social cohort as they navigate graduate training together.
  2. Enhanced professional development.  Access to workshops and resources for students and mentors to support graduate training and career navigation. (Also available to the broader neuroscience community.)
  3. Enhanced emphasis on computational skills.  We will facilitate the matching of students’ computational needs with classes and other opportunities offered across programs at Duke to optimize progression in their own research projects and build translatable skills. (Also available to the broader neuroscience community.)
  4. Emphasis on wellness.  We will offer professional resources as well as social and recreational activities to build resilience and enhance a sense of connection with the Duke and Durham communities. (Also available to the broader neuroscience community.)
  5. Opportunities for connection with NCCU. Access to optional undergraduate mentoring and teaching opportunities at North Carolina Central University. (Also available to the broader neuroscience community.)
  6. Summer graduate stipend support as well as annual access to up to $3000 in conference travel funds and $5000 in pilot grant funds.

These benefits will be achieved through regular interaction with other Fellows, program leaders, PIs/mentors, and optional social activities. 

Graduate students in any year of their PhD program (including incoming first-year students) are welcome to apply. Fellow appointments are for one year and are renewable. We welcome applications from students in any department who are studying the neurosciences.

Application Deadline: August 1, 2024

Join us!

To apply to become a Fellow, please follow the link: Impact Neuroscience Fellows Application

Fellows Will...

  • Participate in regular gatherings designed to build community, promote mental wellness, explore career opportunities, develop skills in mentorship, and protect time for imagination.
  • Develop and regularly update a detailed career plan in collaboration with your mentor and program leaders.
  • Have opportunities to mentor younger students in the brain sciences.
  • Be able to participate in at least one class in data science or other computational skill building opportunity, and receive support to match the training opportunity to your research needs.
  • Receive support to engage with activities that promote your own mental wellness
  • Have access to funds to support travel and summer stipends

Mentors of Fellows Will...

  • Receive resources for the development and updating of an IDP, or Individual Development Plan, to be used with your Fellow and any other lab members you choose
  • Be expected to participate in occasional scientific and community-building activities alongside your Fellow



Please apply at this link (estimated time to apply, 15-20 minutes).