This fall, the Department of Neuroscience at the Yale School of Medicine launched a new lectureship series, called SYNAPSES, to showcase the work of postdoctoral researchers who specialize in the nervous system.
SYNAPSES, which stands for Seminar at Yale Neuroscience: Advanced Postdoc Extramural Series, will span various domains within the field of neuroscience by hosting speakers who examine the brain from molecular, cellular, systemic and behavioral perspectives, among others. Researchers who apply to give a lecture must have at least three years of postdoctoral experience. Selected speakers will be invited to spend a day on campus presenting their work and interacting with peers and faculty from the Yale neuroscience community at meals and one-on-one meetings.
“We really want to invite people who are doing excellent research, who are good communicators … but also who are going to be leaders in the field, who are looking to transform the field in some innovative way or really contribute to it,” said Katie Ferguson, a neuroscience postdoctoral associate at Yale and a member of the SYNAPSES Selection Committee, which will be responsible for choosing guest lecturers and enhancing their visits to campus.
Ferguson hopes the wide range of lecture topics will foster a spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration among members of the neuroscience department who attend series seminars.
“It’s really easy to only go to talks that are similar to what you do, but you can learn a lot by thinking outside of what you normally do, so I think that spanning this whole range is really going to help us cross disciplines,” she said.
James Jeanne, a professor in the neuroscience department and a member of the Selection Committee, said another primary goal of the lectureship is to situate postdocs — both those giving the talks and those attending the talks — within a global network of neuroscience experts.
He added that postdoctoral researchers occupy a nebulous stage in the career trajectory of a lifelong academic. They have just finished graduate school, where students operate within highly structured programs and work toward well-defined goals, he said. They may look forward to earning a faculty position at a research institution, where they will receive mentorship and funding. Until then, postdocs enjoy little institutionalized support.
Furthermore, Jeanne added, research conducted by postdocs often drives central advances in the biological sciences. However, lab heads and principal investigators — who supervise lab spaces and hold grants — are more often approached to lecture about research findings coming out of their departments.
The SYNAPSES lecture series offers a chance for visiting postdocs to subvert this trend. At the same time, holding formal seminars about their own research findings prepares guest lecturers for the future job application process, said Sreeganga Chandra, the deputy chair of the neuroscience department and member of the Selection Committee.
Chandra explained that the application process for faculty positions at academic institutions requires applicants to give “chalk talks,” structurally similar to lectures in the SYNAPSES series, where they present topics they are currently investigating and topics they hope to explore within the next five years.
SYNAPSES is not the first program of its kind, Jeanne said, adding that he participated in a similar lecture series called SPINES during his postdoctoral years at New York University. However, the SYNAPSES series distinguishes itself from other lectureships by providing full reimbursement to its guest lecturers for the cost of travel, food and lodging during their stays in New Haven.
Funding comes from the Kavli Institute for Neuroscience at Yale, a local chapter of an international organization that supports research across scientific disciplines.
Dragomir Milovanovic, a neuroscience postdoc at Yale and another member of the Selection Committee, noted that offering financial reimbursements allows researchers from international backgrounds and from labs with smaller financial endowments to participate in the speaker series.
The Selection Committee has also targeted outreach efforts toward women and underrepresented minorities, he said.
Applications for the 2019 spring semester will remain open until Dec. 15, and the Selection Committee plans to schedule the first lecture during early February. The lectures will take place six to eight times each academic year.
Lydia Buonomano | firstname.lastname@example.org .