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Beyond the Ivory Tower: Penn’s Neuroscience Grad Students Reach Out During Brain Week, and Beyond

NGG KidsJudge 2013 Synpatic LandPhiladelphia is a cerebral city this spring. To start, every March, Brain Awareness Week brings together institutions worldwide to celebrate the brain. Activities include open days at neuroscience labs, exhibitions about the brain, and displays at libraries, community centers, and science museums.

The Neuroscience Graduate Group (NGG) at the Perelman School of Medicine held its first annual Penn Neuroscience Public Lecture for Brain Awareness Week to a packed auditorium. The four TED-style talks covered how diet affects the brain, how people make choices about abandoning long-term goals, heritable memory problems from cocaine-abusing fathers, and bionic-like axon growth for nerve repair.

Earlier this academic year, the NGG was named the 2013 Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Graduate Program of the Year. "The program’s Graduate Led Initiatives and Activities [GLIA] Committee is a very innovative way to build leadership training among trainees. The GLIA Committee and the other Graduate Group activities to recruit, build curriculum, and develop skills for diverse career paths, will serve as successful examples to other institutional programs,” stated the SfN awards committee letter to the NGG.

In keeping with the broad range of pursuits that encompass the field of neuroscience, John A. Dani, PhD, the new chair of the Department of Neuroscience and director of Mahoney Institute for Neurosciences (MINS) told Penn Current that he wants to be inclusive and open-minded about there being no boundary of where neuroscience can reach, “whether it’s bioengineering for new kinds of probes, the Department of Surgery for the implantation of new technologies, or the psychology department or psychiatry department for mental illness,” as well as supporting the NGG in its outreach pursuits.  

Since the 1990s, MINS and the NGG have been affiliated with the Kids Judge! Neuroscience Fair for elementary school students and the Upward Bound Program, which uses neuroscience and learning about the brain as a platform to increase excitement and interest in science for high school sophomores and juniors. “We have some exciting new initiatives on the horizon, including going into local schools to foster excitement for neuroscience in younger students, developing a blog that highlights science publications in a way that the general public can understand, and developing a seminar series that tackles tough parts of living in academia, such as gender inequality,” says Kate Christison-Lagay, a PhD candidate and GLIA co-director for 2013-2014.

For the present, Penn’s brain expertise, from grad students to seasoned faculty, will be out and about across the city at the Philadelphia Science Festival, the American Brain Foundation’s Brain Health Fair and even in the Franklin Institute’s upcoming permanent  “Your Brain” exhibit. Stay tuned for details on how you can connect with our brain experts over the next few months!

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