Society for Neuroscience Promotion of Women in Neuroscience Awards
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) will honor several highly accomplished researchers who have made significant contributions to the advancement of women in neuroscience. The awards will be presented during Neuroscience 2021, SfN's annual meeting and the world's largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.
“SfN is proud to recognize these researchers who act as critical nodes in the network of neuroscience, both as pioneering and highly accomplished researchers and for their support of young investigators who will drive the field toward its future,” said SfN President Barry Everitt. “In particular, the efforts to bring more women to the forefront of neuroscience deserve significant commendation as this enhances the quality and broadens the relevance of neuroscience research.”
Bernice Grafstein Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Mentoring: Jill Becker
The Bernice Grafstein Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Mentoring recognizes individuals dedicated to developing the careers of female neuroscientists. Named after the first female president of SfN, the award recognizes leaders who have aided the early careers of women neuroscientists and facilitated their retention in the field. The award includes a $2,500 prize.
Jill Becker is a professor at the University of Michigan and senior neuroscience scholar of the Michigan Neuroscience Institute. Becker has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of sex differences in drug addiction and other motivated behaviors, including how differences in the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in male and female brains contributes to the enhanced vulnerability of females to chronic drug use. She is a fellow of both the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology and the International Behavioral Neuroscience Society and is the editor-in-chief of the journal Biology of Sex Differences.
Throughout her research career, Becker has been an effective advocate for female neuroscientists both at the individual and community level. As a mentor, Becker is said to be a tireless mentor and advisor who eagerly assists mentees with research questions as well as advice about career steps, especially in early career stages. She has directly mentored 17 graduate students (most of whom are women), eight postdoctoral fellows, and over 300 undergraduate students. Becker has also promoted women in neuroscience at the institutional and national levels. At the University of Michigan, she was instrumental in creating formal mentoring opportunities and increasing transparency in faculty promotion. As assistant director of the neuroscience program at Michigan, she increased flexibility for students with family or health complications. In addition, she conducted workshops for neuroscience departments across the country to advise chairs and administrators about fair hiring and promotion practices for women. Becker has previously been recognized for her dedication to the promotion of women in neuroscience with the Louise Hanson Marshall Special Recognition Award from SfN in 2010, the Sarah Goddard Power Award from the University of Michigan in 2011, and the Health Education Visionary Award from the Society for Women’s Health Research in 2020, among many others.
Mika Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award: Catherine Dulac
The Mika Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes neuroscientists with outstanding achievements in research who have significantly promoted the professional advancement of women in neuroscience. The award includes a $5,000 prize.
Catherine Dulac of Harvard University is a global leader in neuroscience and has been recognized at both national and international levels. She is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the French Academy of Sciences, and has served as chair of the department of molecular and cell biology at Harvard and co-chair of the NIH Advisory Committee to the NIH director on the BRAIN initiative. Dulac is a member of numerous scientific advisory boards in the U.S. and abroad, including for the Whitehead Institute at MIT, the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Switzerland, and the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research. Dulac’s accomplishments have been honored with several awards and fellowships, including the French Legion d’Honneur, the National Academy’s Pradel Research Award, the American Philosophical Society Karl Spencer Lashley Award and the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.
As a researcher, Dulac has made fundamental discoveries in the neuroscience of behavior, including the molecular and functional identification of neural circuits underlying instinctive social behaviors of mice. She revealed vital roles for the pheromone system in providing the sex-specific control of social behaviors and uncovered specific neuronal populations and brain circuits controlling parenting and other social behaviors in both males and females, demonstrating how different brain areas participate in the positive and negative controls of parental care.
In addition to these remarkable achievements, Dulac has proven to be a fierce advocate for women in science and a beloved mentor. Her colleagues say that Dulac is that rare mentor who can balance encouragement with uncompromising standards for trainees. She generously commits her time and other resources to ensure that young scientists get the training they need to excel. Within her lab, Dulac has trained 38 postdoctoral fellows (including 14 women), 22 graduate students (nine of whom are women) and 37 undergraduates (including 20 women). She is also known to go out of her way to support young female neuroscientists who are not her direct trainees and recently used an award she received in recognition of her scientific achievements to establish a fellowship at Harvard University for women interested in neuroscience research.
Janett Rosenberg Trubatch Career Development Award: Shane Liddelow and Lauren O’Connell
The Janett Rosenberg Trubatch Career Development Award promotes successful academic transitions prior to tenure by recognizing early-career professionals who have demonstrated originality and creativity in their research. Supported by the Trubatch Family, the award includes a $2,000 prize.
Lauren O’Connell is an assistant professor of biology at Stanford University who studies the neurogenetics of parental care and other behaviors in poison frogs. As a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, she examined sex steroid hormone signaling in fish and compared neurochemical gene expression profiles across multiple brain regions in 88 different species. This comparison laid the groundwork for studying the molecular basis of social behavior in many nontraditional species. As an independent Bauer fellow at Harvard University, O’Connell expanded her work to exploring how poison frogs store and tolerate toxins collected from ants and other insects in their diet to better understand how evolutionary innovations in behavior co-occur with ecologically-relevant changes in physiology. Since moving to Stanford, O’Connell has developed technologies to create genetic changes in poison frogs and has further explored social behaviors related to parent-offspring interactions. Her work has revealed how neonatal imprinting in tadpoles can affect adult behavior and how the experience of providing parental care leads to changes in hormone levels, brain activity, and gene expression. In addition to her pioneering work developing the poison frog as a model organism for neuroscience, O’Connell has also demonstrated a commitment to science outreach by developing an educational program called Little Froggers, which uses the charismatic amphibians to engage elementary and middle school students with neuroscience.
Shane Liddelow, an assistant professor in the NYU Grossman School of Medicine Neuroscience Institute, is a pioneering researcher in glial biology with a focus on neurodegenerative disease. Astrocytes and other glial cells were long thought to be supportive cells for the nervous system, but Liddelow’s novel research has revealed a more active role in the injured and diseased brain. As a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford, he found that a type of astrocyte that is activated during inflammation and several neurodegenerative diseases. These astrocytes switch from helpful to harmful – killing neurons. He was the first to describe an exact set of molecules released by microglia that cause this functional change in astrocytes, which in turn can drive the death of neurons. As an independent researcher at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, Liddelow has shown that astrocytes can drive retinal cell death in a mouse model of glaucoma and that blocking astrocyte responses to the disease can stop neurons from dying, thereby establishing reactive astrocytes as a putative therapeutic target for eye disease and injury. Most recently, his work has uncovered the elusive toxic molecule released by astrocytes – a saturated long-chain fatty acid. Liddelow’s work on astrocytes now extends into other models of neurodegeneration including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.
Patricia Goldman-Rakic Hall of Honor: Leslie Ungerleider
The Patricia Goldman-Rakic Hall of Honor posthumously recognizes a neuroscientist who has pursued career excellence and exhibited dedication to the advancement of women in neuroscience. The award was established in 2001 and later named for Dr. Patricia Goldman-Rakic after her death in 2003. Leslie Ungerleider was chief of the laboratory of brain and cognition at the National Institute of Mental Health from 1995 until the time of her death in 2020. Using a combination of anatomical, physiological, imaging, and behavioral methods, Ungerleider made numerous groundbreaking discoveries regarding the functional organization of the visual cortex in humans and nonhuman primates. Her work revealed that the primate visual cortex contains two separate neural systems for perceiving “what” things are and “where” they are located and thereby established one of the most impactful and influential concepts in vision science. Ungerleider later extended the concept of the two visual pathways to the human brain, using positron emission tomography to show a similar organization of spatial and object vision. Later, with functional magnetic resonance imaging, she pioneered studies of the neural basis of cognition in the human brain and branched into many other cognitive domains, including object and face perception, selective attention, perceptual decision making, emotional behavior, and motor learning.
In addition to her superlative scientific achievements, she inspired many young female neuroscientists. Ungerleider, who received her PhD in experimental psychology in 1970, knew all too well about the challenges facing her female mentees, and she did everything she could to prepare them for the next stages of their careers. Described as both intimidating and warm, she demanded the best of her trainees and in return, gave her best. She taught her female trainees how to negotiate their salaries and was part of the fight to rectify gender-based salary disparities at the NIH. Through her mentoring, she pushed her trainees to always consider the interpretation of evidence (‘What does it mean?’) rather than the empirical findings alone.
Ungerleider was one of the most influential neuroscientists of her time, and her passion for her research as well as the research of her trainees was recognized by many prestigious awards, including membership in the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In addition, she received the SfN’s Mika Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001 and the NIH Award for Mentoring in 2004.
The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is an organization of basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and the nervous system.