By Julia Diaz
Stanford undergraduates and local community college students presented their summer research projects in Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute labs at a poster session last month.
Trainees in the institute’s Neuroscience Undergraduate Research Opportunity (NeURO) and NeURO-Community College programs shared their work on a wide range of neuroscience topics. These included measuring gut-brain interactions with brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), developing face recognition software to investigate group social behavior in animals, conducting an electrophysiological study to learn about the effect of various drugs that are administered with anesthetics, and more. With guidance from Stanford neuroscientists, these fellows contributed to Wu Tsai Neuro’s mission of advancing our understanding of how the brain works in health and disease.
The NeURO and NeURO-CC fellowships introduce the fundamentals of scientific research to students from diverse backgrounds and provide trainees with experience in laboratory settings.
Founded in 2020, NeURO gives Stanford undergraduates the opportunity to engage in hands-on research in the neurosciences. It has also played a pivotal role in fostering Wu Tsai Neuro’s inclusive, cross-disciplinary community of neuroscience researchers.
“As a Black and queer student, being a part of a cohort with similarly underrepresented students in science contributed to an experience that was inclusive and enriching,” shared an anonymous student from the 2021 NeURO cohort. “This program equipped me with the necessary skills to meaningfully engage in research through Faculty Journal Clubs, a ‘research proposal’ assignment, and student-led presentations on specific topics in neuroscience. I’ve continually felt supported, valued, and challenged throughout my time in the NeURO program.”
This summer marked a significant milestone for Wu Tsai Neuro. After several years of piloting a track of the NeURO program for students from local community colleges, the institute hosted its first full cohort of community college fellows.
The ‘NeURO-CC’ program welcomes students, often from historically marginalized backgrounds, to immerse themselves in the world of neuroscience research. The idea for this program was spearheaded by Hodan Farah, a student from the inaugural NeURO cohort in 2020 who had transferred from Foothill College and member of the Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging, Equity and Justice (DIBEJ) Committee from 2021–2022.
“When I first got to Stanford I felt insecure and overwhelmed, but the NeURO program built my confidence that there was a place for me in neuroscience research. I also knew there were many other Foothill students who had just as much potential but haven't had the same kind of opportunity,” said Farah. “I hope this program can help other students like me break down elitist ideas about who belongs in neuroscience... and that it creates an opportunity for Wu Tsai Neuro to break down barriers to entry and make neuroscience at Stanford more accessible.”
Reflecting on her experience this summer, Jailah Mitchell, a 2023 NeURO-CC fellow from Foothill College noted, “The NeURO-CC program has given me the opportunity to learn how to conduct my own research by understanding experiments and the equipment… among many other important factors. I think it's important that I'm able to get this exposure and experience now as a NeURO-CC student, so I can use what I learn in school as a STEM student and for my future career.”