Inhibition in the CNS GRS
See this page on my co-chair’s website
Post-Conference Update: How Did We Do?
Organizing this conference has been a truly enriching experience. We learned so much about the barriers to creating an equitable conference. Attendance at this conference increased by 40% compared to the last time it was held at this location (73 vs 51 attendees), and we think our design played a role in making the conference more accessible to more people. Below, we’ve added an update after each section reflecting on our experience enacting our plan and whether we met our goals. The original plan was committed on Github on October 2020 and has not been changed.
Conference Design: Original Plan, from October 2020
We (Emily Aery Jones & Lauren Hewitt) are organizing the Inhibition in the CNS 2023 Gordon Research Seminar (GRS), the 1-day trainee-only portion of the full-week Gordon conference. On this page, we will share the steps we are taking to build a diverse and inclusive conference.
When we were elected to chair the Inhibition in the CNS 2023 GRS, we ran on a platform of increasing diversity and representation across several axes. Those axes included: brain regions, animal models, levels of abstraction, labs, countries of origin, ethnicities, and genders. We prioritized these axes based on resounding feedback from 2019 conference attendees. Greater diversity along gender and ethnicity axes leads to higher impact science (Campbell et al. 2013, Freeman & Huang 2014, AlShebli et al, 2018). We envision that diversity along all these axes will create a more vibrant and engaging conference experience.
Our own privilege affords us power to make these changes. To borrow from Lilla Watson, our success is bound up with the success of everyone. We acknowledge that the attendees have experienced discrimination in their careers, that their experiences are valid, and that it is on us to raise awareness and not let them happen again. We further recognize that representation matters, and whoever speaks has power. Therefore, it is on us to be intentional in our design such that all are welcome and thrive.
Below, we outline the conference design, which we have subtitled Diversity of Inhibitory Systems, to support this goal by (1) inviting everyone to participate, (2) designing an inclusive environment, and (3) making our work transparent & accountable.
Step 1: Inviting Everyone to Participate
Finding Speakers: Casting a Wide Net
- We decided to rethink the standard conference practice of reaching out to your personal network and letting everyone discover your conference on their own. Instead, I (Emily) wrote a tool to scrape publication archives and from ~2500 abstracts on Pubmed, bioRxiv, and NH RePORTer manually curated a 1000+ lab database of scholars who meet one of more of our target diversity criteria.
- We then went through public lists of scientists who identify as female, LGBTQ+, and underrepresented ethnicities to add to the database and to explicitly invite via email. These lists are an invaluable tool, though they do put the burden on the underrepresented scholars to advocate for themselves and are therefore sparse. We hope that our broad search will help expand the list of underrepresented voices to explicitly invite.
- To further expand our reach, we will be soliciting nominations for PIs & trainees who meet one of more of our target diversity criteria through a public form and will actively advertise the conference on all social media.
- We will also be reaching out to international neuroscience societies and underrepresented ethnicity scientist organizations to ask them to promote our conference to their members.
- From this list, we will reach out directly to labs or trainees who meet certain criteria (e.g. from underrepresented countries) to increase their representation at the conference. These emails will be explicit about why this lab’s or trainee’s work is important for this conference and highlight any funding we can provide and scholarships they may be eligible for.
- We emailed 160 labs and 40 trainees from the above lists. 9 of the 73 attendees, including 4 of the 10 speakers and 2 of the 4 discussion leaders, were recruited this way.
- The societies and organizations we emailed to ask to share our conference with their members either never replied or said they weren’t interested.
Finding Speakers: Scientific Topics Prioritized
- This conference has historically heavily featured hippocampal & cortical physiology in rodent models. This of course includes us, your co-chairs, both rodent hippocampal physiologists. The overwhelming majority of feedback we received from attendees, both verbally and in an official form, was for more developmental, molecular, neuromodulation, & computational presentations, and a wider variety of brain regions and animal models.
- We focused search in 5 categories: brain regions (outside hippocampus & cortex), animal models (non-rodent), developmental, molecular, & computational.
- We titled the sessions to capture these categories and are inviting keynote speakers that focus on molecular & neuromodulation approaches.
- We’re proud of our program, which showcased the diversity of inhibition throughout the brain. Our keynote speaker presented her work demonstrating that GABAergic neurons in the VTA co-release GABA and dopamine.
- Despite these efforts, our top piece of critical feedback (shared by ~20% of attendees) was that the speakers and/or the attendees needed to be more diverse. This suggests we were on the right track, and that even greater efforts to diversify should be made in the future.
Speaker & Attendee Selection Criteria
We encourage everyone with applicable research interests to apply to Inhibition in the CNS 2023 GRS and GRC. In order to have an engaging, enriching conference, we will be accepting attendees and offering speaker & discussion leader slots such that they meet our representation goals. Our hope is to make room for those who don’t usually attend this conference. This will include prioritizing the following applications:
- Research related to the 3 session topics for talks
- Underrepresented countries: at least 1 speaker will be from a university outside the US, Canada, Europe, & East Asia
- Underrepresented ethnicity trainees: at least 12% of speakers will be Black and/or Latinx (to match demographics of US neuroscience PhD students)
- Female trainees: at least 50% of speakers will be female
- First-time attendees
- Unique labs: we don’t plan to accept more than 1 or 2 trainees from the same lab until we’ve met our representation goals
- We exceeded our speaker representation goals. We selected speakers and discussion leaders which were representative of the applicant pool. For instance, we had more than 50% female speakers, as the conference had 47/73 women, 26/73 men, and 2/73 non-binary scientists.
- Gordon conferences was able to increase our participation cap from 60 participants to 90, which allowed us to accept all applications. The applications met our own diversity goals without any filtering; most attendees are the only participants from their labs, with just 8 labs having 2 participants, 2 labs with 3 participants, and 1 lab with 4.
Conference Design to Promote Collaboration
Gordon research conferences have a successful format that they encourage all conferences to adhere closely to, so we will not be changing the format of the sessions. However, we will be adding a ‘mixer meal’. Attendees will be matched on submitted abstracts into groups of ~6 based on topic and lab to promote cross-disciplinary conversations. We will encourage everyone to spend the first meal of the conference with their group with the goal of sparking connections that will last far beyond the conference week.
- I (Emily) was unable to get the Neuromatch code to work, and so manually designed groups based on submitted abstracts.
Step 2: Designing an Inclusive Environment
We have confirmed that the venue is able to provide the following accommodations. If you are attending, please specify any accommodations you need from this list in the ‘Special Needs’ field.
- On-site childcare
- Gender neutral bathroom
- Clean & quiet prayer/safe space room
- Lactation room with locking door, ‘occupied’ sign, chair, outlet, sink, paper towels & trash can (fridge/freezer available in hotel rooms)
- Reserved seats for audio/visual impaired attendees and parents
- “Equally Attractive Non-Alcoholic Beverages” available during social hours
- Mobility: accessible entrances, chairs for poster presenters
- Diet: all foods labeled
- Our conference administrator team was able to make each of these accommodations.
- A major access barrier we encountered was conference policy banning guests, including children, from all scientific sessions. We were fortunate to be able to cover the $1800 in childcare costs for one attendee, but this policy creates an unnecessary access barrier.
Our fundraising goal budget prioritizes the following costs:
- Travel for scientists from underrepresented countries
Due to US tax policy, we can only cover registration fees in advance. Other covered expenses will be covered through reimbursement.
We encourage eligible attendees to apply to the Carl Storm Underrepresented Minority Fellowship and will nominate eligible attendees to International Diversity and Primary Undergraduate Institution fellowships.
- We were not permitted to use funds for visas, but did not receive any visa funding requests.
- We were able to fully fund childcare for a participant who requested it.
- GRS attendees applied to the Carl Storm Underrepresented Minority and International Diversity fellowships and were awarded them, which offset $1000 and $1250 of the costs for two trainees.
- As much as possible, we covered costs by waiving registration fees, which prevented attendees from having to wait for reimbursements, even if the cost the trainee needed covered was a reimbursable expense (e.g. travel or childcare).
- Rather than reimbursing speakers and discussion leaders, in contrast to most Gordon conferences, we funded only trainees with financial barriers to attendance. Twelve trainees requested support, ranging from $300 to $3000. We were able to fully fund all requests, due to extensive fundraising efforts ($13,783) combined with the GRC chairs generously sharing some of their funds ($10,000), more than doubling previous years’ budgets.
- A major barrier to equitable access we encountered was the reimbursement policy. Many trainees cannot afford to purchase flights for conferences and wait months to be reimbursed, particularly for international travel. This is especially true for graduate students at institutions that charge tuition and don’t pay stipends and for trainees in lower income countries or countries with steep exchange rates. Many nonprofit scientific organizations are able to advance funds for travel, and all conference organizations should strive to do the same.
- We worked with one lab in the Global South that we contacted, who expressed interest in attending but a major financial barrier presented by the cost, reimbursement policy, and exchange rate. We were fortunate to be able to enable one trainee from this lab to attend by fully funding their trip, including charging their flight to my (Emily’s) personal credit card so that the trainee wouldn’t have to pay half their annual salary to buy the tickets. While I can afford to wait months for that charge to be reimbursed, this trainee could not. I am grateful that I could use my privilege to level the playing field, but this unnecessary barrier to access should be removed altogether.
Practices at the Conference
- Excluding alcohol from the GRS social
- Hearing all voices: asking discussion leaders to seek questions from trainees first and to ask everyone to use the microphone
- Encouraging attendees - if they are uncomfortable asking their question publicly - to email us their question during talks, which we are happy to ask on their behalf
- Holiday accommodations: sending out a google form so that attendees who are observing holidays that overlap with our conference can observe them together
- Pronouns stickers on name tags
- Making code of conduct visible on website, in conference program, and in welcome talk
- Ensuring that the post-conference survey list not exclude nonbinary identities in its demographic questions
- We routed all our fundraising towards covering trainee costs and so allocated none to the social. We received positive feedback about excluding alcohol from participants who don’t drink, who said it made them feel more included.
- We funded requests as they came in, to their full amount when possible, often asking attendees to wait until we could confirm we had enough funds. We wish we had designed a formal funding request method, set standards for how much we would fund per request, and had fundraised earlier to know how much we could cover.
- The chairs of the main conference were happy to ask discussion leaders to prioritize trainee questions.
- We did not ask trainees to email us their questions, as we realized later we wouldn’t be able to fully participate in the talks while also managing our inboxes. The conference is small and thus offers many opportunities for trainees to interact with speakers and ask them questions in a more casual setting.
- We asked trainees to contact us if they wanted a place to pray or peers to pray with, in particular during Muharram, the holiday our conference overlapped.
- In 2020, we requested that pronoun stickers be available (or preferably, pronouns printed on badges) and that non-binary identities be included in the surveys. Conference administrators told us they couldn’t do either of these, but that we could provide our own stickers. In 2023, when we followed up, we learned that conference policy had changed: pronouns are now printed on badges and non-binary identities are an option on all demographic surveys. We can’t know whether our request influenced this policy change, but are happy with the outcome either way.
Step 3: Making Our Work Transparent & Accountable
To ensure these goals are met, we are making them public, detailed, transparent, and open to feedback from the community. We have set our goals in advance, made them explicit, and published them here so that we can be held accountable for our work and so all who contribute to this conference are aware of its design. We will be soliciting feedback from specific community members to iterate on its design. At the conference start, we will report out on how we met (or failed to meet) our goals. At the conference end, we will ask for feedback from attendees on what did and did not work and share the summary assessment publicly.
- This conference design has been public since October 2020. We received positive feedback from many labs and funders that we contacted, including one nonprofit institution who said they would save this design internally as a guide for what other conferences they fund should strive to attain.
- Implementing this design created a lot more work than is normally expected from GRS chairs. I (Emily) alone spent 230 hours over several months to craft the design, reach enough scientists, raise sufficient funds, and ensure equitable access. This effort was not easy, but it is necessary.
Below are the main contributors to this conference design:
- Twitter thread about inclusive conference design
- Ten Simple Rules to Achieve Conference Speaker Gender Balance
- Diversity & Inclusion in Scientific Computing Cookbook
- 500 Women Scientists Guide to Scientific Meetings
- Diversity & Inclusion committee member’s goals for a conference
Databases of female scientists and scientists of color:
- Diversify STEM Conferences
- SPARK: Scholars of Color Database
- Black Neuroscience & Psychology PIs & Postdocs
- NIH List of Lists
In recognition of everyone whose ideas helped shape the design. Please email us with feedback, and your name will be included here, too!
- Nour Al-muhtasib: advice on prayer room, religious holidays, & first night social