We (Emily Aery Jones & Lauren Hewitt) are organizing the Inhibition in the CNS 2021 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 2021 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.
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.
Speaker & Attendee Selection Criteria
We encourage everyone with applicable research interests to apply to Inhibition in the CNS 2021 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
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.
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 on 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
- 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 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.
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
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.
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