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6 Neuroscience and Neurobiology: Combining Data from the Program and Student Surveys Of the 11 biomedical science fields included in the Data-Based Assessment of Research- Doctorate Programs, the field of neuroscience and neurobiology was selected for inclusion in the student survey as a representative of the broad field of biological sciences.1 To put the neuroscience and neurobiology student data into context, they have been compared with other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines and used it as a case study of biomedical science disciplines. STUDENT EXPERIENCE Compared with chemical engineering, physics, economics and English, the other fields in which students were queried about their training programs, neuroscience and neurobiology appears to be a field with a relatively high level of overall student satisfaction. Ninety-five percent of the students were somewhat or very satisfied with their training program (Table 7-15 in the Assessment), a number equaled only by chemical engineering. Students in neuroscience and neurobiology also reported the highest levels of student productivity in both research presentations and publication of research findings, again similar to chemical engineering (Table 7-16 in the Assessment). Although students in all five fields surveyed reported that the assessments of academic progress that they received were helpful, neuroscience and neurobiology students reported much higher rates of assessment (Table 7-17 in the Assessment). Eighty-six percent of the neuroscience and neurobiology programs reported collecting data about the postgraduation employment of their students, higher than any other biomedical science field. The student survey also asked students to reflect on their career objectives when they entered graduate school and when they took the survey, which was after admission to candidacy. At program entry, more than 80 percent of neuroscience and neurobiology students recalled an 1 Most of the data on students in neuroscience and neurobiology comes from the survey of doctoral students. For a discussion of the results of the student survey, see Chapter 7 in the Assessment. The complete “Admitted-to- Candidacy Doctoral Student Questionnaire” can be found in Appendix D of the Assessment. 37
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38 RESEARCH-DOCTORATE PROGRAMS IN BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES intention to pursue a career in research and development, similar to those in physics and chemical engineering. Unlike those fields, however, neuroscience and neurobiology students reported a large change in career objectives, with a 13 percent decrease in interest in research and development (see Table 7-18 in the Assessment). It is unclear if this decline reflects student perception of static employment opportunities for biomedical scientists in academia or, perhaps more positively, the opening of a wider array of career options for application of technical expertise in the biomedical sciences. This is an area that merits continued data collection for a more complete understanding of career outcomes in the biomedical science fields. COMPLETION RATES AND TIME TO DEGREE The percentage of neuroscience and neurobiology students completing programs within 6 years exhibited an interquartile range of 36 percent to 57 percent with a median of 53 percent2. The cohort completion rate did not correlate with measures of faculty research productivity (i.e., publications, citations, and grants), as shown in Appendix D. This was similar to other biomedical science programs. We can reliably identify the locus of management of only 60 percent of the neuroscience and neurobiology programs. This is further complicated by the interdisciplinary nature of neuroscience and neurobiology, where “behavioral” neuroscience and neurobiology programs are more likely to be administered in an arts and sciences faculty while “anatomical” or “physiological” neuroscience and neurobiology programs are more likely to be in medical schools. Of the programs that we can locate, 57 percent are in medical schools and 43 percent are in arts and sciences.3 For these identifiable programs, the completion rate for programs in medical schools was 43 percent, while it was 48 percent for programs in arts and sciences. The median time to degree for neuroscience and neurobiology programs ranged from 5 to 7.26 years, with 73 of the 93 programs falling between 5 and 6.5 years. This was similar to the other biomedical science fields with the exception of biomedical engineering and bioengineering, where the median time to degree tended to be lower with a range of 3.4 to 6.5 years. DIVERSITY Gender Like most of the biomedical sciences, the neuroscience and neurobiology programs had relatively large numbers of female students. Eighty-three of the 93 programs reported 30-70 percent female students enrolled. The percent of female faculty ranged widely in neuroscience and neurobiology from 0 to 100 percent, although the interquartile range, which spans 86 of the 93 programs, reported from 21 percent to 30 percent female faculty. No meaningful correlation (r = -0.002) was found between the percent of female faculty and the percent of female students enrolled in neuroscience and neurobiology or other biomedical fields. In neuroscience and 2 Unless otherwise noted, the data in the remainder of this chapter is based on the online Excel data table accompanying this report at www.nap.edu. 3 These data were collected specifically for this report from the institutions in a separate email survey.
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NEUROSCIENCE AND NEUROBIOLOGY 39 neurobiology, the percent of female faculty did correlate negatively with median time to degree (r = -0.346), indicating shorter times (see Appendix D). The important question these data do not answer is whether programs with a higher proportion of female faculty are associated with a higher completion rate for female students. Race and Ethnicity The numbers of non-Asian minority faculty tend to be low in most biomedical science programs, although each field has exceptions. In neuroscience and neurobiology, the top 10 percent of the programs in terms of racial and ethnic diversity reported between 8.6 and 19.2 percent non-Asian minority faculty. This was comparable to other biomedical fields. As with female students, the percentages of non-Asian minority students reported were considerably higher than the faculty percentages, with the range for the top 10 percent of programs between 20 and 33 percent. In neuroscience and neurobiology, there were not large correlations between the numbers of non- Asian minority faculty and students, although the panel did find nontrivial positive correlations between the number of underrepresented minority faculty and underrepresented minority students in six fields: biochemistry, biophysics, and structural biology; immunology and infectious disease; microbiology; nutrition; pharmacology, toxicology, and environmental health; and physiology (see Table 3-3). RESEARCH PRODUCTIVITY Correlations of Ph.D. production (average Ph.D.’s, 2002-2006) with measures of faculty research productivity in neuroscience and neurobiology are high. In fact, neuroscience and neurobiology and integrative biological and biomedical sciences are the only 2 of the 11 biomedical fields in which Ph.D. production is strongly correlated with all three measures of faculty research productivity (see Appendix D). In neuroscience and neurobiology all of the programs producing the largest number of PhDs have NIH predoctoral training support. Additional data on postdoctoral trainees in neuroscience and neurobiology and all other fields of biomedical science research would be very useful. Particularly as employment in the first full-time academic position beyond the postdoctoral period may be increasingly competitive, it could be important information to guide the training and development of these early-stage investigators.
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