Arts & Sciences

A path to diversity in neuroscience

Chaturvedi (right) studies the impact of circadian rhythms on the release of stress hormones with Erik Herzog, director of the ENDURE program. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

ENDURE fosters community in undergraduate research

From the WashU Newsroom

When Washington University in St. Louis student Sneha Chaturvedi walks into a laboratory, she knows what to expect: sterile white floors, test tubes lining the shelves, a chemical smell wafting between benches and men in lab coats. Few of the scientists are women or underrepresented minorities — African-American, Latino, Native American and so on — in other words, scientists like her.

It’s discouraging but not surprising to Chaturvedi, a junior in biology in Arts & Sciences from Miami, who said she often encountered similar situations since she declared her major early in her first year, with her sights on the neuroscience track.

Along with the appeal of rapid innovation, “I decided to study neuroscience both as my major and in my lab because neuroscience can be very interdisciplinary,” Chaturvedi said. “The brain impacts so many different aspects of the body and is also responsible for so many higher-level functions such as memory and learning.”

Yet despite her academic excellence and strong passion to begin her research career, she didn’t always feel readily supported at the undergraduate level as a woman of color in STEM. And unfortunately, her feelings were not singular.

“WashU has a few student-run organizations for women and minorities in STEM, which I feel like could use more support and advertising to students,” Chaturvedi said. “There are resources to go to, but I personally had to go looking for them.”

One research program for neuroscientists is seeking to change that. Now in its fourth year, ENDURE is a pipeline program that prepares undergraduates from diverse backgrounds for neuroscience PhD programs. Supported with funds from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and from Washington University, the program draws students from universities across the nation as well as Washington University.

Erik Herzog, professor of biology and head of the laboratory where Chaturvedi works, is the program’s director. He said ENDURE offers talented students an opportunity to both produce cutting edge science and meet the neuroscientists who are pushing the field forward. Participants work for two summers in a neuroscience lab and present at the Society for Neuroscience national convention each November.

“The aim is to support students by providing them with research experience, a network of friends and colleagues, and opportunities to master their ability to communicate their findings,” said Herzog, whose own lab employs a diverse research team. “Sneha takes pride in her Latina and Indian heritage. She brings a wonderful, positive energy and challenges me with terrific questions about what next.”

  Read more at the Source.