Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The Graduate Program of Neurobiology & Behavior is committed to taking actions to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. The co-directors in conjunction with the students and faculty of the NB&B program have been working together on a three-part initiative for enhancing diversity in Columbia's Neuroscience PhD Training Programs. 

  1. Pre-admissions: build a diverse pool of talented individuals interested in neuroscience. 
  2. Recruitment and Admissions: systematize recruitment to help select graduate students while minimizing implicit biases. 
  3. Graduate Climate: build and maintain an atmosphere that helps trainees flourish during training and eventually move into leadership. 
  • The Columbia Neurobiology and Behavior (NB&B) Doctoral Program receives 600 - 700 applications each year for a typical class of 15 students. 
  • The percentage of applicants from underrepresented groups (UG) is ~13%; the percentage of matriculants from UG's is ~23%. 
  • Since inception, all UG trainees have been awarded the PhD. 
  • However, despite this training record and our location in NYC, the percentage of UG applicants does not reflect current figures for the US: 31%, estimated to grow to over 40% by 2050. Our goal is to reflect these numbers. 

Guidelines for Admissions 

About 60 applicants are selected each year for interviews by a standing committee. A set of Guidelines were generated to explicitly target this stage. They articulated:

  • Measures of 'excellence' based on candidates' engagement in research opportunities, academic performance, as well as indicators of resilience. 
  • Measures to minimize the effect of implicit bias. 

Rubric for Interviews 

The Rubric was designed for faculty interviewing candidates for admission. The Rubric comprised a set of suggested talking points for the interview, expanding upon the ideas articulated in the Guidelines. 

Results: In the first year that these actions were implemented, students from the UGs comprise 42% of the class of 14 that will enter in 2021 (vs. mean 23%). The Guidelines and Rubric have been the basis for broader discussions at Columbia and have been adopted by other Departments. 

CAN is a program designed to prepare undergraduate students who belong to underrepresented groups to apply for graduate studies. We begin by reaching out to Latinx STEM programs, historically Black colleges, and programs with likely limited neuroscience resources. Selected candidates are invited to Columbia for a two-day visit to meet Columbia students and faculty. The program includes advice on graduate applications, sessions to practice giving scientific presentations and participate in mock interviews, and panels on student life and on life after graduating with a PhD.

Participants are also encouraged to maintain long-term connections with NB&B for ongoing advice. The inaugural CAN event was held on the last weekend of April (virtual, this year) with 16 visitors, the enthusiastic support of Columbia faculty and students, and strong institutional support. 

CAN 2021 Participants
  • For our admissions process, develop metrics to gauge the effectiveness of the new guidelines. 
  • For CAN, reach out to an even broader and more diverse group of institutions than this year. Combine forces with similar initiatives at other Columbia departments. 
  • For the graduate climate, develop a mentorship program for underrepresented students and implement bias reduction workshops, as part of a broader initiative to improve mentoring at all levels, graduate, postdoc and faculty.