CID Summer 2005 Convening: Supporting Intellectual Community

Topic 4: Developing a Professional Identity within a Disciplinary Community

Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience (IPN)

Georgetown University

The activities, opportunities, and ideas students in the IPN program are faced with to develop their professional identity as a member of the Neuroscience community and as a steward of the Neuroscience discipline.

As stewards of the discipline, scholars have responsibilities to their departmental, university, and disciplinary communities as well as to society at large. Doctoral students develop a professional identity that allows them to represent the discipline in these communities.

Professional Identity in the field of Neuroscience

IPN is a program that is committed to the integration of its students and faculty into an intellectual community. Developing a professional identity within this community is an unavoidable benefit to creating this community. IPN has developed several forums and opportunities for students and faculty alike to explore and develop their professional identity within the Georgetown community, the Washington DC metro area, the field of Neuroscience, and in the public arena.

Upon acceptance to the program until their thesis defense, students are developing their professional identity within the field of Neuroscience. We attempt to develop this aspect of our budding scientists through coursework, seminars, workshops, conferences, and active participation on program committees.

As a program that draws faculty from a variety of departments, the students are the unifying element and as such their participation in the program activities is fundamental to its continued success. The unforeseen benefit to this work and participation, is that students gain leadership, organizational, and communication skills they will need in their future work in academia, industry, government, or whatever profession they may ultimately choose.

Communication and interactions between faculty and students are extremely frequent and varied so that students no longer see the delineations between themselves and their predecessors in the field. Instead, students begin to view themselves as integral contributing members to a professional community.

The field of Neuroscience is extremely broad and varied; therefore, our faculty and students must be well versed in all topics and techniques to be successful stewards of the discipline. Developing a professional identity within Neuroscience goes hand in hand with developing an intellectual community.

How Do We Know?

Developing a professional identity is a basic component of the training in Neuroscience. While we struggle to have discrete measures of student's success in this arena, the IPN does have some indirect measures of the development of a professional identity within the field of Neuroscience.

Some of the expectations of an IPN doctoral candidate, which serve to develop the professional identity include:

  • Present research abstracts at professional meetings to share research goals with fellow scientists, the public, and develop networking and collaborative skills
  • Publish results in peer-reviewed scholarly journals to communicate ideas and work with the field at large
  • Give research seminar to Georgetown community once a year to promote communication between scientists, gain positive and negative feedback, and develop practical presentation skills
  • Write and apply for a pre-doctoral fellowship to attain skills in defending research aims and developing a sound research plan
  • Attend and contribute to seminars and journal clubs with outside speakers to expand knowledge, expertise, and promote collaboration
  • Promote collaboration by having at least one member of the thesis committee must be from outside the Georgetown community
  • Optional activities that develop the professional identity of an IPN doctoral candidate include:

  • Participate in IPN CID, Curriculum, Executive, and Admission Committees
  • Teach and/or direct the student led undergraduate Diseases and Disorders of the Brain class
  • Organize and participate in Brain Awareness Week Activities which bring local middle school children to Georgetown to experience Neuroscience first hand
  • Teach in the undergraduate summer HHMI Neurobiology course or the summer "catch-up" course for incoming first year IPN students
  • Present abstracts at Georgetown Research days, which brings together the research of all students at Georgetown University Medical Campus (GUMC)
  • Mentor incoming first year students, students rotating in their research laboratories, and undergraduate students
  • Tools we use to evaluate a student's success in the aforementioned activities include:

  • Neurolunch Evaluation forms which are distributed to the audience at the beginning of a Neurolunch talk and evaluate a student on their presentation skills, quality of the information, adeptness at fielding questions, etc.
  • Student evaluations following a lecture given by an IPN student, aids the teacher in improving their skills in teaching, communicating, and designing and disseminating assessments
  • Success in receiving a fellowship, publishing reviews or primary research papers, and attending meetings
  • Neurolunch Evaluation Form

    Contact Information

    Dr. Karen Gale (

    Alexis Jeannotte (

    What a PhD Means to IPN

    "Publish or Perish", this is a common mantra among scientists in the field. It is true that in order to be a successful Neuroscientist, one must be continually hypothesizing innovative solutions for unexplained phenomena. To maintain a position in the field an individual must perform experiments to test these hypotheses and then communicate the results to others in the field and the public at large. However, the scientific process is not the sole determinant of a Neuroscientist's success. They must also engage in Networking events to meet and share ideas with other researchers, promote the goals of the field and their personal aims to the government and private foundations to procure funding, educate the youth about opportunities for future careers in Neuroscience, and raise awareness in the community about the public health issues that Neuroscience research addresses.

    IPN students and faculty suggested the following skills as ones which students must gain along their path to scientific success:

  • Educate their fellow researchers, interested students of all ages, and the public sector about the importance of Neuroscience and their own specific research
  • Think critically about their own and other's research, rather than accepting results at face value
  • Learn to be innovative: anticipating, and directing where the field will be heading in the upcoming years
  • Propose creative solutions or experiments to test perplexing problems
  • Gain skills to integrate broad and varied information into succinct concepts
  • Become an ethical scientist
  • Develop confidence in their knowledge and skills
  • Develop and maintain a healthy passion for their field of research
  • Network with other Neuroscientists, basic science researchers, and clinicians to improve and expand understanding of their own research and future directions of the field
  • Develop a balance between flexibility and open-mindedness and assertiveness
  • Be able to accept and disseminate praise, as well as criticism
  • Become a quality mentor to any student whom possesses the desire to address the questions in Neuroscience
  • Gain practical skills in writing, public speaking, asking questions, establishing collaborations, diplomacy, teaching, and mentoring to continue the success of the field
  • Learn one's limits as a scientist and an individual, so that every experience can be viewed as an opportunity to learn

  • Unanswered Questions

    1. What are tangible assessments for a student's development of professional identity? Are publications, attendance at professional meetings, and research seminars enough? Or do we need to develop standards for professional development that each student must meet upon defending their thesis?

    2. Do all students upon graduation need to have these skills in hand? Do all students need to be adept at teaching? Do all students need to be adept at mentoring? Do all students need to have participated in some community activity? Do all students need to have written a fellowship application? Do all students need to have aided awareness in Neuroscience policy issues?

    3. Developing a professional portfolio for each student and faculty member.

  • What will go into the portfolio?
  • How will the information be used?
  • How will the information be stored?
  • How we will develop templates for easy information entry?

  • This electronic portfolio was created using the KML Snapshot Tool™, a part of the KEEP Toolkit™,
    developed at the Knowledge Media Lab of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
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