Science & Research

BIBS embarks on search for new director

New director to take helm of interdisciplinary institute after Donoghue’s 15-year tenure

By
Contributing Writer
Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Brown Institute for Brain Science is searching for a new director after Professor of Neuroscience John Donoghue, founder and former director of BIBS, stepped down in January. Donoghue is taking a sabbatical year to found and direct the Wyss Center, a neuroengineering research institute in Geneva, Switzerland, and he will remain on leave from Brown for at least two more years, he said.

Donoghue led the institute since its creation in 1999. Under his oversight, BIBS became internationally recognized in brain research. Over the same period, University neuroscience offerings expanded from a single course to an expansive neuroscience curriculum across many departments. Eighty-seven members of the class of 2015 concentrated in neuroscience, marking a significant increase from recent years, according to Focal Point.

“It is good for a program to have a new director with fresh ideas,” Donoghue said,

While not its own academic department, BIBS “advances multidisciplinary research, technology development and training in the brain sciences,” uniting over 120 faculty members across University departments, according to the institute’s website.

Brown was one of the first schools to develop a neuroscience curriculum, Donoghue said. As director of the Brain Science Program — BIBS’ predecessor — he coordinated offerings across various departments into a neuroscience curriculum, including classes from the biology, cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, engineering and mathematics departments.

The institute is an “unusual environment in that people work together across disciplines,” Donoghue said, adding that this approach is required for “tackling a problem as complicated as the brain.”

Professor of Neuroscience Diane Lipscombe, who currently leads the institute as interim director, will hold the position until the search committee, chaired by Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Steven Rasmussen, decides on a permanent director. The committee is reviewing both internal and external candidates to find an “exceptional scientist” and “visionary,” Rasmussen said, adding that he hopes this process will be complete by July 2016.

The incoming director’s primary responsibility will be finding ways to enhance the research environment, Lipscombe said. BIBS provides seed funding for innovative and collaborative projects, kickstarting many research endeavors with grants of about $50,000, Lipscombe added. The institute bankrolls these projects through philanthropic gifts, University funds, National Institutes of Health grants and partnerships with foundations, such as the ALS Foundation.

With the recently launched $3 billion BrownTogether comprehensive campaign, it is an exciting time for BIBS, Lipscombe said. “I do expect benefitting from the capital campaign in a very important way, especially in recruiting and maintaining the best scientists in the country,” she said.

This increased funding will allow the institute to increase exposure, add more laboratory space and involve more undergraduates in the research, Donoghue said.

The new director of BIBS will be tasked with leading both the fundraising and management aspects of the institute as well as overseeing scientific research — two tasks Lipscombe said require relatively equal time and attention. Lipscombe declined to comment regarding her interest in the permanent directorship position.