Science & Research

BIBS fundraising propels faculty hiring forward

Brown Institute for Brain Sciences has long-term plan to create 14 new faculty positions

Contributing Writer
Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Brown Institute for Brain Sciences has surpassed the halfway mark of its $50 million fundraising goal outlined in 2012 as part of a plan authorized by then-Provost Mark Schlissel. BIBS has hired four new faculty members and has plans to recruit two more over the coming year — one in cognitive neuroscience and the other a senior level molecular neurobiologist to be housed in the Department of Neuroscience, said John Davenport, associate director of BIBS.


Researcher recruiting

When a faculty position opens in BIBS, the board must decide for which area and department within the wider University they want to recruit the person  for, as well. “We come to an agreement with the department that they’ll be willing to host that person as if they were a normal member of their department,” Davenport said. Though funding for these faculty members comes through BIBS, departments provide lab and office spaces, he added.

Most of the $50 million that BIBS is in the process of fundraising will go toward hiring faculty, he said, adding that the “ultimate goal for all hires is that we have endowed professorships that support these positions and startup funds to get their labs going.”

“The people that we’re trying to recruit are also being recruited by other extremely good places. We’re competing often with much bigger research universities,” Davenport said, adding that making competitive offers is “an important part of the puzzle.”

“Mark Schlissel made a huge impact by really recognizing what it takes to recruit good people,” he added.

Since 2012, BIBS has filled four of the seven new positions ­­— Wilson Truccolo and Alexander Jaworski joined the Department of Neuroscience, Kevin Bath joined the Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences, and David Borton joined the School of Engineering, all as assistant professors.


New spaces

A second phase of the institute’s plan, which will be defined further in a meeting later this semester, will create long-term goals for BIBS and include the hiring of fourteen additional faculty members, Davenport said.

The seven Phase One positions were meant to be filled in accordance with the “existing space in the existing buildings in the existing departments,” said Davenport, but the second phase will likely not have these limitations, he added.

Davenport said he envisions that staff not only will conduct research within their own departments, but that BIBS might have its own building where faculty from many different backgrounds can collaborate together on brain science on a daily basis.

BIBS first explored this idea a year and a half ago when the University was developing a new space for engineering. At the time, the University considered developing a building, or series of buildings, to house BIBS in addition to engineering, due to the close ties between the fields.

Now that plans for the new Engineering building has been sketched out, Davenport said he hopes to “rekindle a conversation about a brain science space.”

Davenport said BIBS still needs to work out details with the University, hospitals and potentially the state.

While no exact figures have been presented for Phase Two, BIBS is having an ongoing discussion with the University about realistic goals. Other brain science institutes around the country undertaking similar projects have set their fundraising  goals in the range of several hundred million dollars, Davenport said.

While the people that BIBS recruits and the quality of their research is in line with top brain science institutes, Davenport said he thinks Brown lacks the name recognition. He added that, when people think about brain science institutions, MIT, Stanford and Johns Hopkins may be the first to come to mind, all of which place in the U.S. News and World Report top ten ranking for neuroscience graduate programs.

Understanding the human brain is one of the pillars of President Christina Paxson’s Strategic Plan, and details about this pillar will be announced as part of Paxson’s to-be-announced financing campaign, Davenport said.

Diane Lipscombe, a professor of neuroscience who will take over as interim director of BIBS in January, said one of her main goals this year is to bring in “funding additive to what is already gone” in order to make sure that the junior faculty have the resources to complete research. This responsibility is shared both by BIBS and their departments, she said.

“We have great people here … who are going to be funded, but they’re in an environment right now that is more than competitive, it’s just brutal,” Lipscombe said. “The top 10 percent of grants get funded. Ninety percent of people who put in a request don’t get funded, and that’s a selective group. We constantly are thinking about that.”

Davenport said that throughout the expansion, undergraduate involvement remains a key goal of the institute. BIBS partners with the University’s Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award program to fund between four and six students’ summer work in brain science labs, he said.

The faculty members hired through BIBS will also be teaching new, specialized courses within their departments. Additionally, current BIBS projects may push faculty out of their comfort zones and into new lines of research they don’t specialize in, Davenport said, providing undergraduates the chance to pursue cross-departmental interests.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that one of the new faculty members will be in the Department of Psychiatry. In fact, the person will be in cognitive neuroscience, with work tying to psychiatry. The Herald regrets the error.


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  1. What a sad waste of time, energy, and resources. By the time Brown learns the hard lesson that it should have played to its strengths (I.e., certainly not brain science, not engineering), it will have left its actually salvageable departments in such disrepair that there will be no strengths to play to.

    • Certainly not brain sciences? Do you have any reason to make that claim?

      What would be an “actually salvageable department” to you?

      • Oh please. Everyone in the research community knows that BIBS is a failed attempt to tap into government grant money, but it fails because it is a hodgepodge conglomerate of mediocre researchers that is not as clinical as UCSF or JHU, nor as computational as MIT, and not as gigantic as the other CA schools. Extremely typical of Brown to try to play catchup and be a jack of no trades. Look at how people frantically flee brain-related depts (e.g., clps). It’s really an embarrassment when Brown gets a sum total of $0 from the first round of BRAIN initiative funding.

        As for which departments are salvageable, it’s time to take a look at universities around the world which have little funding but highly respected research (Paris 6, ETH Zurich, U Zurich, Heidelberg, TU Munich, Warwick, GTech, CMU, NYU, UBC, McGill, Waterloo, Toronto, NUS, Tokyo Tech, Kyoto, Weizmann, Technion, Tel Aviv, Hebrew). Look at what they focus on, and how they produce better research with less funding. It’s because they play to their strengths.

        • Play to your strengths by being good at things you are good at.

          I’m so glad you’re here to provide insightful commentary! Yes, I agree it’s embarrassing that we dropped the ball on BRAIN funding. Since we’re not the best, we should probably stop trying, huh?

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