In my first message last month, I sketched out the areas that seem to me destined to concern us most in the coming years. In this and in future months I will try to expand on the key points. This will certainly enable me to clarify my own thinking, I hope not at the expense of the reader’s time and patience.
First, our increased efforts to involve younger people in ECNP by supporting research training through the ECNP Workshop and clinical practice through the ECNP Schools. This is clearly paying off, with 25% of our attendees of the 26th ECNP Congress in Barcelona under the age of 35. We want this proportion to grow and we will look very carefully at the price structure for attendance at the annual congress. Registration is already free to young people who successfully submit posters and we will try to increase travel awards. However, we want more than just attendance at meetings but also a sense of belonging to what we try to do in the future. We want body but also soul.
We have formed an advisory board of young people, the Junior Member Advisory Panel (J-MAP – I know, another acronym). Many of us have experience of similar bodies in universities and they are always stimulating. In a distributed organisation like ECNP we hope it can do more than just facilitate dialogue, but really help steer the ship. Our younger colleagues need to advise us on what concerns them in developing their research and clinical careers. They can also help us stay up to date and make us adapt to their realities. On our part, the Executive Committee needs to communicate, as transparently as possible, ECNP’s tactics and strategy now and in the immediate future.
Already, in fact at its formation, the J-MAP has raised fundamental questions about the ECNP brand and identity. Specifically, is our emphasis on pharmacology too limiting? Many younger colleagues have grown up in a world where neuroscience rather than its component disciplines (neuropharmacology, neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, etc.) has defined their sense of place. Alternatively they have been trained clinically in professions like psychiatry and psychology where non-pharmacological interventions are given equal or greater emphasis. We have run focus groups at both the clinical Schools and Workshops where we were told very clearly that ‘neuropsychopharmacology’ did not sound like a discipline that would mean much to them. Their actual positive experience of ECNP was not what our brand had suggested to them. The world of business teaches us that branding is remarkably important. We also know already that the reputation and image of our universities is important to us. ECNP is not exempt from such considerations. We must address this issue in the coming year.
At a more practical level, a LinkedIn site for the Workshop has been set up to test the demand and practicability of social media platforms as a means to connect Junior Members. The J-MAP have also suggested we facilitate an Interdisciplinary Junior Educational Network for Students, on the basis that a broad and accurate understanding of different disciplines and their methods provides the best starting point for interdisciplinary research. Therefore, and inspired by the ECNP Certificate programme, this proposal suggests establishing a network of junior experts (postdocs, assistant professors, research group leaders, etc.) available to students. As a starter, it has been suggested to create an online social network-type structure to provide profiles of junior experts (picture, information on institution and research). The Executive Committee will listen very sympathetically to decide how we facilitate this kind of development. Our commitment to young people is a part of our broader responsibility to use the resources of ECNP wisely and for the public good.
It is too easy to end on an upbeat feel-good factor where our aim to help young people, support motherhood and eat apple pie is unclouded by doubts and threats. Unfortunately, Europe is in an economic crisis from which it may take many years more to recover. The burden of debt that future generations are being asked to service is frightening. We are conscious that many young scientists will be unable to have careers in neuroscience, many young clinicians may have to settle for demanding stressful jobs if they continue as doctors. So we have to deal in realities not just in aspirations. Those of us born into a more fortunate generation have to argue for investment by governments and at the European level in neuroscience and its application to improved mental health. Mental health is currently undervalued by society, by policy makers and perhaps especially by other branches of medicine. We must not be afraid to bore the life out of anyone who will listen to change this. How we can do this with sister organisations is a subject I will return to in the near future.
Guy Goodwin, ECNP President