Why Supporting Underrepresented Minorities Was a Driving Force for This Neuroscientist
No two careers are identical. Yet, all neuroscientists will likely share certain commonalities: the first sparks of scientific curiosity, difficult challenges, resilience to press on, accomplishments large and small, hard-earned wisdom, and support from professional and personal communities.
Here, James Townsel, professor emeritus at Meharry Medical College, focuses on how his time in the military influenced his decision to become a neuroscientist, how he has actively supported and created opportunities for underrepresented minorities, what he’s most proud of, and more.
“I believe in diversity because it enhances the overall effectiveness of the research,” says James Townsel, a professor emeritus at Meharry Medical College.
A dream of both Townsel and Joe Martinez was to create a perpetual fund to facilitate training diverse scientists. The Scholarships to Enhance and Empower Diversity (SEED) fund, part of the American Psychological Foundation (APF) Fund for Racial and Ethnic Diversity, helps achieve their goal of supporting the training and mentoring of the brightest trainees in neuroscience from diverse backgrounds.
Read this interview to learn how and why Townsel has devoted his career to making educational opportunities available to underrepresented minorities in the biomedical sciences, and how you can help do the same.
What inspired you to become a neuroscientist?
My trajectory to neuroscience was a bit odd. It wasn't something that I'd thought about when growing up in Pennsylvania. I lived in the inner city in Harrisburg and didn’t know any PhD scientists. In my community, the only people I knew who had science as a component of their career training were one physician and one dentist.
However, I knew I had a love for science, so I decided to go to school to become an MD. I started undergraduate school after a year-long delay because I didn't have much money and needed to borrow some. I entered in a pre-med curriculum as a biology major. I also got involved in advanced Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and made extra money.
When I graduated, I was the ranking student in the sciences, but I still couldn't afford to go to medical school.
So, I decided to begin my career as an officer in the military, with the ultimate goal of becoming a general. My first duty station was in Anchorage, AK. I was in the Medical Service Corps, which ran an infirmary and a pharmacy.
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