The 2022 NB&B Retreat Pushes Boundaries

May 20, 2023

The biennial retreat for students of the Columbia Doctoral Program in Neurobiology and Behavior (NB&B) is an exciting opportunity for budding neuroscientists to connect with alumni and explore career paths. But while the 2020 retreat was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022 event was one to remember.

Because of the pandemic pause, the 2022 retreat was the first for most [participants in the program?]. It was also the first for Dani Dumitriu, MD, PhD, Associate Professor and Principal Investigator of the DOOR lab. Having just joined Columbia and the Zuckerman Institute in 2019, three colleagues invited Dani to help organize the event. She accepted, and took the opportunity to push boundaries in service of students. 

One change that made the 2022 retreat memorable was Dani’s innovative approach to moderating the alumni panel. A traditional feature of the retreat, the purpose of the panel is to introduce students to neuroscience career pathways beyond academia. She began by asking the diverse panelists – high tech and social media professionals, government policy analysts, and authors – what they wanted to be when they grew up. From there she invited them to roleplay persuading other members of the panel to switch to their own career. 

The students appreciated the personal, honest conversations that followed. “The most tense moment was when I asked them the range for how much somebody in their position can make,” Dani says.“The Facebook guy kept dodging the question about an upper limit. I leaned into the microphone, and I don’t remember what my line was, exactly, but I mentioned that our participants were very computationally-minded, and he finally said ‘one million’. The room erupted.”

The ensuing philosophical conversation about the meaning and paths of academia was substantial and lively. Students appreciated the frank discussion about how doctoral students are pushed towards academic careers as trainees when statistically speaking, a small minority end up working in labs. “There were a lot of faculty members that stayed an hour past the scheduled end time, until past 10:00 p.m.,”says Dani. “It was definitely an NB&B retreat to remember for me, as well as for students.”