The IBRO Africa Regional Committee (IBRO-ARC) was delighted to support its first round of diversity grants last year. One grant of €1,000 helped support the Neuro-Girl Camp on 14 January 2017 which was organized by GhScientific and the Ghana Neuroscience Society. It took place at the University of Ghana Medical School and stimulated interest in a new generation of female researchers by introducing them to future career possibilities in neuroscience. The event attracted 110 girls from 9 senior high schools and allowed them to interact with neuroscience professionals and do some hands-on activities. Read about it in detail in the event blog below.
Neuro-Girl Camp Blog
For all its wonders, the brain remains one of the most mysterious things we have ever tried to study. Whenever there is a new discovery in the domain of neuroscience, the worldwide scientific community becomes very excited because of the vast implications for human development. Since the first publication in 1971 by a team of researchers at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, neuroscience research has been very scarce in Ghana. Now GhScientific and the Ghana Neuroscience Society (GNS) want to wake up a new generation of researchers to the possibility of future careers in neuroscience.
On Saturday January 14th, 110 girls from 9 senior high schools gathered at the University of Ghana Medical School thanks to the support of the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO). What drew these girls together was the opportunity to engage with neuroscience professionals and try their hands at some simple techniques used by researchers to develop new drugs and study conditions such as depression. By 8.30am, the school buses had started rolling in and girls from schools including the African Science Academy, Ngleshi Amanfro SHS and Tema International School were disembarking and preparing for what would be a memorable experience.
After a quick breakfast in the form of biscuits and beverages, the day began with a quick overview of neuroscience and its associated fields. In line with the neuroscience theme, the girls were split into groups with names such as Hippocampus, Amygdala and Corpus Callosum. With that, we were ready to begin.
Catching flies for research
Neuroscientists typically use all sorts of animals for their research including fruit flies. But first, you have to catch them. For their first activity, the girls had to build fly-catchers from empty plastic bottles and string. Armed with their own bait made from a choice of yeast, sugar and mashed banana, the girls were left to decide on places where their traps were most likely to catch some flies. The hypothalamus and Amygdala groups were found wandering around waste bins looking for the perfect place to hang their traps.
Fly catching is a time-consuming business, so with the traps set, it was now time to meet the mentors.
Meeting the mentors
The Ghana Neuroscience Society reached out to its members for professionals who would serve as mentors for the event. The girls had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Augustina Charway-Belli (neurologist), Dr. Alberta Nsiah-Asamoah (psychiatrist) and Harriet Blankson (molecular biologist). Other professionals present included the president of the Ghana Neuroscience Society, Dr. Patrick Amoateng (neuro-pharmacologist), Ewurama Owusu (neuroanatomist), Grace Aboagye (pharmacist) and Dr. Beatrice Danfor-Williams a clinical psychologist.
The groups took turns to speak to each of these professionals and to ask questions relating to the choice of university courses, benefits of studying at home or abroad, career paths, salaries, job satisfaction and even how to balance married life with a research career. Rotating the groups every 15 minutes became a near impossible task as the girls had so much more they wanted to hear and ask. It was no surprise to see the conversations continue at lunchtime and mentors giving their contact details to many of the girls.
What can animals teach us?
After lunch it was time to move into the labs and get first-hand experience of the techniques which are used in neuroscience research worldwide. Laboratory-bred fruit flies were made available by Dr. Michael Osei of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission for the girls to run simple behavioural experiments. This included a test for motility, which can give insights into genetic defects leading to movement disorders. The girls also ran experiments to find out if fruit flies prefer the smell of Alansa to rotten plantain, because sometimes science exists for no other reason than to satisfy curiosity.
Experiments also took place with mice. Mice are the most used animal species in neuroscience research because their brains have similar structures to human brains and what we learn from them can often be applied to understanding ourselves. The girls observed various demonstrations which are used to test drugs such as anti-depressants, painkillers or anxiety relievers. They also had the chance to observe natural mice behaviour and how this can be used to identify unnatural behaviour in cases of disease conditions. The enthusiasm and constant stream of questions provided evidence that the girls valued this experience, one that most of their peers will never be able to have.
The end of the day saw a sharing of information and resources that the girls can turn to on their journey to become researchers. Many of them expressed delight at their newly found appreciation for neuroscience. The Neuro-Girl Camp 2017 served its intended purpose: To break down barriers of perception and pull neuroscience out of its ivy tower to a place where high school girls can be inspired by it. At the end of the day, we can confidently say that we are 110 girls closer to correcting the gender imbalance often observed in the field of neuroscience.