The College’s Commitment to Diversity
Marina E. Wolf, Ph.D.
September 5, 2019

In this blog, I hope to convince you that the ACNP is committed to further enhancing diversity and inclusivity within our College and at our Annual Meeting. Not only is this the right thing to do – it is also one of the best things we can do for the future of the College, based on numerous studies showing that diversity in the workplace boosts important outcome measures. However, many of the simple and obvious steps to increase diversity have already been taken by the ACNP leadership, with limited success, leaving us in more challenging territory. An important part of our ongoing Strategic Planning process is to identify additional ways to improve the recruitment of outstanding scientists from URM groups and to foster a climate of inclusion for scientists of all backgrounds at the Annual Meeting.

The blog is organized into four sections: a summary of the numbers, steps we are taking to enhance the pipeline of URM scientists potentially interested in the ACNP, improvements to the Annual Meeting to increase inclusivity and make it more useful and welcoming for URM scientists, and additional issues and ideas to consider as we work to further advance these goals. If you only read one section, please read the last section (“We need to do more”) and send your ideas to acnp@acnp.org.

I’m drawing in part on resources provided by the URM Task Force and Natalie Zahr. I thank them for their work.

Numbers. For decades after the founding of ACNP, the membership included only a handful of scientists from URM groups.  The earliest mention of the need to recruit URM scientists is the Strategic Plan developed in 2004. As of 2018, scientists from URM groups represented 5% of the total membership, up from 3% in 2011. Not surprisingly, change has been most rapid at the Associate Member level (7% in 2014 and 11% in 2018), while representation has grown more slowly for Full, Fellow and Emeritus members (due to the larger denominator). It is sobering to consider the situation in real numbers rather than percentages. For example, considering the ACNP as a whole, only 66 out of 1237 members are scientists from a URM group. In terms of meeting attendance, this translated into just 17 URM attendees at the 2014 meeting and 23 in 2018. We are trying to obtain comparable statistics for the Society for Neuroscience and for categories of NIH Awards to put this into context and to help us set targets for URM membership levels in the future, but I think we can all agree that these numbers are disappointing in any context.

Pipeline. An inadequate pipeline is widely recognized as contributing to low representation of people from URM groups in the STEMM fields. Expanding this pipeline has been a focus of ACNP efforts and we are having some success. I am proud to report that, of the 2019 Travel Award Class, 22% are URM scientists. In addition, to encourage continued advancement of past URM Travel Awardees in the College and more generally in the field of neuropsychopharmacology, ACNP offers two years of additional support following the initial award year, contingent on brief documentation of continued progress in the field which is reviewed by the Education & Training Committee. Over the past six years, an average of 82% of the URM past Travel Awardees have taken advantage of this opportunity, which includes waiver of registration, hotel accommodations, airfare, and coverage of additional expenses including childcare.  In addition to trying to keep URM scientists in the pipeline, the Diversity Invitation Bank was developed to attract URM scientists to our Annual Meeting by allowing members to offer one invitation to a URM scientist in addition to their usual invitation. The Diversity Invitation Bank was recently updated by Council to include not only African American, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, and scientists with a disability, but also LGBTQ+ scientists. Please note that this change is, at present, restricted to the Diversity Invitation Bank. A more general broadening of URM categories is discussed in the last section of this blog.  At the level of encouraging membership, Council approved a policy change in 2013 allowing members to write one additional letter of nomination if the additional nominee is a woman or a URM.

Finally, the ACNP partners with the APA to support the APA Research Colloquium for Junior Psychiatrist Investigators, which is designed to increase the pipeline of young investigators in the field while increasing the quality of training and mentoring. This prestigious program, which includes a half day training session at the ACNP Annual Meeting, includes a substantial number of URM scientists (28% in 2019). We hope that this experience puts the ACNP on the radar of these promising young investigators!

These strategies for bringing URM scientists to the Annual Meeting are proving effective at increasing the number of URM members of the ACNP.  Out of the 66 members in the College who are URMs, 39% are past Travel Awardees, 58% are past Invited Guests, and 3% were invited to the Annual Meeting from the Diversity Invitation Bank. Furthermore, from 2014-2018, the acceptance rate of URM applicants into Associate Membership paralleled the overall rate of acceptance.

At the meeting. The Travel Award Program and other initiatives discussed above bring URM scientists to the meeting and into the membership, but what do we do to make the meeting more useful and welcoming? A key development was the establishment of the Minority Task Force in 2013, which primarily consists of URM members of the College and focuses on URM recruitment and career development. The Task Force oversees two URM Annual Meeting Events, the Under-Represented Minority Women’s Networking Session (a breakfast focusing on the unique challenges and opportunities of navigating a career in academic medicine as a URM woman) and the Minority Task Force Networking Reception. In 2017, the College established the Dolores Shockley Minority Mentoring Award to an ACNP member who has been particularly successful in mentoring young scientists from underrepresented minorities in the field of neuropsychopharmacology and related disciplines to increase visibility of the contribution URMs are making to the College. Finally, the Minority Task Force and others within the ACNP are working to increase the visibility of URM related content on the ACNP website through a variety of strategies. For example, we are planning to add a URM subheading to the Annual Meeting tab to highlight URM events at the meeting, and a URM subheading in the Career tab that will highlight URM trainee events, funding and training opportunities, blogs, testimonials, and educational presentations like Ted Talks that are relevant to the goal of increasing diversity and inclusivity within the College.

We need to do more. The message to this point is that the ACNP is committed to increasing diversity and inclusion, and we have already implemented numerous policy changes to better accomplish this goal. As noted above, advancing this effort is an important part of the Strategic Planning now underway for the ACNP. I welcome your suggestions along these lines. However, while policies can be “legislated”, this is not true for some other ingredients that are important for achieving more equitable representation as well as improving inclusivity and the climate of our College and its meeting.

One issue is the potential contribution of unconscious or implicit bias, which leads us to attribute particular qualities to members of a certain group and therefore treat them differently. In the ACNP this could affect our behavior at many levels: who we choose to mentor and encourage towards participation in ACNP, how we assess the CV’s of those applying for Travel Awards or Membership, and perhaps whether we decide to stop at a particular poster or strike up a conversation while waiting in line for a drink at the poster session. Many universities and organizations have instituted training to increase recognition of our implicit bias, and the ACNP Council is discussing making such training a requirement for registration for the Annual Meeting as well as conducting mandatory training before any reviews are conducted (e.g., prior to selecting Travel Awardees, Members, or panels).  There is no doubt that making individuals aware of their unintentional involvement in perpetuating inequalities will benefit the workings of the College. However, we cannot stop there. I refer you to a very thoughtful Lancet article (1) arguing that the current focus on implicit bias – which is mainly directed at initiating change at the level of the individual – must not divert attention from broader structural inequalities that have an even more devastating effect.

Another issue is whether we go far enough with our Code of Conduct (https://acnp.org/annual-meeting/code-of-conduct/) to promote inclusivity. My sense is that we do. The Code is clear and when it is violated a series of events is triggered to investigate and, if appropriate, to sanction the perpetrator. Most members are completely unaware of this process because it is conducted in a manner consistent with protecting the privacy of those involved. Despite our “radio silence” in this regard, please be assured that nothing is swept under the rug. Thus far, none of the complaints made have been related to discrimination or harassment directed toward a member of a URM group. I hope that this reflects reality rather than unwillingness of URM scientists or other attendees to report violations of the Code.

At present, a discussion is underway within the Minority Task Force and the Council about expanding the definition of URM – for the purposes of College membership statistics and applications for Travel Awards and Membership – to include LGBTQ+ scientists, scientists with disabilities, and scientists from disadvantaged backgrounds, including those from low income families and those who are the first in their family to attend college. Similar discussions are underway at the NIH and other professional societies. One important issue is how broadening the definition of URM will affect the development of goals for recruitment of particular groups of URM scientists. To pose a hypothetical example, if all first-generation scientists are white, we could get a false sense of reaching equity with regard to groups that would remain under-represented. This is not a small issue, as setting specific and measurable goals for increasing diversity of the ACNP membership, and then devising strategies to reach those goals, is an essential part of the Strategic Planning process.

Distinct from the question of representation in the College is the issue of the climate of the Annual Meeting. At the July Council meeting, we discussed some simple strategies that will be implemented this year to make the Annual Meeting more welcoming to all scientists.

The fact remains that, even with the multiple policy changes instituted by the ACNP and outlined in this blog, we have taken decades to creep to the level of 5% URM scientists in our membership and we are still working to improve the climate of the Annual Meeting. I hope that this blog communicates the fact that our slow pace does not reflect a lack of desire to achieve change, and captures the complexity of steps on the table to accomplish change at both the individual and organizational levels. Although progress is slow in coming, it is coming.

(1) C Pritlove, C Juando-Prats, K Ala-leppilampi, JA Parsons. The good, the bad, and the ugly of implicit bias. Lancet 393 (1071), p. 502-504. Published: February 09, 2019 DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)32267-0

Marina Wolf, ACNP President

2019

  • April 12, 2019 - Name of our College and our Journal, Marina E. Wolf, Ph.D.

    Name of our College and our Journal
    Marina E. Wolf, Ph.D.

    Dear ACNP Membership,

    I’m using my first blog post to update you on the responses to February’s survey about changing the name of our College and our Journal. Approximately 31% of members responded, for a total of 24 pages of collated comments (single spaced). The majority of survey responses on “both sides of the aisle” were thoughtful and conveyed a sincere desire to make the best choice for the future of the College. Here I summarize my impressions of the most salient points. I thank Judy Ford for helpful suggestions on this document.

    COLLEGE NAME CHANGE
    From a total of 351 responses, 197 said Yes (Support name change), 82 said No (Do not support), and 72 were not sure or had other suggestions. The majority of comments were enthusiastically supportive of changing the name of the College, and this support came from individuals who self-identified as newer members as well as those who self-identified as older members.  Below I’ve paraphrased representative comments from those in favor and those opposed. Of course there is sampling bias inherent in these types of surveys where only a fraction of the total membership respond, which makes it important to hear from the maximal number of members when this comes to a vote (see last paragraph of this post).


    Comments in favor

    • When the college was formed, the frontier was indeed pharmacology. Now, the field has broadened, and we should broaden the name of our College accordingly.
    • The current name may discourage participation of scientists who think their research is not related to pharmacology. Supporting this (albeit anecdotally), some stated that they had initially disregarded the College for this reason and began participating only when they learned the name was not “accurate”.
    • The name change will not only attract new members but will re-energize our College, ensuring its continued relevance and making an excellent meeting even better.
    • The new name more accurately captures the mission, the membership, and the scope of work presented at the meeting. It preserves the ACNP acronym but makes it stand for what we are.
    • Many short comments conveyed excitement over the proposed change, describing it as long overdue, forward-looking, appropriate, and more inclusive.


    Comments opposed

    • “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” appeared in many comments. Individuals expressing this opinion were skeptical about the justification provided for considering a name change, given lack of hard data showing that people really are turned off by our current name and ample data that we are very popular (e.g., meeting size continues to grow, and we have more applicants for travel fellowships and membership than we can possibly accept).
    • We can find another way to attract investigators in important fields that should be better represented in the College.
    • Neuropsychopharmacology is a more inclusive term than the alternative being proposed. Under this “brand”, we have been able to serve as a unique and unified voice for the interests of our diverse membership. The alternative runs more risk of misunderstanding, mainly due to excessive focus on Psychiatry at the expense of other disciplines.
    • A name that honors our traditions and history does not have to be accurate in all eras.


    Problems with the proposed name
    The new name proposed by the Council (American College of Neuroscience and Psychiatry) was criticized not only by opponents of a name change but also by some supporters, as summarized below.

    • Placing “and” between Neuroscience and Psychiatry implies a division between the two that runs completely counter to the ACNP’s long-standing goal of positioning itself at the intersection of “brain, behavior and therapeutics”.
    • There is growing overlap between traditionally defined psychiatric illness and neurological illness (e.g., AD, OCD, Tourette’s, and ADHD). Specifying “Psychiatry” serves the unintended purpose of driving an apparent wedge between Psychiatry and Neurology at a time when we should be trying to bring them together. It also risks alienating other clinicians important to the ACNP who are not specified in the new name, for example, clinical psychologists. Basically, “Psychiatry” is too constraining.
    • Pharmacology remains an important tool in studying and treating mental illness – its “eradication” sends the wrong message.
    • Use of the term “Neuroscience” robs the ACNP of its unique focus on the intersection between neuroscience and psychiatric disorders and puts us at risk of becoming a mini-SFN (that wouldn’t compete effectively with Big SFN). We become just another neuroscience society without a clear focus. In a related vein, there are already many psychiatry and neuroscience meetings – we run the risk of losing attendees to these meetings rather than attracting people to our meeting if we alter our brand.
    • Some viewed the name change through the lens of a perceived decline in attention to clinical research by the ACNP leadership and the Program committee, and viewed inclusion of the term “Neuroscience” as endorsing this decline. One respondent favored inclusion of “Psychiatry” in the College name if a translational mission will truly be emphasized going forward, but worried that this was just “bait and switch”.


    Alternate names
    Most who supported a name change favored selecting a name that matches the ACNP acronym, although this was not universal (see ‘Thinking outside the box’, below). However, they preferred other names to the version proposed by Council. In my opinion, these alternatives have merit, but they do not fully address the problems noted above with regard to the originally proposed name.

    • American College of Neuropsychiatry or NeuroPsychiatry (the most frequent suggestion)
    • American College of Neuroscience and Psychopharmacology
    • Neuroscience, Psychiatry and Psychopathology
    • American College of Neuroscience in Psychiatry
    • Neuroscience, Psychopharmacology and Psychiatry
    • American College of Neuropsychopharmacology and Neuroscience
    • American College of Neuropsychopharmacology and Psychiatry
    • American College of the Neuroscience of Psychiatry


    Thinking outside the box
    Several people expressed concern about selecting a new name based on a match to the ACNP acronym. The sentiment was that, if we are going to take the enormous step of re-naming the College, we should pick the best name regardless of letters. For example, given the precedent set by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (which continues to use their original acronym, NARSAD) and the magical power of colons, perhaps we could call ourselves ACNP: The American College of Translational Neuroscience, as one respondent suggested. I would welcome further input from the membership on this specific suggestion or related ideas.  Please send your thoughts to acnp@acnp.org.

    JOURNAL NAME CHANGE
    There was far less enthusiasm for changing the name of Neuropsychopharmacology. Some of the concerns most frequently raised were:

    • NPP already has brand recognition – and it is well known that its scope is broader than “Neuropsychopharmacology”. The subtext on the cover (intersection of brain, behavior and therapeutics) is already right on target. Therefore, there is little to be gained and quite a bit that might be lost. We are giving up our niche and the power of a one-word name.
    • Loss of impact factor calculation for 2 years following the name change will deter people from publishing in the journal. In the present era of scientific publishing, the journal might not recover from the resulting decline.
    • We cited JAMA Psychiatry as precedent in the original email to the membership, but some questioned the validity of this example in light of changes in the scientific publishing landscape between the JAMA transition and the present time.
    • Specifying “Neuroscience and Psychiatry” in the journal name is associated with the same concerns raised above regarding re-naming the college, namely apparent exclusion of neurology, psychology, pharmacology; and, depending on one’s viewpoint, it may make the journal sound too clinical (and discourage basic neuroscience submissions) or it may be perceived as inviting very basic neuroscience submissions that are unrelated to any brain disorder or its underlying pathology.
    • If we re-name the journal exactly based on the College’s name, this will make it the “American journal of XXX” which does not fit NPP’s international scope.
    • There is a predatory journal with a very similar name. In addition, there is already a journal with the AJNP acronym matching our suggested new name (American Journal of Nurse Practitioners).


    Wrap-up
    Based on responses to the survey and follow-up discussions within the ACNP Council, it makes sense to focus in the near term on whether or not to re-name the College and return to the issue of the Journal at a later time (particularly given the present uncertainty related to Plan S). The pros and cons of a College name change will be considered as part of the broader Strategic Planning effort now underway.  It is possible that we will ultimately decide to change the name of the College but not the Journal. If this is the case, we could address concerns about whether the Journal’s name is too limiting by moving further towards branding the Journal as NPP (rather than Neuropsychopharmacology). Finally, the possibility of retaining current names for our College and Journal should remain on the table.

    I want to close by reassuring everyone that any change in the name of the College will ultimately be put to a vote of the membership.  As noted above, only 31% of the membership responded to the survey. It is possible that those who want to change the name(s) represent a minority but were more inclined to respond, or conversely that those strongly opposed to the change were more likely to respond. When this comes to a vote, it will be critical to hear from the maximal number of members so that not only the wishes of the most vocal individuals are heard.

    Marina Wolf, ACNP President

  • January 1, 2019 - President's Letter, Marina E. Wolf, Ph.D.

    President’s Letter
    Marina E. Wolf, Ph.D.

    I am very proud of the ACNP and honored to serve as President in 2019. The College is unique in its mission of bringing the combined power of basic, clinical and industry scientists to bear on the study and treatment of mental illness. It has also been unique in providing many of us with a place to “grow up” as scientists. I am grateful to the outstanding people I met through the ACNP who became mentors, collaborators and friends, and I am inspired by my ever-increasing appreciation of how hard our members work to support the research, educational and public outreach missions of the College.

    Thanks to their efforts and to our exceptional Executive Office, the ACNP has made important strides in integrating cutting edge science into our program, adapting to change in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, increasing representation of women and under-represented minorities, providing mentorship for young scientists in an increasingly demanding world, and collaborating with other organizations to inform lawmakers about scientific fact that should guide their decision-making.

    Nevertheless, to maintain our strength in a changing world, it is time to re-examine our identity and where we want to go in the future, i.e., develop a new Strategic Plan. As a first step, a Task Force is being assembled that will make its first report in July 2019 at the Summer Council Meeting.  Overseeing this process while maintaining progress on ongoing initiatives will occupy a great deal of my time as President. A complementary goal, articulated in the statement I prepared when running for the office, is to improve communication between ACNP leadership and the membership. An excerpt from that statement: “…my impression is that important information is not reaching many members despite Council’s best intentions and a continually improving website.” This concern was reinforced for me at the 2018 meeting, where I had many discussions – particularly with younger members – that conveyed a lack of understanding of why certain things in the ACNP “are the way they are”. After discussions with colleagues about how to improve this situation, I have decided to start a blog that will address one major issue at a time. Please bear with me as I get this process under way.  In the meantime, here are just a few of the questions we should ask as part of Strategic Planning:

    Are we adapting effectively to a changing scientific landscape? We are doing a great deal. Recent Presidential Symposia have focused on remarkable technical advances that have the potential to revolutionize both basic science and therapeutics for mental illness – we have charged the Program and Membership committees to do more to attract experts in these areas to our College. And, as many pharmaceutical companies withdraw from neuroscience, we are trying to take up the slack by altering membership policies to level the playing field for industry scientists who remain focused on mental illness, and by developing strategies to interest biotechnology and technology firms in the ACNP mission and its meeting. However, as we deal with existing challenges, new ones emerge. For example, looming on the horizon is Plan S, which would push academic publishing toward an open access model, with substantial financial consequences for our journals and our labs (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/commissioners/2014-2019/moedas/announcements/plan-s-and-coalition-s-accelerating-transition-full-and-immediate-open-access-scientific_en). We need the input of a new generation of members to remain informed and nimble on all of these fronts.

    Are we doing enough to better society? Although the ACNP is a small organization, the high quality of our members and their accomplishments makes us an important voice. Accordingly, we partner effectively with larger advocacy organizations to educate policymakers about the science of psychiatric disorders and their treatments. Such efforts are badly needed in an era when government agencies may disregard scientific fact, animal research is under increasing attack, and the stigma associated with mental illness continues to impede its treatment.  In addition to efforts on Capitol Hill, our annual meeting – which is unique in engaging basic, clinical, industry and government scientists including NIH Institute Directors – provides a forum for exploring innovative approaches to pressing health problems, as illustrated by the 2018 Plenary Session titled “The Opioid Crisis: What Solutions Can Science Contribute?”.  Later in the meeting, a brainstorming session between ACNP leadership and NIH Institute Directors generated many ideas about how the ACNP might accelerate progress related to the Opioid Crisis and other pressing issues such as the perceived “valley of death” in medications development, if only by providing a venue where stake-holders can come together for open discussions. In my opinion, these advocacy and policy development efforts are critical to ACNP’s mission.

    Are we making progress towards diversity and inclusivity? The ACNP has a strong commitment to achieving equality in representation of women and minorities. Remarkable progress has been made for women. In 2018, a higher percent of female applicants than male applicants were accepted at the Member and Associate Member levels. Women presently chair the Program and Membership committees and have increasingly served as President (2015, 2017, 2019, 2020), although we lag with regard to ACNP Awards. The situation for URM (currently defined as African American, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, or Scientist with a Disability) remains unsatisfactory, despite very hard work on the part of the Minority Task Force and other committees. In 2018, 100% of URM applying for Associate or Full Membership were successful, but this added only 5 and 1 URM respectively to these categories. The problem is that the pipeline is small. There will be progress, but it will take more time than any of us would like it to.  The College also faces new challenges. Our Code of Conduct (https://acnp.org/annual-meeting/code-of-conduct/) makes it clear that we welcome everyone regardless of sex, race, color, national origin, religion, age, physical or mental disability, perceived disability, ancestry, marital status, sexual orientation, or any other basis protected by federal or pertinent state laws. But is it sufficient to have a policy of inclusivity? Or, do we need to expand our definition of URM to include other groups, such as members of the LGBTQ community or those who have been economically disadvantaged? How do we do so without diluting targets set for URM as currently defined? These issues are best addressed through participation of URM members in the Strategic Planning process. Moving forward, we have to keep an eye on equal representation versus equal absolute numbers. For a thoughtful consideration of this and related issues, I refer you to a recent analysis of gender balance among Editors, Reviewers, and Authors for Neuropsychopharmacology (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41386-018-0186-6.

    How should we grow? The existing strategic plan of the ACNP is to limit growth so as to maintain an intimate and collegial atmosphere at the meeting. Face-to-face conversations and their unexpected turns can make all the difference in developing an innovative collaborative project or cementing a mentoring relationship. But I acknowledge that this is the view of the “old guard”. We need to hear from our younger members and, if warranted, adjust our viewpoint. Our growth rate also affects our meeting venue. If we want to enjoy warmish weather and avoid convention centers, we have outgrown all but a small number of hotels. Notice that I am not touching the issue of why we can’t go back to Hawaii (at least not in the style to which we were accustomed). Have to save something for the blog.

    In closing, I want to thank all of you in advance for taking the time to learn about the issues facing the ACNP so that you can participate productively in Strategic Planning.  My time in the College has taught me that this is a fantastic organization comprised of dedicated people who want very much to do the right thing. I hope that all of you will have the same experience, and that progress made during my Presidency will enhance your pride in our College.

    Best wishes for a New Year full of excellent data, enough funding to sustain your work, and the time to enjoy family and friends!