Announcement of the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience Program

October 03, 2014

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I am pleased to announce the creation of a new, multidisciplinary program at Columbia University—the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience. The members of the Steering and Advisory Committees I appointed to steward this initiative are listed below.

During the past decade, neuroscientists have made unprecedented progress in developing technologies to directly observe brain activities in living creatures, both in humans and other animals. We are thus now capable of observing the brain “in action” rather than attempting to deduce its activities from the study of brains of the deceased. Armed with this new capability, we are unlocking the extraordinarily intricate complexities of the brain’s functioning.

Columbia University stands among the leading centers of the world in this pursuit. Our global preeminence will be assured by the generous new funding for the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute and the construction of a vastly enlarged building for laboratory, meeting, and office space, to be completed for occupancy in 2016. This new research capacity, however, must be supplemented by systematic investigation of the conceptual underpinnings and social consequences of newly obtained knowledge of brain structure and functioning.

Our goal is to train a new generation of scholars with disciplinary homes in the social sciences or humanities—such as psychiatry, psychology, public health, law, history, economics, literature, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, music, and the arts—and extensive acquaintance with and critical understanding of neuroscience research. A new kind of scholarship is required that combines training in both neuroscience and these other disciplines. The program for Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience will address this need.

The core of the program is to annually appoint three postdoctoral scholars for three-year terms, to be known as Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience. The program will support training and collaboration between scholars drawn from the humanistic or social science disciplines and from neuroscience. Each of the Presidential Scholars will have two senior mentors, one drawn from the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute and the other from the humanistic or social science discipline that will most closely complement the work of the Presidential Scholar. In addition, the program will make awards on a competitive basis to tenured and tenure-track faculty at Columbia University and Barnard College for research and teaching that either involves direct collaboration between neuroscientists and faculty members from other disciplines or crosses disciplinary lines to investigate issues relevant to society and neuroscience. The Request for Proposals for these grants will be announced soon.

As we enlarge our understanding of the brain, we will be faced with complex challenges. This program initiates exploration of the conceptual and historical underpinnings, as well as the social implications of this new research in our pursuit to curing neurological illnesses.


Lee C. Bollinger


Committee Members:

Pamela H. Smith, Chair, Steering Committee, History

Robert Burt, Ex Officio, Steering Committee, Law & Neuroscience

Peter Bearman, Steering Committee, Sociology

Thomas Jessell, Steering Committee, Neuroscience

Philip Kitcher, Steering Committee, Philosophy

Alondra Nelson, Steering Committee, Sociology

Larry Abbott, Neuroscience

Alessandra Casella, Economics

Frances Champagne, Psychology

Deborah Coen, History, Barnard

Geraldine Downey, Psychology

Michael Doyle, Law & International Affairs

Brent Edwards, English & Comparative Literature

David Freedberg, Art History

Andrew Gerber, Psychiatry

Mark Hansen, Journalism

Rebecca Jordan-Young, Women and Gender Studies, Barnard

Darcy Kelley, Biology

George Lewis, Music

Jennifer Manly, Neuropsychology

Christopher Peacocke, Philosophy

Valerie Purdie-Vaughns, Psychology

Michael Shadlen, Neuroscience

David Strauss, Psychiatry

Michael Woodford, Economics

Sarah Woolley, Psychology