Announcing our new BNA President-Elect: Narender Ramnani

23rd Apr 2023

The British Neuroscience Association (BNA) is delighted to announce Narender Ramnani as our new President-Elect.

Professor NarNarender Ramnaniender Ramnani is Professor of Neuroscience at Royal Holloway, University of London, where he leads the Brain, Action and Cognition Lab – a world-leading research group using functional neuroimaging methods to investigate the mechanisms in the human brain that underly higher cognition, learning and the control of action. Alongside this active research career, Narender also dedicates much of his time to teaching and supervision of students from undergraduate to PhD level.

The ways in which Narender has given freely of his time and energy to the BNA over its history are numerous. Suitably, his appointment to the position of President-Elect follows swiftly after his recently having been awarded the BNA's highest honour – Honorary Membership – something held only by five others and bestowed upon him as a mark of appreciation for all he has done to support the BNA over the last 17+ years.

Amongst his roles within the Association, Narender was Chair of the Programme Organising Committee during the period when the BNA first launched the concept of the BNA 'Festivals of Neuroscience' – what was and is still a unique forum for multiple neuroscience organisations to come together in a shared event. Forging this new model was of course not a simple journey, but one along which the BNA was successfully steered thanks in no small part to Narender's hard work and dedication. We fittingly announce the news of Narender's new role within the BNA on the opening day of the 10th Festival of Neuroscience – a milestone representing a sure mark of the model's success.

Most recently, Narender has been Trustee for Research Policy. In this role, Narender has greatly advanced the BNA's ability to advocate for neuroscience and influence policy-makers, especially through his active involvement in the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee – something which Narender had urged the BNA to join. One example of how this is giving the BNA a voice in Parliament is the 'Brain Gain' event held in October 2021. In 2022, Narender gave evidence to a House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry which looked at the extent of underrepresentation amongst those working in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) sector, and what the UK Government, industry and academia could be doing to address it. Narender's evidence has now been cited in the inquiry's report published this March, which calls on the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology to make improving diversity and inclusion in STEM part of its mission, and to set out how it intends to achieve action “that truly moves the dial”.

An unofficial but important role played by Narender is how he has guided the BNA into improving its own practices for equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), as well as championing EDI more widely across neuroscience. Narender was pivotal in the BNA's introduction of minimum requirements for the number of women speakers at BNA meetings (now consistently 50% of speakers at BNA Festivals), created the 'WISDAT' initiative, and sits on the steering group for the BNA's new Scholars Programme for under-represented ethnic groups in neuroscience.

Speaking on Narender's exceptional level of ongoing contribution to the BNA, outgoing BNA Chief Executive Anne Cooke said: "We have been privileged and lucky to have Narender give so much of his time, friendship, hard work and loyalty to the Association. [T]he influence he has had and the changes he has brought about will continue for years to come."

Prior to his current research position at Royal Holloway, University of London, Narender had worked with Prof. Chris Miall at the University Laboratory of Physiology, Oxford (now the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics) and with Prof. Paul Matthews at the Centre for fMRI of the Brain (FMRIB, University of Oxford), and had undertaken his initial postdoctoral training in neuroimaging at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging (Institute of Neurology, UCL) with Prof. Dick Passingham. Narender completed his PhD in Behavioural Neuroscience at UCL's Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology (supervised by Prof. Chris Yeo), his Neuroscience MSc at the Institute of Psychiatry (University of London), and his BSc (Hons) in Psychology at Birkbeck College.

Nominated by members of the BNA, President of the BNA is a prestigious role and has been previously occupied by leading UK neuroscientists including John O’Keefe, Nancy Rothwell and David Nutt. The President-Elect, along with the President and Past-President, acts as a figurehead of the BNA, representing the BNA externally, and helping develop the organisation’s overarching strategic direction, aims and activities of the BNA.

Narender's full manifesto for the role is reproduced below.

Manifesto: BNA President – Prof. Narender Ramnani

I was humbled and honoured to learn that I’ve been nominated for the role of BNA President. I realise that this is a position of great responsibility that requires a significant time and commitment. I’ve thought carefully about feasibility before agreeing to go forward to the next phase. Below I outline background information that explains why I feel qualified for the role, and I also mention priority areas for the BNA that I’d like to work on in my role.

I have a long-term commitment to the BNA, its values, and the valuable work that it does for the neuroscience community. This began in the mid-1990s with my student membership of the Brain Research Association, the BNA’s predecessor. I have served continuously in various roles on the governing body of the BNA between 2005 and 2022 before the term of my last role ended. At the end of my term I was honoured to receive lifetime honorary BNA membership in recognition of that commitment.

In that time, I have had the unique opportunity to work with nine BNA Presidents. This has allowed me to understand the range of challenges that BNA Presidents have faced in the past and the nature of the solutions they have used to tackle them. In my own roles, I led the project to develop the first two Festivals of Neuroscience (London, 2013; Edinburgh 2015) that transformed BNA national meetings into large, international flagship meetings that increased the visibility of UK neuroscience and the BNA itself. I’ve also played a part to increase BNA engagement with Parliament and research funding organisations. My recent policy work is now driving policy change at the highest levels of UKRI, partly through engagement with the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (Dame Ottoline Leyser, UKRI CEO, was specifically asked by the Committee about how UKRI is responding to my evidence).

This role will involve the control of budgets, and service as a charity trustee and company director. I have had a decade of experience in these roles with the BNA and other charities. I have successfully managed charity assets, controlled expenditure and balanced budgets on several large projects.

I will also bring leadership and governance experience to this role which have involved modernisation and the management of change. For example, I currently serve as a member of the Advance HE’s Race Equality Charter Governance Committee that has oversight of this national equalities scheme. In this role I have helped to oversee its evolution into a more effective scheme. I also serve on the Council of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee APPG, having been elected to this role in 2021. Along with two other Council members, I have been tasked with reviewing and reforming structure and governance of the APPG, and rewriting it’s governing document to bring it further into line with guidance from the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

If I am fortunate enough to be elected, I would use the commendable long-term analytical work completed by the BNA executive team to prioritise the work ahead. This work has revealed four areas of strength (strategy, financial management, external positioning and relationships). However, there are two areas that have been highlighted as needing attention. First, long-term financial independence and stability are important. This will become especially important when Gatsby income comes to an end, and the task ahead will be to proactively plan, and find ways replace it, and do so with a diverse set of steady income sources. Second, the analysis shows that BNA beneficiaries could be more aware of BNA successes. Finding new ways to communicate those successes to various audiences will also be a priority, and this may also impact positively on membership numbers in the future as potential members become more aware. A further area that I’d like to focus on is to find more effective ways to support early career researchers who make up half of the BNA’s membership, through policy work with UKRI / doctoral training programmes to actively tackle cost-of-living impacts on PhD students, and to promote smoother career transitions from academia into the private sector by working with industry partners and graduate schools. I know that work in the area of equity, diversity and inclusion is now a major focus for the BNA. Although the BNA is making great strides in the right direction, I’d like the BNA to become more strategic in the ways that it collects EDI data, develops actions, sets targets, and measures success. I am confident that I can provide the drive and expertise to achieve this.

I hope this account provides the information needed to understand my suitability for this role, and also the areas that I see as important for the BNA to work on in the coming years. This is an exciting opportunity for me to contribute to the BNA’s success as an organisation, improve the research culture in our field, and to create a more level playing field in which everyone can thrive. I hope very much that Council gives me that opportunity.

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