University of Arizona neuroscience researchers are looking for interns, but the interns they seek must be 55 years old or older to be considered for the two available positions to help conduct research in one of more than 40 laboratories on campus.
According to a report from the National Institute of Aging, today's older Americans are very different from their predecessors, living longer, having lower rates of disability, achieving higher levels of education and less often living in poverty.
Jean-Marc Fellous, UA associate professor of psychology and applied mathematics, agrees and sees Southern Arizona's retiree population as an invaluable resource with "a lifetime of experience in various types of professions."
Fellous, together with other colleagues conducting brain research on campus, decided that Arizona's retiree population would bring fresh perspectives into the field of neuroscience.
"Tucson is home to one of the largest retiree populations in the US. Many retirees are highly skilled individuals who are still very active and motivated," Fellous said. "Most have a lifetime of experience working in engineering, artistic or scientific areas, experience that could be brought to bear on challenging questions that neuroscientists across our campus are seeking to answer.
A grant from the Tucson chapter of the Society for Neuroscience makes it possible for the UA researchers to offer a neuroscience fellows program, in which fellows volunteer to work in a laboratory, helping to conduct experiments, analyze data and interact with students and faculty through the summer and early fall.
"The goal of this program is to bring together this highly skilled but less active workforce with UA neuroscience laboratories eager to expand their multidisciplinary research capabilities," Fellous said.
In exchange, fellows will receive reimbursement for transportation and other basic fees incurred with coming to campus along with training needed for them to conduct research at the various labs.
Fellows must complete an application and include a two-page letter describing what they hope to learn, as well as their professional background and why they are interested in neuroscience.
They also must select their top three areas of interest from the more than 40 laboratories conducting research at the UA.
Fellows will be assigned to one of their three top choices and will be asked to volunteer a minimum of 20 hours a week, and will have the option to contribute more hours if they wish.
Peter Hirschman is 65 years old and in his third week as a fellow and said the program is a "fantastic and an incredible opportunity."
He started and never completed a doctorate in philosophy 45 years ago. One of the reasons he did not complete the degree was because neuroscience was not asking the questions he wanted to work on at the time.
Though he worked in the research lab of a Nobel Prize-winning brain chemist, he moved on to work in industry and eventually started his own glassware business until retiring three years ago.
"I was thrilled when I saw that I might have the opportunity to revisit this area of interest," Hirschman said.
"Peter is now regular member of the research team. In fact he's here 40 hours a week," Fellous said.
Hirschman works alongside UA graduate neuroscience student Bethany Jones, which is working with other student researchers in Fellous' lab studying the way memory is formed, consolidated and recalled.
Their research efforts will help to understand long-term memory.
Though the current internship opportunity ends in the fall, Fellous is working to obtain more funds to continue and expand the effort.
"This year we only have enough funds for four fellows. I hope we can add more over time," Fellous said.