Barbara Bendlin

Position title: Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine


Phone: (608) 265-2483

Barbara Bendlin headshot


Ph.D. University of Arizona

Research Focus:

Aging; Alzheimer’s Disease

Diversity Statement:

In spring of 2021, Professor Ebony O. McGee at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College published a paper called “Racism camouflaged as imposterism and the impact on black STEM doctoral students” In the paper, she points to the often discussed and recognized phenomenon called “impostor syndrome”, which can be described as a feeling of “self-doubt and fear of failure”, based on the “concern that others have overestimated their talents or abilities”. For anyone that has spent time in academia, they have likely encountered at least one (if not several) opportunities to hear from a panel or participate in a discussion session on the topic of imposter syndrome, and received invitations to “fix” their self-doubt. In this paper, Professor McGee brilliantly calls fraud on the idea that the responsibility for imposterism lies with the student, pointing instead to the structural racism, and institutional factors, policies, and practices that contribute to imposterism. The results of her phenomenological analysis of interview data acquired from marginalized students in STEM show clearly that the problem lies with the environment, and not with students.

This approach, to shift the focus not on marginalized students, but rather the context for training, resonates with me and motivates me to take action to improve the academic experience for students from marginalized groups. In the fall of 2020, students in the Neuroscience Training Graduate Program called out the need to address climate, institutional racism, and the need for enhanced student support, which led me to join my faculty colleagues and graduate students to form an Equity and Diversity Working Group to advise the graduate program. The working group was formed to advocate for change on behalf of the students, to provide recommendations to improve the graduate program climate, to create policy that provides an infrastructure for conflict resolution, and to actively work against structural racism. The committee worked on two major initiatives. One was to develop a code of conduct for the graduate program, and the second was to develop an anti-racism pledge for the program to inspire faculty affiliates to be lifelong learners and actively engage in identifying, and holding themselves accountable to addressing their own biases. Based on this initial work, I aspire to continue listening to students, and gain greater awareness of the structural barriers faced by students from groups underrepresented in STEM. I aim to contribute to a healthy and supportive climate for students and to work with my colleagues to achieve this goal.

I am also a founding member and leader of the Alliance of Women Alzheimer’s Researchers (AWARE) in Wisconsin group, which focusses on addressing underrepresentation of women in STEM fields as well as addressing issues disproportionately affecting underrepresented groups in STEM. Through our work with AWARE, we have engaged with faculty, staff, and students to counteract bias and racism and to support efforts that improve the climate for individuals underrepresented in STEM. Through a grant awarded to AWARE in Wisconsin member, Kao Lee Yang, our group partnered with the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Center to host a widely attended presentation on the topic of implicit bias in medicine. More recently, the AWARE in Wisconsin group held a series of conversations on the UW-Madison policy for addressing Hostile and Intimidating Behavior. Recognizing gaps in the policy as it pertains to students and others who present claims, the AWARE group met with the vice provost for faculty and staff affairs at the UW-Madison to discuss recommendations to potentially improve the implementation of the policy.

In addition to these activities, I have also leveraged my role as the leader of the Alzheimer’s Center’s “Research Education Component” (REC), the goal of which is to train the next generation of Alzheimer’s disease scientists. Early on in the process of developing the REC, I partnered with students in my lab as well as the REC coordinator to develop a program – the REC Junior Fellow’s program – that introduces high school students from diverse backgrounds to potential careers in research. Students may not aspire to research careers due to lack of familiarity with this career trajectory, or lack of mentors or role models in this career path. Through this program, students from diverse backgrounds met and engaged with role models from diverse backgrounds to inspire their own career trajectories. The program also provides a mentored research internship when students begin university. To improve the experience of the students involved in research, we envision providing opportunities to mentors to receive training that improves cultural competency, and increases the willingness and action of mentors to seek diverse trainees to join their labs.

In summary, I am passionate about training the next generation of leaders in STEM, and to seek out opportunities to improve not only the number of students who are currently underrepresented, but to learn more about the student experience and to actively participate in dismantling the racist infrastructure that impedes the development and success of students from marginalized and racialized groups.

Diversity Training:

Taking Time for Black Lives – A Day of Reflection and Conversation; Unconscious Bias in Academic Medicine

Link to Lab Website

Link to Publications