African American, Latino/a and Native American students are entering PhD programs in the biomedical sciences in greater numbers than ever before. However, they remain greatly underrepresented in the biomedical workforce, especially at the faculty level. Over the past decades, NIH and NIGMS have committed great financial and human resources toward diversification efforts, leading to the PhD program improvements, but the lack of progress at higher levels suggests current interventions need better guidance from research to be effective. Prior studies have proposed many explanations and theories for the lack of improvement, including inadequate preparation of trainees, ongoing discrimination, and the active decision of young minority students not to pursue academic careers. However, no studies have achieved sufficient power to examine the relative contributions of these or other factors to persistence toward an academic career. Our National Longitudinal Study of the Experiences and Career Decisions of Young Biomedical Scientists, begun in 2008, uses annual in-depth interviews to follow a diverse group of more than 180 biomedical PhD students, giving it unprecedented power to discern and understand contributing factors to minority scientist retention and attrition. Interview data will be studied using qualitative research methods and interpreted using a framework composed of 4 theoretical 'lenses'from social science: social cognitive career theory, identity development, cultural capital and communities of practice. During this upcoming grant period, the Study will: 1) continue conducting annual, in-depth interviews with students during the crucial period between choosing a dissertation laboratory and completing graduate school;2) connect these new data with previously collected information about pre- graduate school experiences in order to determine the differential impacts of these experiences across race, ethnicity, and gender;3) use this data and our theoretical framework to propose, test, and extend hypotheses of the impact of experiences both before and during graduate school on career decision making, and;4) utilize insights from the research findings to propose modifications to existing or new interventions to promote career progression, especially toward achievement of academic careers. As a result of the number of students being followed, the depth of insights into student experiences and decisions, and the longitudinal nature of the study, this research will provide a truly unique and unprecedented view into influences of race, ethnicity and gender on the development of young scientists.
A deep, empirically grounded understanding of the student experience in contemporary science training will allow for evidence-based program design at every level of scientific training to increase the diversity of the scientific community and especially faculty researchers and teachers. Greater diversity in the professorate will provide better role models and mentors for the increasingly diverse US population, as well as increase the number of researchers who can identify with populations experiencing health disparities. The project's scale will lead to creation of a unique data repository which can become a valuable resource for ongoing study of the experiences of a diverse population of young scientists during their long progression from graduate student to contributing professional.
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