The number of physician-scientists in the United States has been steadily declining, and there is a greater need for both physician scientists and Ph.D.'s in gastroenterology research. Early intervention through undergraduate research opportunities (UROs) increases interest in science-related careers, and quality mentorship is critical for the development of young investigators and essential to attract more women and underrepresented minorities into science. To address these needs, in 2001 we established the Undergraduate Student Scholars Program (USSP), an innovative URO at the University of Pennsylvania which is closely linked to our NIH/NIDDK P30 Digestive Diseases Center (referred to by us as the Center for Molecular Studies in Digestive and Liver Diseases). Since the USSP is closely linked to the Center, USSP participants have access to all of the Center's superb resources and faculty. The USSP received initial funding through an R25 Education Projects (now Program) Grant from the NIDDK in 2004, and this was successfully renewed in 2009 and 2014. The cornerstone of the USSP is an intensive laboratory-based research experience that entails close interaction with and mentorship by a training program faculty member. This laboratory work is supplemented by a comprehensive educational curriculum, which includes seminars on topics in biomedical research, ethics, and laboratory safety, and a focused student research symposium in which students interact with keynote speakers who are international leaders in academic medicine and biomedical research. Over the past 5 years, we have successfully trained 54 students (a total of 150 since 2004) from leading colleges and universities throughout the country, with increasing recruitment and continued mentorship of women and underrepresented minority students. Following completion of the program, most USSP participants pursue additional biomedical research training, including through M.D., Ph.D., and M.D.-Ph.D. programs at leading institutions. The USSP tracks the performance and outcomes of students through longitudinal data and questionnaires and is guided by multi-disciplinary and experienced Internal and External Advisory Committees, both composed of thought-leaders in research education and training. The program also works closely with the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. The overarching interrelated specific aims of the USSP are two-fold: 1. To foster a strong interest among talented undergraduates in biomedical research with a focus on digestive, pancreatic, and liver research; and 2. To establish durable mentoring relationships between talented undergraduates interested in pursuing careers in biomedical research and supportive faculty mentors. In aggregate, this innovative URO provides the superb faculty, exceptional scientific resources, and exciting intellectual environment for trainees to expand their knowledge and interest in biomedical research. The key outcome of the USSP is to motivate trainees to pursue careers in biomedical research with a focus on digestive, pancreatic, and liver related research.
The number of physician-scientists in the United States has been steadily declining, and there is a need for both physician scientists and Ph.D. scientists in gastroenterology research. The Undergraduate Student Scholars Program (USSP) at the University of Pennsylvania is designed to interest talented undergraduate students in a career in biomedical research with a focus on digestive, pancreatic, and liver research. Supported by an R25 from the NIDDK, the USSP has successfully trained 150 students in biomedical research since 2004, most of whom have pursued additional research training including through medical and graduate research programs.
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