The Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) IMSD program as prompted by a self-study which indicated that significant percentages of underrepresented minority (URM) VCU undergraduate Biology majors and PhD students in the biomedical sciences are underperforming in their academic programs. Although more than 1/3 of VCU freshman and sophomore Biology majors are URM, ~40% of these individuals drop out of the Biology major due to poor performance in gatekeeper courses. The VCU School of Medicine (SOM) matriculates and graduates PhD students at rates that are comparable to the national average, but these individuals take longer to graduate and are less productive (fewer first and co-author papers) than are their majority peers. To address these disparities, we propose a two-phase, comprehensive research and education program intended to provide URM undergraduate and PhD students with the theoretical background, technical skills, critical thinking/ problem solving abilities, confidence, and determination necessary to succeed in careers in research. The VCU IMSD program takes advantage of existing resources, builds on existing successful models, and incorporates novel strategies to intervene with "at risk" students. The undergraduate phase of VCU IMSD will target 16 talented Biology students for participation in a program that provides (a) highly-structured courses intended to incrementally introduce students to basic concepts in biomedical research, (b) an early and intensive mentored research experience followed by a 2-year independent research project, (c) a "Learning Community" of like-minded scholars, intended to envelope IMSD Scholars in a atmosphere of continuous learning and personal/ professional development, and (d) a variety of enrichment activities providing opportunities to practice oral and written presentation skills, counseling in preparation of graduate school applications, and development of skills sets necessary for success on standardized exams. The PhD phase of the IMSD program will be admit two IMSD Predocs/ year who will participate in (a) a "pre-matriculation" summer program that provides courses in Critical Scientific Thinking and basic Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology and a highly mentored research experience, (b) a reduced course load that offers the option of completing the first year of PhD courses over the course of two years, and (c) enrichment activities that stress the development of critical thinking/ problem solving capacities, offer opportunities to develop communications skills, and provide networking opportunities intended to build confidence, establish self- efficacy, and promote the independence that is necessary to be productive in research. We strongly believe that the VCU IMSD program will not only ensure IMSD-supported students'commitment and completion of the PhD in biomedical sciences but that the enthusiasm and passion of IMSD students will impact on their non- supported peers and spark their interest in biomedical research as well.
The future of medicine depends on biomedical research and the new discoveries that research brings to disease mechanisms. However, disparities exist, not only in healthcare and disease but also in the researchers who push biomedicine forward. The VCU-IMSD program is intended to address this disparity by increasing the number of underrepresented minorities who pursue PhD level training in biomedical research.
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