Despite the fact that radiation therapy is one of the three primary modalities used in the treatment of cancer, the active number of researchers in the fields of radiation biology or physics has declined over the past three decades. This critical unmet need for well-trained radiation scientists was underscored by a recent workshop entitled National Crisis: Where are the Radiation Professionals? sponsored by the NCRP and DOE (Bethesda Maryland, July 17, 2013). The Summer Undergraduate Program to Educate Radiation Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania (SUPERS@PENN) was proposed as a means to begin to reverse this recognized crisis. We hypothesize that by providing undergraduate students with a supportive environment that teaches them the underpinnings of cancer and radiation biology, physics and imaging, early in their college careers, that we will encourage a significant number of these students to ultimately pursue cancer and radiation research as a career path. Key part of our overall objective is to identify and recruit participats from various underrepresented populations, thereby promoting greater diversity among radiation scientists. Initially submitted in 2009, the program obtained strong support from study section (score 11, 1.0 percentile) and received NIH funding in 2010. We have successfully met the proposed aims from the initial submission, with a large percentage of our alumni (including minority, socioeconomically underprivileged and females) having now moved on to graduate programs, with a continued focus on an eventual career in cancer and radiation research. Our goal for this competitive renewal is to continue to build upon these early successes. Individualized research projects tailored to each student's interests and experience remain as the core component of the SUPERS program. In addition, didactic lectures from faculty experts in the fields of cancer biology, radiation biology, radiation physics and cancer imaging provide a foundation for students to build on. Four hours of bioethics training will be incorporated into th didactic lecture series, as per NIH requirements. One key to the early success of the program is the strong assessment and evaluative component. Working with colleagues in the Office of Evaluation and Assessment in the Academic Programs at the Perelman School of Medicine, SUPERS has developed methodologies to measure the immediate and long term impact of the program on student participants as they transition from undergraduate to post- baccalaureate studies and eventually into the early part of their research careers In summary, by completing the specific aims underlying this proposal, we anticipate that we will have a positive impact on quantity, quality and diversity of the next generation of scientists engaged in cancer and radiation-related research.
The primary focus of the SUPERS@PENN program is to enrich the undergraduate experience by educating student on the science behind cancer and radiation research. There is a particular emphasis on recruitment and retention of students from underrepresented populations into the program and ultimately the research career pipeline. We propose that this experience, which is largely unavailable to the majority of undergraduates in the United States, will encourage them to apply to graduate school programs that eventually lead to them pursuing careers in biomedical research, particularly cancer and radiation research. By completing the stated goals set forth in this proposal, we anticipate that we will increase the quantity, quality and diversity of the next generation of scientists working in cancer and particularly radiation research.
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