The overall long-term goal of our R25 Educational Program Interfacing computation and engineering with digestive and metabolic physiology is to attract and encourage undergraduate students who are majoring in engineering, quantitative and computational disciplines to consider careers in digestive health and metabolism and their related diseases. The program is sponsored by the Department of Molecular & Integrative Physiology at the University of Michigan and includes 21 mentors. The focus of this renewal application is to continue but expand the annual summer research fellowship program referred to as STEP (Short Term Educational Program) from 8 to 11 students per summer. During the past four years, we evaluated 119 applications and enrolled 32 different students from across the US, from whom 6 were fellows for 2 years. To maximize the experience, students are encouraged to enroll in two consecutive summers if possible. Notably, 5 of the 6 students who participated in two summers have published at least one paper with their research mentors; 9 of the 32 students are coauthors on at least one manuscript; and 71% of our fellows who have finished their undergraduate degree are attending graduate or medical schools, or hold technical positions in academic biomedical research settings. Our 10 week fulltime summer research experience incorporates a noon lecture series that teaches important physiology and research-related principles, including the use of different model organisms, ethics in laboratory research, and career opportunities in biomedical sciences. The research experience culminates in a mini-symposium, with oral presentations given by the students that summarize their research projects. To further enhance our students' experience, we are incorporating to the program conference travel awards to promote the personalized mentor-trainee relationship beyond the summer; and an alumni mentorship program to link former program fellows, who are pursuing advanced degrees, with actively enrolled STEP students. The Educational Program will continue to be under the oversight of a highly qualified Advisory Committee, and student selection and progress monitoring will be done by a Student Selection and Mentoring Committee. The 2012 NIH Biomedical Workforce estimates that quantitative and computational scientists make up less than 2% of the biomedical science workforce. Therefore, training of quantitative scientists is critical for the advancement of biomedical sciences, especially in the era of big data including complex genomics and proteomics, and multi-scale physiological systems. Our program provides excellent opportunities for undergraduate students from quantitative scientific disciplines to perform laboratory research. We expect this experience to instill excitement and to propel the students to pursue biomedical research- oriented careers, particularly in NIDDK-focused areas of digestive health, metabolism and related diseases. Given what we have accomplished during the past 4 years, and the improvements we propose to implement, we anticipate being able to contribute to the next generation of highly accomplished biomedical scholars.
The 2012 NIH Biomedical Workforce report concluded that there is a serious shortage of quantitative scientists in the biomedical sciences. Our R25 Educational Program 'Interfacing computation and engineering with digestive and metabolic physiology' addresses this shortage by offering summer research opportunities to undergraduate students from engineering, quantitative and computational backgrounds. Our goal is to stimulate undergraduate students who are quantitatively-focused to engage in research careers that address the public health problems pertaining to digestive disease and metabolic disorders, including cancer, diabetes, liver disease and obesity.
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