This T32 IMSD proposal aims to increase the pool of PhD scientists from underrepresented (UR) backgrounds who contribute and have a significant impact on the health-related research needs of the nation. The proposal builds on an R25 award, managed (1996-2013) by the former University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey, and since 2016 by Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. From 1996-2013, the program enrolled 89 students, of whom at least 86% are pursuing a research, science and/or medicine career. Since 2016, IMSD appoints and trains UR students from 9 graduate programs (GPs) representing all biological/biomedical disciplines across the Rutgers-New Brunswick campuses, with 21 students currently in training. The IMSD partner programs have a robust pool of eligible applicants, committed and productive faculty members, and resources to provide outstanding cutting-edge training in health-related disciplines relevant to the NIH mission. The GPs provide their trainees broad knowledge and research experiences needed to advance in their chosen fields, coupled with rigorous research design, data analysis and interpretation. Students are trained to conduct research responsibly, ethically and with integrity, and to think critically and independently. IMSD will play a central role in providing support, complementary to that of the individual GPs, to promote the success of UR students, whether IMSD-funded or not. We are requesting 5 NIH-funded predoctoral positions per year for 5 years, with 2 years of support for each trainee. The IMSD trainees are integral to the community of UR predoctoral recruits who are funded using university and GP resources.
Aim 1 is to recruit, train and graduate with PhD UR trainees, with important metrics, such as retention, time-to-degree and publication rate, comparable to or better than non-UR American trainees, used to measure success. To this end, IMSD will provide: (1) close mentoring/advising; (2) a 0- credit, required course in years 1-4 that will focus on annual student research presentations and related professional and lay communication skills development; (3) career and skills development workshops; and (4) an annual research symposium for trainees and mentors. IMSD activities will reinforce student training in responsible conduct of research and standards/methods related to rigor and reproducibility.
In Aim 2 we will implement evidence-based and/or pilot strategies that improve the training and persistence of UR graduate students, build scientific and professional identity, and increase awareness and readiness for transition to productive and successful careers in biomedical research and research-related careers. Programs will focus on: (1) student wellness; (2) development of writing and communication skills, including submission of a fellowship application; (3) participation in career-oriented programs; and (4) community engagement. In addition to the direct impact on our trainees, the IMSD, through its inclusion of all UR students from GPs across the campus, will contribute strongly to a sense of community and belonging.
This application seeks funding for an Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity Award to support the recruitment and training of predoctoral students from diverse backgrounds with the overall goal of increasing the pool of PhDs from under-represented minorities who engage successfully in biomedical research and research-related careers. Our program structure and activities are designed to bring together and train under-represented predoctoral students - including IMSD trainees and non- trainees - from across the biological/biomedical graduate programs on the flagship Rutgers-New Brunswick campus. Our training program adds IMSD-specific program elements to existing institutional and graduate program-specific initiatives in order to enhance student success and performance and at the same time improve career preparation and outcomes.