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2015 Pilot 4 of 5

Cultivating Community Based Disparities Research Mentoring Fellowship

Principal Investigator: Adán Colon-Carmona, PhD
University of Massachusetts Boston

Addressing diversity and equity in the biomedical sciences continues to be a major challenge for the nation. Underrepresented groups remain a small fraction of the workforce in biomedical research careers, particularly at the level of senior investigator. Two professional development phases where interventions could be effective in addressing problems associated with these disparities are the levels of undergraduate trainee and faculty mentor. Undergraduates, especially underrepresented student trainees, are rarely exposed to full scientific communication courses that teach essential skills needed in all phases of their career, especially courses that introduce scientific culture. The communications course is designed to introduce undergraduate students, actively engaged in research for the first time, to key concepts, mastery of which is critical to their success as biomedical scientists. Specifically, we aim to improve students’ ability to: 1) understand the culture of science and the critical role it plays in biomedical science careers; 2) communicate scientific research and its purpose, in oral and written forms to a variety of audiences; and, 3) comprehend and critically analyze scientific literature. These are key skills need throughout the professional development of a scientist. Therefore cultivating the skills early allow a trainee to be better prepared for whatever career path s/he undertakes later in life.

Moreover, their mentors are unlikely to have formal, culturally aware mentor training. We will invite Jo Handelsman to train our master mentors in the “Entering Mentoring” framework developed by The Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching. Our master mentors will then teach the “Entering Mentoring, A seminar to train a new generation of scientists” manual to junior mentors within their research groups and others from UMass Boston, DF/HCC, and/or the Broad Institute. These junior mentors (postdocs and graduate students) will be chosen because they are working directly with the undergraduate students in the communications course described above. This framework is ideal because it is designed to increase the speed at which mentors acquire practical knowledge and skills to become confident and effective mentors. The framework is also specifically geared to enhance the experience of undergraduate students experiencing the laboratory environment for the first time. Mentors will be poised to implement what they have learned immediately. Details are provided in Table 2 at the end of this document.

The proposed project focuses on these two gaps in diversifying the workforce: training in scientific communication for underrepresented undergraduates and best mentoring practices for their mentors. The University of Massachusetts Boston, a minority-serving institution and most diverse 4-year university in New England, is partnering with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center to synergize our training activities.

Specifically, this project focuses efforts to educate students in scientific communication and to create healthy mentor-mentee relationships. Both aims are well integrated with goals of NRMN Cores: NRMNet, Mentor Training and Professional Development. For instance, the professional development of undergraduates from underrepresented groups is enhanced via the scientific communication course, mentors learn strategies in mentoring other mentors, and both mentor and mentee are brought into the NRMN community to expand NRMN’s reach. Moreover, the aims of this pilot project have clear measurable outcomes. They include: Improving students’ skills in communicating their science in different formats, creating a local network of trained mentors who will serve as coaches to other mentors, and increasing the number of mentors and mentees from the partnering institutions who are recruited into NRMNet.


Project Integration 

Relationships with mentors are a key component in the cultivation of successful careers in biomedical science (Hurtado et al., 2009; Burgess D, 2012; Prunuske et al., 2013; Eagan et al., 2013). Young investigators of diverse backgrounds often have not developed the communication skills necessary to interact effectively with mentors (Zerzan et al., 2009). At the same time, mentors often require years of trial an error to become effective at fostering diverse mentees. Our two aims are designed to strengthen the relationship between mentor and mentee by enhancing the abilities of both and facilitating their interaction. Ways the two aims are integrated are summarized in the diagram above.

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