Report of the NIGMS Workshop on Achieving Scientific Excellence through Diversity

Note: This is an archived page that is not updated.
 

May 6-7, 2001


Executive Summary

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Workshop on Achieving Scientific Excellence through Diversity was held in Bethesda, MD, on May 6-7, 2001. The workshop was convened to provide a forum to exchange information and explore strategies for improved recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority (URM) students in biomedical research training programs, and in research careers. An additional goal was to address perceived problems and frustrations with minority recruitment and retention, dispel myths, and motivate participants to try new ideas and approaches.

Over 170 participants, including training grant program directors and administrators from 68 of the 74 institutions receiving NIGMS predoctoral training grant support, were in attendance. Other participants included minority students; representatives from minority-serving institutions, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), and the Sloan Foundation; and staff of NIGMS and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The agenda and details of the workshop can be found online. Following is a summary of recurrent themes, successful strategies, and suggestions for future efforts.

Recurrent Themes:

  • The Student Pool and the Pipeline. A major focus of discussion was whether there is an untapped pool of minority students, where the pool is located, how the pool can be expanded, and where in the pipeline URM students are losing interest in science and research careers. Data show that a large population of minority students who enter undergraduate programs lose interest in science in the freshman year. Expanding the pool of potential graduate students is dependent upon building self confidence and academic skills in the freshman year. Students who successfully make the freshman-sophomore transition are likely to stay in science. Furthermore, minority students who graduate with baccalaureate degrees in science are as likely to stay in science as majority students. Demographics also show that 70 percent of minority students are located in majority institutions--including research intensive schools--rather than in predominantly minority-serving institutions where many graduate programs focus their recruitment efforts. Graduate programs should refine their recruitment strategies to take full advantage of the presence of the pool of URM students at majority and research intensive institutions. The pipeline leaks at several places: the freshman-sophomore transition, baccalaureate graduates who choose a medical profession over a research career, and the transitions from Ph.D. to postdoctoral fellow and postdoctoral fellow to faculty. Biomedical scientists have the responsibility to convey the excitement and opportunities that a research career offers, and to convey the importance and relevance of research to society in improving quality of life and reducing health disparities. The continuing dearth of minority faculty is a major problem that must be addressed.

  • Student Recruitment and Retention. These two issues are inseparable. In the words of one speaker, "the magnitude of the recruitment effort must be matched by the magnitude of the retention effort." Aggressive recruitment and flexible admission criteria work if the program provides the necessary support and tools to enable students to succeed. There was much discussion of "risk taking" in student admissions and defining "at risk" students. It was emphasized that minority students should not be assumed to be "at risk." There are many excellent minority students who are well prepared for doctoral studies; others may need extra advising, mentoring, and/or academic support to make the transition to graduate school. In the past, students were defined as "at risk" based on the use of GRE scores and numerical credentials as predictors for success; however, many programs and mentors now realize that, regardless of whether a student is majority or minority, other indicators (research experience, commitment, letters of recommendation, and interviews) may be more valuable measures and predictors of a student's potential to succeed. In fact, labeling students as "at risk", based on paper credentials rather than ability, can create an added obstacle to success by lowering expectations. Faculty are more willing to take "risks" in accepting students with lower numerical credentials as they witness the success of such students.

  • Expecting and Achieving Excellence. A number of presenters emphasized that the ultimate goal of training programs is to produce excellent scientists and critical thinkers, and that goal must never be forgotten. Having high expectations and demanding excellence is crucial to student development--whether minority or majority--at all stages of training.

  • Minority and Majority Students. An important message was that both minority and majority students have strengths and weaknesses. Strategies that improve the recruitment of minority students also can be used to improve recruitment of majority students. Defining student strengths and weaknesses, establishing individual development plans, mentoring, counseling, and support are all good practices that will enhance graduate research training of all students.

Successful Strategies for Recruitment and Retention:

  • Institutional Commitment. The importance of institutional commitment and institutionalizing recruitment and retention efforts was the focus of the first panel. Examples were provided of both top-down and bottom-up approaches. Central allocation of resources and support to faculty and programs, and a strong philosophical commitment to the importance of achieving diversity can be crucial in achieving successful recruitment and retention of minority students. This commitment can provide the seed for obtaining additional support from the NIH, other government agencies, and private foundations. It also is critical for coordinating efforts between the institution's different graduate programs and for establishing partnerships with other institutions.

  • Partnerships. Partnerships between research-intensive universities, minority-serving institutions, graduate and undergraduate programs, and K-12 institutions are a powerful approach to expanding the pool, recruiting students, and providing research experiences for minority students and faculty.

  • Faculty Involvement. Faculty who are passionate about science, committed to student success, and willing to be personally involved are crucial for the success of URM student recruitment and retention efforts. It is important that multiple faculty members play a visible role in student recruitment by training summer students in their laboratories, visiting undergraduate campuses, and attending national minority student research meetings. Scientists, rather than administrators, are in the best position to convey the excitement and importance of a research career. Faculty also play an essential role in mentoring student development at all stages of training, and continuing this mentoring role as students progress from graduate school to postdoctoral and faculty positions. Institutions must encourage and facilitate faculty involvement, and recognize and reward their efforts.

  • Recruitment and admission practices. In addition to establishing partnerships, summer undergraduate research programs are an important recruitment tool. Attendance at minority research meetings, such as the annual meeting of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science Link to external Web site and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students Link to external Web site, can be productive, but it is important to bring scientists--not just administrators--to these meetings and to include multiple faculty members as well as current minority graduate students. Visits by faculty and students to majority and minority undergraduate campuses are effective, especially if arrangements are made in advance to host minority students and work through research-oriented faculty rather than pre-med advisors. Recruitment activities at the home campus should be thoughtfully planned to make minority students feel welcome, including contacts with minority students and faculty. Admissions criteria should rely less on GRE scores and more on research experience and commitment, recommendations, and interviews.

  • Retention practices. A number of strategies were described that have led to substantial improvements in the retention of minority students. Post-baccalaureate and summer preparatory programs can help students be more confident of their choice of research career, provide an opportunity to strengthen critical skills, and build self-confidence. Individual development plans, where the student participates in identifying strengths and deficiencies, are valuable. Flexible curricula, including undergraduate courses, initial limits on the number of graduate courses, and repetition of courses, can be used to overcome deficient backgrounds. Careful mentoring and monitoring, and easy access to counseling and support groups, are invaluable.

  • Critical Skills. Skills considered crucial to the success of all students include: communication skills in reading, writing, and speaking clearly, critically and scientifically; computer skills; laboratory skills; and attitudinal skills, such as asking for and accepting advice and learning to work and study in groups.

  • Model Programs. Highly successful programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels were described, including the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program; the Initiative for Minority Student Development (IMSD) programs at Baylor College of Medicine and Mayo Graduate School; and programs at the University of California, Irvine, Louisiana State and Wayne State. Some participants felt that the most successful programs, such as the Meyerhoff Program, should be "cloned" and that NIH should concentrate its resources in a few such programs. Others believed that it is more important for a variety of successful models to become generalized, and for these programs to provide the seed for a national network of effective undergraduate education, and graduate recruitment and retention.

Future Directions:

Dr. David Burgess emphasized in his concluding address that we all have to do better in recruiting and retaining minority research scientists. He summarized future directions that emerged from the workshop discussions by addressing two questions:

  1. What can the research training community do to improve the representation of minorities?
    Institutions should emulate successful programs, train increasingly large cohorts of students, create a supportive environment, value excellence, involve individuals, and institutionalize change. The leak in the pipeline to faculty and science leadership positions must be addressed immediately.

  2. What can NIH and NIGMS do?
    NIH and NIGMS should change the Minority Supplement to Research Grants Program to make it more flexible and focused on undergraduate students. Mechanisms should be developed to invest in mentors and individual leaders, and create programs for minority faculty development.

Introduction

Although minorities constitute an increasingly large fraction of the general population, they continue to be seriously underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. To address this imbalance, NIH requires that institutional training grants recruit URM students into their graduate programs. Despite this requirement, results have been disappointing. Many training program directors are concerned that, although they mount considerable efforts, they are competing with each other for what is perceived to be a limited pool of students. Furthermore, the retention of minority students in graduate programs needs to be improved. NIGMS, which supports almost half of NIH's predoctoral training grants, is committed to working with its grantees to increase the representation and success of URM students in graduate training programs. Therefore, the Institute hosted a workshop, "Achieving Scientific Excellence through Diversity," and invited program directors, administrators, and minority graduate students from over 70 academic institutions to exchange ideas and explore strategies for improving the recruitment and retention of URM students in graduate programs, and in biomedical research.

Dr. Ruth L. Kirschstein, acting NIH director and former director of NIGMS, set the stage for the workshop by reviewing the longstanding commitment of NIGMS and NIH to training future scientists and to fostering the inclusion of minority individuals in research careers. She noted that the new National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, along with other NIH Institutes and Centers, are working hard to increase NIH's efforts to reduce and ultimately eliminate health disparities among diverse racial and ethnic groups, and to attract more URM students to careers in research and medicine. Dr. Kirschstein acknowledged that, despite the creation and support of a wide array of programs, progress in reaching full representation of minority individuals in research and research training has been painfully slow. She urged participants to return to their institutions with high expectations and a renewed determination to create a community of scientists that reflects the full talent of the nation.


Keynote Address

Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President of University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and founder of the highly successful Meyerhoff Scholarship Program, began by noting that the dearth of minority students entering predoctoral graduate programs and choosing biomedical research careers cannot be explained merely by a shortage of college students with an interest in science. Rather, many interested minority students are lost to science in their first year of college, and educators can make a difference in encouraging students to succeed and choose research careers. Dr. Hrabowski stated that over 70 percent of African American students are not in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, where many graduate programs direct their recruitment efforts--they are in majority universities across the country.

Dr. Hrabowski presented some startling statistics:

  • At UMBC, where a third of the students are minorities, 90 percent of minority students with an initial interest in science graduate with a science major, whereas only half do so nationally.

  • Ninety percent of minority science majors at UMBC graduate with a 3.0 or better grade point average, whereas only 25 percent achieve this nationally.

  • Sixty-seven percent of science majors at UMBC continue on to graduate school, whereas only 15 percent do so nationally (with many others choosing a medical school education).

Dr. Hrabowski described the key factors and strategies at UMBC that lead to this remarkable success in educating undergraduate students for careers in science and research. Faculty must expect minority students to achieve "A's," and student self-confidence must be built in the first year through solid academic success. Pragmatic approaches include: starting students in a preparatory summer program prior to the beginning of the freshmen year; insisting that students take entry level courses, even when eligible for advanced placement; limiting the number of freshmen courses in math and science to two each semester; requiring that science and math courses be retaken if the student gets a grade of C or worse; encouraging individual and group study habits; and providing enough financial support that students can devote more time to study rather than to part-time jobs. Additional strategies include tutoring for and by students, student-student counseling, and individual mentoring by faculty members. Dr. Hrabowski emphasized the importance of working with both students and their families, and understanding the family pressures that influence career choices, such as medicine versus research. Finally, early placement in a rewarding research setting, nurturing the "fire in the belly" to do research, and maintaining close mentoring throughout the students' college years--and beyond--are crucial for filling the pipeline with qualified minority students interested in pursuing biomedical research careers. A final note, and one that was repeated often during the workshop, was that these strategies are important for all students, not just minority students. High expectations, a sound academic education, and strong mentoring and support are ingredients for the success of all students, regardless of background.


Statement of Goals

Dr. Richard I. Morimoto, dean of the Graduate School at Northwestern University, noted that many academicians feel frustrated in their efforts to recruit and retain URM students in their graduate programs; however, he emphasized we are all responsible for working together to increase the number of minority biomedical scientists. He stated the goals of the workshop were to spur participants to think creatively, share success stories, acquire new ideas, initiate partnerships, and return to home institutions to share lessons learned. He stressed the importance of engaging students, faculty, and administrators at all levels in training minority scientists.

Dr. Clifton A. Poodry, director of the Division of Minority Opportunities in Research at NIGMS, followed with comments on the term "best practices" for describing efforts to recruit and retain minority students. He explained his dislike for the term in the context of research and research training. Dr. Poodry stated that the term "best practices" is inconsistent with our approach as scientists, wherein we build on the knowledge of others rather than rest upon their "best practices." Our goal in science is to do better, not to simply emulate the status quo. We should accept no less in our training efforts. Dr. Poodry emphasized that it takes intense commitment--"a fire in the belly"--to make progress in science and he expects the same on the part of program directors and administrators to recruit and train minority students.


Panel I. Importance of Institutional Commitment

Demographics and Trends: Impact on Education and Training at the Research University

Dr. Morimoto presented data (obtained from the National Science Foundation (NSF) database WebCASPAR Link to external Web site) on the pool of undergraduate minority students in the graduate school pipeline. The data demonstrate that there is a substantial undergraduate pool of minority students at colleges and universities across the country and in Puerto Rico, and that, despite these statistics, the number of doctoral degrees in the sciences awarded to minorities has only increased marginally since 1975. Dr. Morimoto identified undergraduate institutions that have been successful in educating minority students who go on to receive doctoral degrees, and suggested that this information be used for individualized recruitment strategies and for establishing partnerships. Targeted institutions for minority recruitment should include private and state colleges and universities, research intensive institutions, and historically minority institutions. As an example, Dr. Morimoto displayed data on minority undergraduate students in the Chicago area, and showed how Northwestern University could use that information to develop better recruitment strategies. He concluded by emphasizing that there is an untapped pool in undergraduate colleges and universities, and in the workforce. Graduate programs need to tailor their outreach and recruitment strategies to their institution, and nurture the pool of students by establishing partnerships with a variety of institutions and providing academic year and summer research opportunities.

The panelists then presented four perspectives on the roles of institutional and individual commitment in training minority students at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

back to top

An Institutional Approach to Student Diversity: A Centralized Organization Structure Which Retains Local Responsibility

Dr. Richard McGee, associate dean for student affairs at the Mayo Graduate School, noted that Mayo faced major challenges when it began recruiting URM students into its graduate school in 1991. The school lacked national recognition, had no associated undergraduate school, the community of Rochester was small and ethnically homogeneous, the faculty and staff had little experience interacting with underrepresented groups, and minority enrollment was close to zero. Dr. McGee described how the school developed a strong centralized Office of Minority Affairs to coordinate recruitment activities across Mayo's four professional schools, and how responsibility for training and retaining students was delegated to the individual schools.

Dr. McGee described the most critical activities that led to the increasing diversity of the graduate school. These included: attendance at national minority student research conferences; partnerships with minority-serving schools; developmental, non-degree programs at Mayo to bring minority students to the campus; aggressive marketing; flexible curricula for all students; faculty involvement; a clear philosophy of the value and importance of diversity; and strong financial support. Specific programs that have contributed to Mayo's success include: a summer undergraduate program that is about 30 percent minority, two NIGMS-funded programs (the pre-baccalaureate Initiative for Minority Student Development (IMSD) and the Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP)), to attract and guide students towards basic and clinical research careers, and an MD.-Ph.D. program in partnership with the University of Puerto Rico.

Dr. McGee concluded by noting that despite the challenges the graduate school faced in 1991, it now attracts approximately 15 percent URM students, a high fraction of whom successfully complete the training program. In addition, the faculty has become supportive of students' needs, and as an added benefit, the graduate school has gained national visibility.

back to top

How Do We Institutionalize What We Learn from NIGMS Minority Training Grants?

Dr. Luis Villarreal of the University of California, Irvine (UCI), began his presentation noting the mission of the University of California system states "UC alumni should be truly representative of the people of California." Dr. Villareal pointed out that the current demographics of California show that a majority of the population is no longer Caucasian; yet, most minority students come from high schools that rank in the bottom SAT quintile. Thus, especially in the sciences, there will likely be an increasing discrepancy between the population and the representation of minority students in undergraduate and graduate institutions. UCI sits at the center of this demographic shift and is therefore ideally suited to serve as a model for the state in its mission to mirror the state's demographics in its graduates.

Dr. Villarreal traced the evolution of UCI's efforts and successes to train URM students in the biological sciences to the 1980s, when the NIH supported a program for high school science teachers. This program was replaced by HHMI and NSF programs that have now expanded to a statewide alliance of schools. An ongoing NIGMS-funded IMSD program at UCI provides the foundation for continuing efforts to increase the number of minority students in biomedical research. Dr. Villarreal emphasized that many of the elements of the UCI program are similar to those described by Dr. Hrabowski at UMBC. He noted that faculty involvement is crucial for mentoring student development, but faculty are increasingly over-committed and burdened by efforts for increasing diversity, making it essential to provide students who are well-trained and can meaningfully contribute to the faculty member's research program. Dr. Villarreal urged a multiplicity of approaches that address both the academic and personal challenges of the students, including family expectations for career choices. Courses in research writing and scientific thinking, and honors activities, are essential for the main objective, which is to produce researchers who are critical thinkers.

Students who have been trained in UCI's minority programs are among the most successful science undergraduates at the school. A recurrent theme was that majority and minority students share similar challenges, and that the lessons learned benefit all students. Finally, continuous oversight is critical. The UCI oversight committee includes some of the most prominent scientists and administrators at the university. The success of the students and the quality of the oversight faculty lend stature and credibility to the activities, and generate faculty goodwill that is essential for success. A dedicated, full-time scientist administrator who understands the scientific process is crucial to this effort. Dr. Villarreal concluded by pointing out that UCI's program to train minority students in the sciences has evolved from a small minority grant and the dedication of a few individuals to efforts that are now institutionalized.

back to top

Faculty Commitment to Increasing Diversity

Dr. Gayle R. Slaughter, director of special projects for the graduate school at Baylor College of Medicine, noted that in 1994 minority recruitment was minimal and no support network existed --the few students who were recruited to Baylor were not succeeding. Efforts to improve minority recruitment were sidetracked by the Hopwood ruling, which directed Texas schools to ignore ethnicity in student recruitment. The Hopwood ruling also had a negative impact on faculty who became fearful of lawsuits. This situation was reversed when Baylor received an IMSD grant from NIGMS, which provided resources and helped to validate faculty support for URM education. In a short time, minority recruitment and retention improved dramatically.

The school and faculty have made a major investment in recruitment, facilitated by the IMSD grant. The increasingly successful strategies include a summer undergraduate program that is made up of 30 percent URM students and includes a GRE prep course and other enrichment activities, attendance by faculty members at research conferences for URM students, visits by faculty members to campuses with significant minority enrollment, and campus interviews for all URM Ph.D. applicants. Improvements to the application process, overseen by a faculty committee with minority representation, include electronic submissions that eliminate fees, and evaluation of applicants with an emphasis on commitment to becoming a scientist, research experience, letters of recommendation, and most recent grades in science courses (rather than overall GPA). GRE scores are used selectively, mostly to identify weaknesses rather than to predict success. An important element of this program is an individual development plan that identifies, in the acceptance letter, areas requiring strengthening. Training begins with a summer pre-matriculation program that includes close monitoring by faculty mentors, research, workshops, seminars, undergraduate courses to correct deficiencies, and activities to improve English language skills and ability to read the scientific literature. Enrichment and support activities continue during the academic year, with an emphasis on faculty mentoring, flexible course plans, a minority speaker seminar series, and fellowship application workshops.

Dr. Slaughter summarized by noting that not only have the number of enrolled URM students increased dramatically in a relatively short period of time, but the retention rate of the matriculated students has gone from 69 percent to almost 100 percent, and student performance has improved in all areas. The IMSD grant has been instrumental in increasing student diversity and success, has empowered and validated the faculty investment in URM education, and provided crucial resources for improving institutional efforts.

back to top

Mentoring in Minority Training

Dr. Michael F. Summers, HHMI investigator at UMBC, emphasized the perspective of a scientist and mentor. He reviewed the success of the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program at UMBC, reiterating that there is an untapped minority student pool and an important role for research-active scientists in training that pool. Since its inception 12 years ago, 234 Meyerhoff scholars--mostly minority--have graduated, and more than half currently are enrolled in graduate or medical school. Half of the Meyerhoff graduates majored in biology, chemistry, and biochemistry, and 94 percent of those students have gone on to graduate school. UMBC has become the top producer in the U.S. of minority undergraduate biochemistry majors, including students who are not Meyerhoff scholars, but who have benefited from the same environment in what Dr. Summers called a "trickle-up" effect. He discussed his role as a research mentor, noting that excellent students want to work in his lab, and all he has to do is say "yes." These students, including 28 URM undergraduates in his lab last summer, have published first author papers and reviews, and many have entered graduate school where they are doing well.

In 1996, with support from an IMSD grant from NIGMS, UMBC expanded its Meyerhoff undergraduate program to a graduate program. Initially the program had limited success in recruiting minority graduate students. When Dr. Summers assumed leadership of the program, he implemented more aggressive recruitment practices, including personal involvement of faculty. Dr. Summers emphasized that active research faculty need extra institutional support to take on this responsibility. Subsequently, the program has increased from 2 URM students in 1996 to 21 enrolled in 2001 in biology, chemistry, and engineering.

Dr. Summers reviewed what works and what doesn't, and what research faculty, administrators, and the NIH can do to increase representation of minority students in biomedical graduate programs. Faculty can request seed money from their administration to reduce their teaching loads and enable them to launch programs that will become self-supporting. Administrators can identify well-funded, high profile research faculty and recruit them to spearhead efforts to bring high-achieving high school students to campus. The first year of college is crucial--if interested students succeed as freshmen, they generally will remain in science. Dr. Summers noted that research experiences are important, but it's expensive to support summer students in the lab; the administration can help by returning overhead funds to researchers to support these efforts.

Finally, Dr. Summers urged NIH to be flexible in its use of funds. He suggested NIH "clone" successful programs across the country. Dr. Summers pointed out that most students in the Meyerhoff program are from Baltimore and other urban and rural areas throughout the state. These students represent just a fraction of the pool that exists nationally. He suggested that NIH provide a "quick fix" to its Minority Supplements to Research Grant program by streamlining the process, removing the limit on undergraduate students per research grant, and emphasizing the undergraduate pool as the primary target for minority research supplements.

back to top

Panel I. Discussion

The size and quality of the student pool

Questions and Comments
Some members of the audience agreed that the undergraduate pool is large, but believe it is comprised mostly of students defined as "at risk," with poor academic backgrounds and/or GRE scores. How do you aggressively recruit this pool, prepare the students to succeed, and convince graduate programs to accept these students? Do you appoint these students to T32 training grants and risk being penalized upon review for not placing your most competitive students on the grant? If you don't support your URM students on T32 training grants, will you be penalized for inadequate minority recruitment and retention efforts?

Panel Responses
Drs. Summers and Villarreal reiterated that at the undergraduate level there is a large pool of talented high school students who are interested in science. The challenge is to design the freshman year so that these students successfully make the freshman-sophomore transition, to ensure a large pool of students in the graduate school pipeline who are well trained and not "at risk." Drs. McGee and Slaughter stressed that in order to succeed at the graduate level, you must build the self-confidence of students with marginal academic backgrounds and provide the tools for success. One promising approach is the use of post-baccalaureate programs, such as the MARC-PREP program, to prepare students for graduate careers. For students who have matriculated into a graduate program, individual performance plans and careful mentoring should be used to address deficiencies. It was emphasized again that there are many excellent minority students who are not at risk, and it is insulting to them to make this assumption when recruiting minority students. Furthermore, all students--minority and majority--have weaknesses that must be identified. Success depends not just on recruiting students, but on making sure students succeed once they enter a program.

Drs. Villarreal and Morimoto, both experienced reviewers of NIGMS training grants, added that review panels do not criticize training programs for placing minority students with weaker academic credentials on training grants if the program director is clear about the criteria for appointment and the program goals. In fact, the requirement to recruit and train URM students on training grants provides leverage for aggressive recruitment and flexible admission policies.

Successful Model Programs

Questions and Comments
Members of the audience wondered whether the successful Meyerhoff program should be "cloned" and whether the NIH should concentrate its resources in a few such programs.

Panel Responses
While replicating the success of the Meyerhoff program would increase the graduate student pool, Dr. Villarreal emphasized that there is no single model for success. Many different approaches should be implemented, and the strategies of successful model programs must be generalized across the country.

Minority Faculty

Questions and Comments
Members of the audience emphasized that the numbers of minority faculty in the biomedical sciences have barely changed in years, and we must do a better job of moving graduate students into postdoctoral fellowships and faculty positions.

Panel Responses
Dr. Slaughter responded that the solution is to produce well-trained students with strong records of research and publication. Mentoring must include placing students in competitive, productive postdoctoral positions and maintaining contact for continuing career guidance. There also is a need for federal support for the postdoctoral-faculty transition. Institutions must be encouraged to hire minority faculty and to provide successful role models for minority students. Research-intensive institutions should establish partnerships with minority-serving institutions to enhance their faculty's research capability, and hence, the training of research-oriented students. Dr. Villarreal added that NIH study sections should give special consideration to new faculty, including URM faculty, when reviewing research grant applications. It is crucial that URM faculty successfully launch and sustain their research programs.


Poster Session: Best Practices for Recruitment and Retention of Minority Students

Participants from 26 institutions presented posters describing their institutions' most effective recruitment and retention strategies. Presenters included T32 training grant program directors and directors of minority programs at both research-intensive and minority-serving institutions. The session provided an opportunity for workshop participants to exchange information, discuss shared problems, and explore new partnerships.


Breakout Groups: Recruitment and Retention Strategies

Six breakout groups, each including two minority students, emphasized different aspects of recruitment and retention of URM students.


Panel II. Recruitment and Retention Strategies

Report of Breakout Groups

A discussion leader from each breakout group constituted a panel that reported back to the participants with an overview of the discussions. The highlights are summarized below.

1. Expanding and Recruiting the Pool (Dr. Mark Muskavitch, presenter)

The importance of post-baccalaureate programs

Post-baccalaureate programs are excellent for undecided students who need an opportunity to decide if they like research, and for strengthening the academic backgrounds of students who may be considered "at risk" for succeeding in graduate school. These programs can be beneficial for both minority and majority students; institutions should extend post-baccalaureate training to any student who would benefit from having an intense research experience. However, it is a mistake to assume that most minority students are "at risk," since many are well trained and prepared to enter graduate school. It also is a mistake to assume that a post-baccalaureate research experience alone can compensate for academic weakness.

Post-baccalaureate programs should:

  • Allow variable pacing of students and entry into graduate school at different stages.

  • Foster critical thinking and eventual preparation for qualifying exams.

  • Address the dichotomies of commitment versus preparedness for research.

  • Be provided for those who want a formal program. Some students can create their own post baccalaureate program and may be put off by a formal program.

  • Include strong faculty involvement.

  • State clear expectations and whether subsequent admission to graduate school is automatic or conditional.

Establishing reciprocal institutional alliances to expand the pool and recruit students

Partnerships are beneficial for increasing the pool of qualified minority students, for increasing opportunities, for sharing pedagogical tools and curricula, for improving access to research and course opportunities, and for improving recruitment and retention strategies. Successful partnerships should involve all parties as equals from the start. Partners need to "buy into" the long range goals and objectives of a program and understand each other's strengths and constraints. Partnerships should include regular meetings to assess whether goals are being met and to revise approaches. Partnerships also require institutional support. Activities initiated by departments or individual faculty may be well-motivated and have some success, but generally are not as effective as those that involve institutional involvement. The primary reasons for failure of partnerships were not seeing the partners as equals, and not taking advantage of a partner's strengths.

Key points to consider in establishing partnerships include:

  • How do you choose your partner institution and decide who takes the lead?

  • How do you establish goals that will benefit both partners, especially when the partners represent research-intensive versus minority-serving institutions?

  • Consultation between partners is needed to establish mutually-rewarding goals.

  • Faculty-faculty interactions are crucial in consultation, creation of trust, advisory boards, and coordination of activities, including those that go beyond teaching and research.

  • Student-faculty interactions must take into account different expectations, norms, and academic and social cultures at partner institutions.

2. Expanding and Recruiting the Pre- and Post-Baccalaureate Pool (Dr. Gary Ostrander, presenter)

The untapped pool - where do you look and how do you encourage interest in graduate research?

Discussion focused on whether the pool is limited, whether there is an untapped pool, and how to expand and recruit the pool.

Major points were:

  • The research community should do a better job of "selling" the Ph.D. career, making it clear that there are jobs for successful Ph.D. graduates.

  • Universities should be more flexible in the selection process, giving more emphasis to research experience and recommendations, and not excluding students based only on consideration of grades and GRE scores.

  • There are untapped pools of students at research-intensive universities and community colleges. An additional pool can be found among industry employees, technicians, employees in health and science-related professions, and career reentry candidates.

  • Establishment of appropriate partnerships through bridging programs can facilitate access to an additional pool of students.

Expanding the pre- and post-baccalaureate pool, including K-12

The importance of outreach efforts and establishing partnerships at the elementary, middle, and high school levels was emphasized. Graduate and undergraduate students can play a major role in organizing and conducting these outreach activities. The group emphasized:

  • Forging links with existing programs, such as the scouts, church groups, and those sponsored by professional societies, in order to avoid "reinventing the wheel."

  • Engaging parents in outreach programs.

  • The importance of one-time experiences (e.g. science fairs) as well as continued mentoring activities for interesting students in science education and careers.

  • Lack of family support and funds for outreach efforts may limit student participation. Transportation for K-12 students should be provided.

  • Awareness and sensitivity to student needs and interests at various levels. In elementary school, science fairs and other "one time" programs, as well as monthly activities that encourage development of discovery skills, may be appropriate. In middle school, links to social groups, such as the scouts, may work best. In high school, students should be introduced to the college arena and informed about admission requirements.

3. Selecting Students from the Pool (Dr. Roger Chalkley, presenter)

Indicators of success and deciding how much risk to take

The group focused on the predictors of success when selecting students, and what can be done to ensure success once the students matriculate. The key points were:

  • GRE scores are not good predictors of success for minority or majority students.

  • Useful evaluation criteria and tools include communication skills, research experience, letters of recommendation, and interviews to assess motivation for research.

  • Match recruitment and retention efforts. Faculty fear of failure when taking recruitment risks can be minimized if the necessary student support is provided--"the magnitude of the recruitment effort must be matched by the magnitude of the retention effort."

  • Some students, despite the best efforts, may not succeed. Identify these students early rather than allowing them to languish in the program.

  • Post-baccalaureate programs are valuable in helping students determine whether graduate school and research is right for them.

The response of faculty and reviewers to taking risks:

  • Determine the faculty's "comfort zone." Faculty members look for students who are like themselves. To achieve diversity among trainees, enlist the support of senior faculty; junior faculty may be less effective in their ability to influence decisions.

  • Reviewers and site visitors overemphasize GRE scores in evaluating students. NIH should instruct reviewers to de-emphasize GRE scores as predictors of success.

4. Recruitment and Retention (Dr. Robert Bloch, presenter)

Creating a supportive academic and cultural environment: the impact on student recruitment and retention

The student perspectives were particularly valuable in this discussion. A supportive environment benefits both minority and majority students. For successful recruitment and retention:

  • A positive tone must be set by the leadership, providing top-down support and encouragement to involve faculty in recruitment and retention efforts.

  • Value the individual student's strengths, build self-esteem, and expect success.

  • Recruitment may require a change in the culture of admissions committees, with less emphasis on credentials, such as GREs, and more emphasis on other factors.

  • Establish contact mechanisms early to "break the ice" and enable students to be comfortable approaching and communicating with faculty and students.

  • Problem solvers must be readily available to deal with academic and personal problems, and to advocate for the student when problems arise.

  • Faculty should be involved and "passionate" about mentoring students. Where possible, it is important to have minority faculty as role models and mentors.

  • Mentoring should be provided at all levels and by multiple individuals, including junior and senior faculty, other graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and administrators.

  • Encourage overlapping support groups, including student study groups, minority student groups, and journal clubs.

Developing critical skills for success in graduate school and beyond

It was emphasized that these skills should be developed by minority and majority students.

  • Communication skills: reading; writing; and speaking clearly, critically, and scientifically.

  • Computer skills: facility with statistical packages, word processing, spread sheets, reference programs, database usage, and data mining.

  • Laboratory skills: standard techniques, what to do and not to do in the lab. The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory book, Lab Navigator, was highly recommended.

  • Attitudinal skills: students should be encouraged to ask for and accept advice; to collaborate, study, and work together for exams, presentations, and research; and to accept the idea that people succeed in science with different kinds of skills.

5. Recruitment and Retention (Dr. Anne Etgen, presenter)

Involving students, faculty, and programs in recruitment and retention efforts

The theme of this discussion was that success breeds success. If students are flourishing, they are your best representatives and your best recruiting tool.

Recruitment strategies that were emphasized:

  • Integrate recruitment efforts with individuals at undergraduate schools who advise students about Ph.D. training rather than health professions careers. At minority-serving institutions this often is the MBRS or MARC program director. Encourage undergraduate institutions to create formal mechanisms to advise students about graduate training opportunities; inform students that graduate school admission usually is accompanied by financial support.

  • Increase exposure at national meetings; send faculty and students to the SACNAS national meeting and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students. Send your minority graduate trainees to national meetings where they can meet and recruit students.

  • Create mechanisms to expose K-12 students to the excitement of scientific inquiry, and involve both faculty and students from your institution in this process.

  • De-emphasize GRE scores in admission decisions and inform applicants that they will not be rejected simply on the basis of GRE scores.

Retention strategies that were emphasized:

  • Support structures for URM students must be thoughtfully planned. Tutoring and study groups should be encouraged and facilitated before students get into academic difficulty.

  • Curriculum must be flexible to accommodate students with diverse backgrounds. This includes availability of undergraduate courses, reduced course loads in the first year, and withdrawal from a course if the need arises. Emphasize the importance of early success.

  • Participation of faculty who are passionate about the program, committed to student success, and willing to be personally involved with students.

  • Support formation of a minority student organization to provide academic, social, and cultural support. If too few students are in your program, encourage them to initiate contact with students in other departments or nearby institutions.

  • Educate non-faculty staff who often serve as "informal mentors" (e.g. departmental secretaries/administrators, technical staff) about support services available to students.

  • Designate a faculty level ombudsperson to mediate conflicts between students and faculty.

  • Have mechanisms in place to deal with problems that arise outside the classroom or laboratory. These include, but are not limited to, medical problems, psychiatric problems, financial pressures, and family problems.

6. Retention of Undergraduate and Graduate Students (Dr. Joseph Dunbar, presenter)

Academic success at research-intensive undergraduate and graduate institutions

The following elements were identified for successful minority graduate students:

  • Selectivity of students: the institution and program should match the personal and academic needs and interests of the student.

  • Early and continued monitoring at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

  • Mentoring: an excellent faculty member is essential to provide academic, research, and personal support. For undergraduates, early mentoring keeps students interested in science, graduate school, and research. Graduate student mentors also can be effective in this role.

  • An overall support structure that involves faculty, students, family, and church.

Institutionalization of efforts and faculty involvement

  • Institutional memory must be developed: recruitment and retention programs are successfully institutionalized when efforts occur at many levels and success does not depend on one individual.

  • A supportive institutional culture fosters perpetuation of efforts.

  • Faculty, students, and the administration must support the student culture.

  • Institutional efforts must be coordinated and resources must be shared. Multiple training grants and programs are most successful when they do not function in isolation.

back to top

Panel II. Discussion

Post-baccalaureate research programs

Panel Comment
Dr. McGee commented that post-baccalaureate programs should serve specific purposes, and are not intended for students who are ready to make the transition from undergraduate to graduate school. Post-baccalaureate programs are particularly useful for: undecided students who may have been exposed to research late in his/her education and need to be sure research is the right choice; students who are still developing the academic and/or social skills needed for success and require preparatory time to mature; and students who need time to correct specific areas of deficiency and gain the self-confidence necessary to excel in graduate school. Dr. Joel Oppenheim noted that the term "post-baccalaureate" connotes a pre-med preparatory program and the terminology should be changed.

Counseling support services

Panel Comment
Dr. Slaughter noted that programs with high retention rates devote a lot of time to counseling students for non-academic problems. She asked how often professional counseling services are utilized, and how big a role this plays in minority student retention.

Panel Responses
Dr. Chalkley responded that clinical depression can be a major factor for all graduate students and there must be a way to recognize the problem and encourage students to seek help. One must also be aware that medication can affect a student's ability to work and study. Dr. Etgen added that at her institution, there is a designated director of counseling who is approachable, listens to student problems, and acts as a liaison for obtaining professional counseling services and arranging accommodations for physical and learning disabilities. Although all students may benefit from this kind of resource, some minority students may have a greater need for counseling due to family and financial pressures.

Student Support Groups

Question
A graduate student asked how students can get funding to form support groups.

Panel Responses
Dr. Morimoto replied that usually you simply have to ask. Most directors and deans of graduate studies or departmental chairs recognize the value of support groups. Dr. Etgen added that the cost of these activities is relatively modest, most universities designate funds for this purpose, and a specific budget proposal usually can be accommodated. At her institution the minority student group serves an important function, is well organized, has a faculty adviser that provides continuity, and receives funds for activities, including support for minority seminar speakers.

Recruitment and Marketing Strategies

Question
What approaches can be used to influence students at undergraduate institutions who are considering medical and graduate school options?

Panel Responses
Avoid scheduling recruitment visits through the pre-med advisor. In advance and at your expense, contact a department chair or science advisor to arrange a seminar or lunch to talk with students about graduate school. When recruiting at universities or at meetings such as SACNAS or the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students, convey your "passion" for science. Bring current graduate students to convey their excitement and perspective of your program. Present research in the context of how students can make a contribution to society. Often students don't see how research relates to meaningful issues. Invite minority faculty from different disciplines to talk about research and social issues.

Taking Risks

Question
What is an acceptable level of risk, and what is the cost of accepting a student who doesn't succeed?

Panel Response
Dr. Chalkley repeated that you must balance giving a student the benefit of doubt and providing all the necessary support against early identification of students who are unlikely to succeed.

Minority Faculty Recruitment

Comment
Dr. Alan Grossman emphasized the importance of recruiting minority faculty. University policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology provides an additional position to a department that recruits a minority faculty member. He urged the audience to advocate this approach at their institutions.


Concluding Address - Learning from the Past to Plot a Future

Dr. David Burgess spoke from his perspectives as past president of SACNAS; as a study section member for the review of research, training, and minority programs; and as an advisor to NIH for many years. He stressed the importance of the NIH and NIGMS commitment and leadership in requiring minority recruitment for training grants, and in enforcing that requirement. Dr. Burgess attributed the higher representation, compared to national figures, of minority students in NRSA training programs to that leadership. However, he also emphasized that we must do better, not because of demographics, but because of the health disparities that exist for our nation's 30 percent minority population. Despite large recent increases in the NIH budget, the health disparity gap has not narrowed. This argument should be used to encourage minority students to pursue research careers.

Dr. Burgess noted the existence of many models and organizations, including Meyerhoff-like programs, bridge programs, and minority-serving societies and institutions that are working at the undergraduate level to increase the pool of minority students. He stressed that mentoring is a key to the success of these programs, but reminded the audience that the best scientists may not make the best mentors. Dr. Burgess cited a recent study, "Priming the Pump: Strategies for Increasing the Achievement of Underrepresented Minority Undergraduates," that provides statistics on the success of these programs. The most recent data show that minorities received 13 percent of baccalaureate degrees in the sciences, and that minority graduates are as likely as majority students to remain in science. He concluded that, thanks to the efforts of the NIH, NSF, minority-serving societies and institutions, and private foundations, there is a growing pool of students. He is offended when people say that they cannot find minority students, pointing out that at the last SACNAS meeting, there were 800 Native American and Hispanic students, 400 of whom were presenting posters, yet only a small fraction of the audience was there to meet these students and share their enthusiasm for science. He cited a recent survey of graduate students conducted at the University of Wisconsin, in which 37 percent of minority students said their departments do not actively recruit minorities, and half said that their department does not provide a supportive environment for minorities.

In summarizing the workshop, Dr. Burgess addressed several questions:

1. What can graduate programs and training grant program directors do to improve the recruitment and retention of minority students in research?

  • Learn from and emulate successful programs.

  • Train increasingly large cohorts of minority students and do not be satisfied with a few.

  • Create a supportive environment.

  • Allow and encourage minority students to transcend their race, but not their culture (for example, Jackie Robinson, and Ella Fitzgerald).

  • Stress excellence. A minority must be considered an excellent scientist first, and a minority second.

  • Make minorities feel welcome on your campuses by the presence of minority faculty and students.

2. What have we learned?

  • Individuals make a difference. NIH should invest in "local champions," providing career development support to minorities so they can devote more time to mentoring without compromising their scholarship.

  • There are many routes to success, as exemplified by the Meyerhoff and other programs described at the workshop.

  • Institutionalize change.

  • The pipeline to faculty and science leadership positions for minorities must be opened.

  • All components of NIH must display the same strong commitment to minority training.

3. What can NIGMS do to assist the community?

  • Change the minority supplement program to allow investigators to train larger numbers of undergraduate students.

  • Develop mechanisms to invest in mentors and leaders.

  • Create programs for minority faculty development.

Dr. Burgess ended by noting that the audience contains the best and most committed scientists, educators, and administrators, and they must take the initiative to lead in educating the citizenry and eliminating health disparities.


Final Remarks

Dr. Morimoto applauded Dr. Ruth Kirschstein and the leadership of NIGMS for their long commitment and investment in minority training and thanked the audience for its participation. He stated that if each person brought just one idea back to their home institution, and identified just one practice to implement or modify, the workshop would have a significant impact. He urged those at undergraduate campuses to assume the added responsibility of not only talking to other training grant program directors, deans, and department chairs, but of communicating with heads of undergraduate programs. He noted that NIGMS plans to establish a Web page to enable the exchange of ideas and feedback on successful programs and practices. With a final thanks to the NIGMS leadership, Dr. Morimoto adjourned the workshop.


Roster of Presenters


Invited Participants


Resource Materials