Experience with the Program

For each program, admission is highly selective; therefore, trainees whether minority or not, tend to be successful in their research efforts. One program administrator explained that one of the most important factors that impacts trainee success is the fit between the trainee and the lab—an issue of community. Every once in a while there is a mismatch whereby the lab does not serve the needs of the trainee. In these cases the program administrator talks at length with the PI of the lab. Sometimes this intervention remedies the problem. In a few cases, however, the best solution is to relocate the postdoctoral fellow into a new lab. One program administrator said, “Our professors are smarter than our students—that’s not the case at Harvard where the students are as smart as or smarter than the professors. We have a different type of student.” Consequently, the program works hard to create mentoring environments; thus, trainees have multiple mentors and multiple committees so that they have the opportunity to get advice from different levels.


One of the hallmarks of postgraduate research training is the striking homogeneity observed among its participants who tend to come from highly-educated families that are supportive of the participants’ chosen career paths. These data reflect the programs’ overall failure to train minorities from more modest backgrounds. Postdoctoral training awards and career development awards serve as important, even essential, mechanisms that enable recipients to successfully bridge the world of graduate school and that of a professor. The training awards were important for four reasons. First, they offered the opportunity to engage in independent research. Second, for many of the recipients, the awards enabled them to work with a mentor or principal investigator who guided their research. Third, the awards placed the recipients in laboratories that enhanced networking with other scientists. Fourth, for some postdocs the awards led directly to faculty positions. The career development awards provided advanced mentoring opportunities for awardees and helped senior postdoctoral trainees and junior faculty members make the critical transition to research independence.

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