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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 3 Undergraduate Programs Undergraduates in the biological and behavioral sciences have a variety of educational and career goals. Some focus on enjoying a liberal arts education, while others focus on their career aspirations. Even when students take similar courses and have similar interests, they may not share the same career objectives. Substantial numbers seek employment directly after receiving a bachelor’s degree. For those who have aspirations for further education, students who major in the biological or behavioral sciences contemplate a clinical career as often as a research career. For those students who plan a research career, key learning experiences at the undergraduate level might include establishing a foundation for more targeted study in a range of scientific fields at the graduate level; learning about the scientific process and research ethics; and hands-on research experience that includes an in-depth examination of some topic. Programs in these fields may also include work in statistics, informatics, and communication as key elements of a foundation of knowledge for work in the discipline. Many undergraduates face a variety of challenges. Some students struggle academically. Many are searching for direction in education, careers, and life. Students change majors and a high percentage transfer from one institution to another. Students may have personal or family challenges or issues related to financing their educations that affect how quickly or even whether they complete a course of study. Undergraduate trainees from underrepresented minority populations face all of these challenges and more. Because, on average, they come from lower-income families, they may face financial and family challenges more acutely. Because they are minorities, they may experience barriers or challenges that are specific to their racial or ethnic group. They may have poorer primary and secondary schooling, less preparation and knowledge of higher education, and inadequate access to and financial support for postsecondary education. They may also face challenges related to the quality of the research infrastructure at institutions that serve minority populations and whether nonminority faculty take minority students as seriously as they do nonminority students. In order to increase the participation and success of underrepresented minorities, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has established programs that provide the kinds of
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 support needed to address the challenges that minority undergraduates face and prepare them for graduate work in these fields. These programs provide financial support, classes that include exposure to the foundation of knowledge in their field, hands-on research experience, and mentoring. By selecting bright students who have shown an aptitude and interest in scientific fields and by providing them these kinds of support, NIH intends to increase the pool of minority undergraduates that could continue on to graduate school. Undergraduate Programs for Underrepresented Minorities The NIH supports undergraduate education in the biomedical and mental health-related behavioral sciences for underrepresented minorities most directly through a number of programs offered by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The study committee decided to focus on three of these programs. The first is the R25 Bridges to the Baccalaureate program; it focuses on the preparation of students in the biomedical or behavioral sciences at two-year institutions, such as community or tribal colleges, in order to prepare them for transfer to a four-year institution. The other two programs, T34 U*STAR and T34 COR, focus on students in their third and fourth years of undergraduate study. All three programs provide only institutional awards and the institutions eligible for these awards are historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), or tribal colleges or universities. (The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences offers some short-term training for minority undergraduates using the T35 mechanism, but this program is discussed in chapters 4 and 5 since the majority of T35 participants are graduate trainees, medical students, and postdoctoral scholars). (R25) Bridges to the Baccalaureate The NIGMS designed the R25 Bridges to the Baccalaureate program, established in 1992, “to make available to the biomedical research enterprise and the nation the intellectual talents of an increasing number of underrepresented minorities.”29 It does so through undergraduate and graduate components that provide support to institutions to help students make transitions at critical stages in their development as scientists. At the undergraduate level, the R25 Bridges to the Baccalaureate program focuses on building partnerships between community or tribal colleges and four-year baccalaureate institutions, with the goal of providing a nearly seamless transition for underrepresented minority students at community or tribal colleges who are interested in careers in biomedical research. It does so by improving the skills and opportunities of these students through coursework and hands-on research experience. The program also guides 29 National Institutes of General Medical Sciences, National Institutes of Health. 1992. Initiative for Minority Students: Bridges to the Baccalaureate (Program announcement, PAR-02-084). See http://grants2.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PAR-02-084.
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 these students through mentoring and career guidance and supports them financially so that they may focus their energies on the program and more fully realize its benefits. Ideally, with skills, interest, motivation, guidance, and support, a student may transfer to a four-year institution where a baccalaureate may be earned with support from the four-year institution. After that point, the student will be positioned to pursue further work in the field at the graduate level. (T34) Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research Program (U*STAR) The Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program initiated an Honors Undergraduate Research Training program in 1977 to improve the preparation of an increasing number of underrepresented minority students in their junior and senior years for graduate training in the biomedical sciences. In 1996 it replaced the program with the T34 U*STAR program, which shares the same goals but provides institutions with both greater flexibility and the responsibility for self-evaluation. The T34 U*STAR program makes awards to four-year minority-serving institutions. These institutions select trainees who are qualified undergraduate honors students majoring in the sciences. Eligible trainees must demonstrate interest in a biomedical research career and an intention to pursue graduate education leading to a Ph.D., M.D.-Ph.D., or other professional degree combined with a Ph.D. T34 U*STAR also supports program activities designed to improve the overall research training environment for MARC and pre-MARC (freshman and sophomore) students and for science faculty development at MARC-supported institutions. (T34) Career Opportunities in Research Education and Training (COR) The T34 COR Honors Undergraduate Research Training Grant program of the NIMH is intended to strengthen research and research training experiences for underrepresented minorities in scientific disciplines related to mental health. NIMH has made awards to institutions since 1979 with the goal of increasing the number of well-prepared students from these institutions who can compete successfully for entry into mental health research career training programs. An applicant institution must propose a two-year T34 COR Honors undergraduate program for which six to ten highly talented third- and fourth-year undergraduate students will be selected. Students will be provided with special research training experiences designed to improve their qualifications for entry into advanced research career training programs leading to doctoral-level or M.D. research career degrees.
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 Focus of the Assessment To conduct its assessment of these undergraduate programs, the study committee relied on the following: Analysis of key documents related to these programs, including a review of the R25 Bridges to the Baccalaureate program conducted by an NIGMS working group in 1999; two prior evaluations (1985, 1995) of the MARC Honors Undergraduate Research Training program, which was replaced by the T34 U*STAR program in 1996; and NIMH staff and working group reports on racial or ethnic diversity in mental health research careers conducted in 2001. Interviews by the NIH data contractor of three R25 Bridges to the Baccalaureate and seven T34 U*STAR campus program administrators. (The NIH data contractor did not conduct interviews with T34 COR program administrators.) Interview data from the NIH data contractor, which conducted a computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI) survey of a sample of R25 Bridges, T34 U*STAR, and T34 COR trainees who were participants in one of these programs prior to 2000. These interviews are described in greater detail below. Trainee Interview Data Under contract with the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD), the NIH data contractor conducted the telephone interviews described in the third item above, drawing from a sample of trainees supported by the three undergraduate programs. These interviews addressed trainee demographics; program characteristics; the relationships trainees had with principal investigators (PIs), mentors, and laboratory or research group members; and trainee educational and career expectations and outcomes. They also provided trainees with an opportunity to discuss what they perceived to be the strengths of the programs and to suggest program improvements. The NIH data contractor identified a universe 6,614 R25 Bridges, T34 U*STAR, and T34 COR trainees who met the committee’s inclusion criteria. A total of 100 interviews with individuals in this pool were anticipated. The NIH data contractor identified a pool of trainees evenly distributed across the three programs to serve as a sampling frame for the CATI interviews (see Table 3-1). Because the difficulty of identifying and interviewing trainees reduced response rates, the pool was expanded to a total of 1,006 trainees; of these, 83 were actually interviewed.
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 TABLE 3-1 Undergraduate Trainee Universe, Survey Pool, and Interviews Program No. of Trainees In Universe No. of Trainees in Samplea No. of Trainees Interviewed R25 Bridges to the Baccalaureate 4,027 340 31 T34 U*STAR 1,576 333 19 T34 COR 1,011 333 33 Total 6,614 1,006 83 aNumber of trainees selected for interview The 83 completed trainee interviews represent a very small number within the universe; moreover, contact information for most individuals in the pool was unobtainable. Therefore, there is a high likelihood of bias in the survey results. In addition, some evidence suggests that trainees interviewed for the committee’s survey were generally likely to be among the more “successful” undergraduate program participants. For example, among those who participated in the R25 Bridges to the Baccalaureate program, survey respondents were more likely to have transferred to a four-year institution and completed a bachelor’s degree than program participants in general. In addition, large numbers of respondents had at least one family member with a bachelor’s or graduate degree. As a result, the data that from these interviews may not reflect the responses that would have been obtained had the respondents been more representative of the larger universe of program participants. Nevertheless, the data are instructive in a general way and have been used qualitatively to illuminate issues of importance in this report. For example, respondent data are reported using a variety of nonspecific phrases such as “nearly all reported,” “a majority of respondents said,” “a minority of respondents said,” “more likely,” and “less likely.” Such phrases should not be equated with statistical significance. (R25) Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program The R25 Bridges to the Baccalaureate program seeks to assist students in their freshman and sophomore years at community or tribal colleges in moving to programs in the biological or behavioral sciences at four-year institutions. These students differ, therefore, from those in the other two programs at the undergraduate level, T34 U*STAR and T34 COR, which focus on upperclassmen in four-year institutions and prepare them for graduate study in the biological or behavioral sciences.
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 The R25 Bridges program funds institutional partnerships that involve at least two colleges or universities. The community or tribal college must offer the associate degree as the only undergraduate degree in the sciences within the participating departments and must have a significant enrollment of underrepresented minority students. The partnership may involve a consortium of several institutions and it may include several institutions within a single state system. Collaborative agreements between the institutions involved in a particular grant are designed to fit local needs and meet local goals. Program elements may include enriching the curriculum at the two-year institution, enabling students from the two-year institution to take courses at the baccalaureate college, developing courses at the two-year college taught jointly by faculty of both institutions, and visiting lectureships at the two-year college by science faculty from the baccalaureate institution. The program typically provides laboratory research experiences at the baccalaureate or other research institution, mentoring, and academic counseling. Programs are structured in different ways and housed in different departments across institutions. One campus administrator interviewed has a program housed in the biology department; another has a joint program of the chemistry and biology departments; and a third said the program was not department-based but, rather, centered in a support program called “science educational equity.” Trainee Characteristics Most respondents to the trainee interviews who were in the R25 Bridges to the Baccalaureate program were women. Nearly one-half were African American and almost one-quarter were Hispanic, while the rest were Native American, Alaskan Native, Pacific Islander, white, “other,” or did not answer the question. A substantial minority of R25 Bridges respondents said they were married or in a long-term relationship. Moreover, R25 Bridges respondents were much more likely than the others to have dependents, with almost one-third reporting them. R25 Bridges respondents were as likely as their T34 U*STAR and T34 COR counterparts to say they expected the program to provide mentoring. They were only slightly less likely to say they expected to increase their research skills or obtain financial support from the program. R25 Bridges respondents were as likely as the others to say that they expected the program to help them decide whether they were cut out for research and whether to go on to a graduate program or a medical school. Participants in the R25 Bridges program had expectations for themselves and their programs that differed from those in the T34 U*STAR and T34 COR programs—students who are upperclassmen and may already have focused on graduate school. They were substantially less likely to say they expected the program to increase their chances for admission to a graduate program or to medical school.
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 Indeed, R25 Bridges program respondents reported lower expectations for their highest degree than was reported by participants of the T34 U*STAR and T34 COR programs. R25 Bridges respondents were more likely to report their highest degree expected as A.A. or A.S., B.A. or B.S., or master’s degrees and were less likely to report the Ph.D. or M.D. Perhaps because they were still in the first two years of their undergraduate education, R25 Bridges respondents were also far more likely than T34 U*STAR and T34 COR respondents to indicate that they would work or complete a bachelor’s degree as their expected immediate next step after completing their program. R25 Bridges respondents were more likely than T34 U*STAR and T34 COR respondents to report that when they were in their program they considered career options other than research. Among R25 Bridges respondents, a majority said they considered working in the health professions and almost one-half said they considered practicing medicine. The “ideal” students for the R25 Bridges program have several qualities, according to campus administrators who were interviewed. They have good academic track records, aptitude and passion for science, and desire to pursue a career in biomedical science. One campus administrator said an ideal candidate “would be a student who has an interest in one of the natural sciences and the desire to go on for a baccalaureate and perhaps a further degree.” Furthermore, students accepted into the program should be “highly motivated” and have “good follow-through.” Other comments by program administrators suggest that, in reality, many students need to be motivated and to increase their confidence and that they still need key skills to help them through the educational process. One administrator said the successful candidate for the program is someone who goes on to earn an M.S. degree. Another administrator cited a person who is now in a Ph.D. program. This trainee “was ‘plucked’ off the campus sidewalk and given intense mentoring and personal coaching, which raised her self-esteem considerably. She was thereby ‘converted’ to science … by learning to believe in herself.” This administrator also said that program strategies should focus on growing rather than harvesting talent. That is, a program should not simply look for talent that exists but, rather, the program should identify potential and work to elicit a positive result from students by working with and nurturing them mentally. Another campus program administrator related that his program goals included assisting students “with the transition [to a four-year institution], by improving time management and study skills.” The reality for most students in the R25 Bridges program seems to be far from the “ideal.” Although administrators would like students who are motivated, many community or tribal college students are still sorting out their career goals, may not yet fully understand what a research career entails, and may lack the confidence necessary to embark on a research career. In addition, when asked to describe an unsuccessful trainee, one administrator said “numerous trainees who have difficult personal issues have dropped [from the program].” Two administrators noted that two interrelated challenges facing trainees in the program are economic and family issues (e.g., spouses, children).
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 There are differences of opinion about how to deal with these kinds of personal issues. One way is to simply avoid them by selecting individuals who are not likely to have them. One program administrator described looking for students who “hopefully would not have gotten into a situation where they have taken on a lot of responsibilities (family, kids) and could survive with work study funds.” Another way is to admit these students but invest time and energy in them. Another administrator said that if you want success in these programs “you have to be proactive in their [the students’] lives.” Such responses raise the question of how much support any program can give to students facing these types of serious challenges. Success in the program is the result of a variety of factors. The background, circumstances, and motivation that students bring to the program are critical. However, once students are in the program, providing them with a research experience, guidance and counseling, and a sense of how one’s education and career unfold after the program is also critical. Many minority students come into the Bridges program knowing little about biomedical research as a career option. Those with the high grades necessary for graduate training are usually headed for medical school. Hence the argument is that interest in research careers must be “grown” before it can ever be harvested. Program Recruitment Campus administrators at two- and four-year institutions use a variety of techniques to make information available about their programs. They post professional-style posters, hand out brochures on campus, visit science classrooms at participating community college(s), and identify potential program participants by talking with faculty and others. One campus administrator also visits local high schools to talk with school counselors who are asked to identify students with interests in the biological sciences who, for financial reasons, were planning to attend community college. Visiting science classrooms in the community college to promote the program is a particularly key recruitment strategy noted by all of the campus administrators interviewed. This strategy is useful in getting the message out in an efficient manner to a large number of students who could be interested in biomedical or behavioral research. Although this strategy is successful in interesting students, an acknowledged downside is that it will miss students who are not in class when the program is being promoted or discussed. Thus, it must be supplemented by other techniques. Despite these efforts by program staff, when asked what they would recommend as an improvement to the program, a small number of R25 Bridges trainees suggested that the program could be better advertised. One trainee recommended doing a better job of making the program known to everyone. “I just found out about it by chance,” the trainee said, “right place, right time.” Another suggested the program get more funding “to promote it more in different ways so people know about it.” The respondent went on to suggest that the program then also do a better job of screening applicants for
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 participation in the program. Another recommended extending the program to other campuses, at both the community or tribal college and the baccalaureate levels. Programs do tend to target their recruitment efforts, which may be a source of the perception among trainees that a program is not as widely advertised as it might be. One campus administrator made an extra effort to recruit certain students who may be particularly receptive to the idea of participating in the R25 Bridges program. These students include, for example, those planning to focus on the health professions, because they have the potential to become interested in a career in biomedical science. Recruitment of these students involves going to the core science classes that they are required to take and providing them with information about program and career options. Perhaps as a result of these targeted recruitment efforts, however, respondents to the trainee interviews who were in the R25 Bridges program were more likely than their counterparts in T34 U*STAR and T34 COR to report that when they were in their program they considered career options other than research. Among those respondents to the trainee survey who were in the R25 Bridges program, for example, a majority indicated that they considered working in the health professions as a career option, compared to a minority of respondents in the T34 U*STAR and T34 COR programs. This finding is not at all surprising, given that most minority families are not aware of biomedical research as a career option for their children. Since the number of minority biomedical researchers is so small to begin with, few minority middle and high school students ever make the acquaintance of persons working in biomedical research. It simply is not on their radar, but a career in medicine certainly is. In many instances the medical doctor is an icon of doctoral-level achievement within minority communities. This is why the most promising pool of untapped minority talent at both the community college and the four-year university levels is in the premedical sector. This is where minorities who are good at science often end up. Funding R25 Bridges students were generally like other undergraduates in NIH minority programs in terms of their financial support during their program. They were as likely as T34 U*STAR and T34 COR respondents to report having no other financial support than that provided by the program while they were in it, and they just as frequently relied on loans. However, there were areas in which their patterns of support differed from those of upperclassmen. R25 Bridges respondents were as likely as T34 U*STAR but more likely than T34 COR respondents to say that they relied on spousal or family support. They were more likely than respondents in T34 U*STAR or T34 COR programs to rely on wages or salary during the program. R25 Bridges students were less likely to have a scholarship but more likely to have a government grant during the program.
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 Research Experience When asked what the best features of the program were, a majority of respondents said the research experience. Many of the respondents noted, moreover, the hands-on nature of the experience. As one respondent put it when asked the best feature of the program, “the ability to go into the lab and do the work.” A very large majority of R25 Bridges respondents reported having daily or weekly contact with their laboratory or research group, typically 4-10 people and typically including many minority students. In terms of the influence of laboratory or research groups over their careers, however, respondents were spread evenly across a spectrum from a lot to none. R25 Bridges respondents were most likely to say the influence was “neutral.” PIs or lab heads were generally more influential in students’ education and careers than were their laboratory mates. Mentoring Indeed, R25 Bridges trainees who responded to our survey reported that overall they had very good relationships with their program PIs, but a sizable fraction (more so than respondents in the T34 U*STAR or T34 COR programs) reported having a distant or less helpful relationship with their PIs. A large majority of R25 Bridges respondents had some or a lot of encouragement from their PIs to engage in research, said that their PIs were good or very good to work with, and said that PIs were some or a lot of help with their next step. Moreover, mentoring and support was the second most frequent response to the question, What are the best features of the program? As one respondent said, the best features of the program were “the help of the professors, the projects they gave you to work on, and their overall mentorship to help you really achieve.” Similarly, in response to a question about whether their PIs influenced their careers, the most cited response typically focused on how the PI provided motivation or opportunities for growth. One respondent said simply that the PI “made me believe in myself, that I could do it.” Others elaborated further, responding, “She already had been down that road, that path, and I was heading down that path. She saw me as a person trying to follow in her footsteps,” and “… very enthusiastic person—believed in what she did. Good conviction; told me I needed a personal passion for what I was doing; very encouraging in a seemingly boring field of research.” Other responses to the question about best features of the program noted the importance of financial support, networking, motivation, and greater awareness of educational options. However, a sizable minority reported having little encouragement much more frequently than for respondents in the T34 U*STAR and T34 COR programs. And R25 Bridges respondents were less likely to report that their PIs had some or a great deal of influence on their careers. Similar numbers of respondents across the three undergraduate programs indicated that they had daily or weekly contact with their PIs. R25 Bridges respondents were actually more likely to report that they had daily contact,
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 but despite this frequent contact, these students reported feeling more distant from their PIs. Other Issues Raised by Trainees Although financial support, research, and mentoring were critical to trainees, some comments raise questions or suggestions for improvement. For example, the second most cited response to the question, What were the worst features of the program? centered on the time commitment and, in some cases, the quality of the work. One respondent said the worst feature was “my work hours.” A second characterized the program as “double work” and indicated “a lot of struggles with home, work, and studying.” A third said the program was “a lot to add on to what we were doing [and] the actual duties were mundane,” and a fourth even charged that “professors took advantage of free labor.” A handful of respondents, however, suggested that the issue for them was struggling to make the most of the experience, especially when experiments were not successful. Two respondents said the worst feature of the program had to do with writing. One said it was “writing papers and summarization of the data.” This is not necessarily a bad thing; rather it may be an important and challenging aspect of the program. Another respondent wanted more from the laboratory experience, saying students “didn't get a lot of work done. We would start an experience and didn't get to finish it. If we did get to finish [and] if something came out wrong, we wouldn't be able to analyze the results.” Other responses to the question about program improvements suggested better preparation of students for the courses they were to take or better preparation for the transition to a university. One respondent asked that programs become “more standardized as to what students and professors should expect from each other.” Does the (R25) Bridges Program Work? The information available to the committee does not allow it to conduct a direct analysis to determine whether the program is “successful” in strictly quantitative terms. The information does clearly indicate that the R25 Bridges to the Baccalaureate program provides value to many of its participants. It also “works” for some, but not all, participants who complete the program, transfer, and earn a bachelor’s degree. The data also indicate that there is variation among programs at the institutional level in the success they have in moving students toward completion of the program and eventual transfer, a matter that is worth probing further.
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 performed in what one called “gatekeeper courses” such as physics, mathematics, and organic chemistry. One administrator said, “If we have a student with weak grades [who] applies, we try to evaluate what the problems were or other issues. We are looking for students who are willing to work hard and not really make excuses.” Hard-working and motivated. Program administrators invariably mentioned that they seek students who are “hard working” or have a “good work ethic.” They report looking for students who are “highly motivated” or, as one put it, have the “fire-in-the-belly type of thing.” They look for people who take initiative, have a sense of themselves, and have enthusiasm. One administrator said trainees must be “mentorable,” by which was meant “goal-directed, definitive in their approach to educational decisions.” Commitment. One administrator reported that students must be able to commit to a minimum of 10 hours per week in a lab. Another said the applicant should not have plans to hold down a job in addition to working in the program. “This is a recipe for failure.” Interested in graduate study and research. Across the board, administrators interviewed were adamant that students must be motivated to pursue graduate studies and should have a strong interest in research. Several specified that applicants have to demonstrate that they want to eventually earn a Ph.D. One program requires participants to sign a statement saying that if, at any point they decide to go to medical school, they must drop out of the program. Another focuses on screening out those who just want the financial aid and those who want to go to medical school. These responses, on the whole, seem to be intended to involve students what are most likely to succeed in the program. This is appropriate in large measure, but it does shift the focus somewhat from growing new talent to harvesting already apparent talent. (T34) U*STAR Trainee Challenges The seven T34 U*STAR program administrators at recipient institutions who were interviewed for this study were asked to discuss the kinds of challenges that trainees in the T34 U*STAR program face. They provided frank insights about academic issues as well as personal issues, faced by trainees, as summarized below. In most cases, the challenges cited present the flip side of the characteristics administrators look for in the ideal candidate. However, in most cases, students eventually succeed in the program, sometimes despite the challenges. One administrator reported that only one trainee had ever dropped out of the program and another reported that only 3 students out of 100 did not complete the program. Academic Challenges. All of the program administrators cited academic issues as key challenges. They described these variously as “keeping their grades up,” “the academic load,” and “the demands of research,” which can include up to 10-15 hours in the laboratory each week. One administrator noted that, for trainees who are transferring
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 to a four-year institution at the time they join the program, the transition could be challenging. Another administrator noted the demands of the program saying, “Between semesters and during summers, we do not allow the kids to go home. They have to stay on campus, attend extra courses, and work full-time in the lab during the summer, for example. The only time they get off is Christmas.” A third noted that, “sometimes they need extra academic support in courses such as chemistry, physics, and math.” These are often gatekeeper courses that may be designed as much to weed out students as to help them progress; without appropriate intervention at this stage, unprepared students will be lost. A fourth said, “GRE verbal scores are a real problem for our minority trainees. One guy got a quantitative score in the high 90s and a verbal score in the mid-40s.” Focus. Another set of challenges that program administrators cited was the ability of trainees to focus their efforts and manage their time in the right way. This appears to have several dimensions to it. One administrator summed up all of these concerns saying trainees require “learning time management, learning patience, and the ability to ‘stick-to-it.’” Choices. One administrator noted that some trainees have challenges with maintaining their self-confidence. Another noted that there are distractions or other options. This administrator reported, “There are so many opportunities out there, but people can become overwhelmed by all the opportunities and it becomes difficult to choose.” When asked to describe an unsuccessful trainee, three administrators related stories about students who decided that research was not for them and decided to go to medical or dental school instead. In one case, however, an administrator related that a student went to medical school, dropped out after a year, worked for a couple of years, and then went to graduate school, earned a doctorate, did a postdoc, and is now a faculty member. Personal and Family Issues. A variety of other issues surface for trainees. One administrator said, “In 2 out of 100 cases, I had to move a minority trainee out of a lab, because the faculty member was abusing them in some way.” Another noted that “family issues can be a big challenge—certainly, for the Native American students—because their homes are so far away if issues come up. That is probably the biggest.” A third administrator noted that financial concerns can also be a challenge. “Financially, you know, paying them $10,500 a year is nice but that's not necessarily enough for a student, and they may still have to work and do some other things.” In response to a question asking administrators to describe an unsuccessful trainee, several administrators noted there were students who had family issues that derailed their studies. In one case, a student had two young children and, because the spouse was unsupportive, was not able to create the time necessary to be successful in the program. Another trainee was “very bright” but left to get married and start a family. On the other hand, one administrator related the story of a trainee who was “always screwing up.” When the program administrator intervened and mediated, he
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 found that the trainee was given custody of a “wild sister whom the parents could not control.” The trainee eventually turned things around and earned a Ph.D. from an Ivy League institution. Race or Ethnicity. Finally, program administrators noted that racial or ethnic relations can also be a challenge for trainees in the program. One administrator stated, “Our minority trainees often have to deal with racist comments from nonminority peers who ostracize them for participating in a targeted program.” Another noted, “And, I think probably for the black students, because they are such a small percentage … they have their issues of being a minority amongst the minority.” A third said, “There is some culture shock for minority trainees who come from rural backgrounds where there is little ethnic diversity.” Despite these kinds of challenges, students can and do succeed. One program administrator, when asked to describe a successful student, described one trainee as “very shy” with a “low confidence level,” but a “smart kid, eldest in his Latino family,” with an “overwhelming sense of responsibility about things in his family.” This trainee “had to leave the program one summer to take care of family matters. Family was in financial ruin.” Later, the trainee returned and completed the program but “applied to only one grad school, despite our advice that he do otherwise.” The trainee was not accepted, but “persisted in focusing on this one school, enrolled [in] and completed their prep program … was admitted. Over time, he developed confidence and determination.” He eventually received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry, did a postdoc, and now has a faculty position. The administrator says, “Now he is fierce!” (T34) COR Trainee Challenges The T34 COR PIs were not interviewed for this study, but an NIMH staff report summarized the views of T34 COR training directors as they were expressed at an October 1999 workshop. These views provide insight into the challenges that T34 COR trainees face and were summarized as follows: T34 COR program leaders report that many undergraduates are excited about the opportunities offered by the program but they do not fully understand what a research career entails. Consequently, even some of those who go on to graduate school become disillusioned and drop out. For minority students, and especially those who have dependents, financial constraints often dictate that they work for several years prior to going on for advanced degrees. This is especially true for many who make it to the Master’s degree. T34 COR program administrators also note that career advancement has become increasingly more difficult in many respects, for all students, not just minority students. Getting into graduate school is more difficult and getting out is even harder. The length of time it takes to complete the Ph.D. is a deterrent for many students, especially when they learn how difficult it is to get an academic position
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 and, after that, tenure. Once they get an academic position, they learn how difficult it is to obtain research funding. On the other hand, according to some numbers and anecdotal reports from T34 COR program administrators, the majority of the trainees who have been successfully tracked through their graduate training and beyond, are in academic (teaching) settings. The second largest group is employed in academic/research environments followed by industry and government. Program administrators estimate, however, that the number of individuals who have obtained research support from the Public Health Service and other federal entities and private sources is relatively low. Some individuals are able to obtain funds from private foundations, their own institutions and other sources to support research projects, which allow student participation. Many publish despite the fact that they may not have an R01 or similar independent research grant. What is needed to ensure that students continue along the research career trajectory requires more focused attention and effort from both the Federal granting organizations as well as those who train and mentor students.32 The committee would add to this the need to focus on the value added by the program as well as ultimate attainments. How to Help Trainees Succeed When T34 U*STAR administrators on campus were asked to describe a successful trainee, they had no trouble relating stories of students who completed the program, earned a Ph.D. from a prestigious institution, did a postdoctoral fellowship, and went on to a successful career in academic or industrial research. The program elements that appeared to be key to the success of these students were exposure to research, the extramural summer research program, and mentoring. Indeed, when program administrators were asked about what “alerts” there are that a trainee is having difficulties and what they do to help students deal with them, they focused on two key tools they have at their disposal: monitoring and mentoring. Program administrators monitor the progress of students in a variety of ways. Four administrators noted that they have access to trainee grades and review them periodically. In smaller programs, the administrator meets directly with trainees. In larger programs, mentors provide the administrator with information through phone calls or periodic reports (monthly, quarterly, or at the end of a semester) on student progress in summer research or academics. Student progress can also be gauged by the quality of their work in laboratories, weekly seminars, and presentations. 32 National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institutes of Health. Undated. NIMH Training Programs for Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic Minorities (NIMH interim staff report). Bethesda, Md.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 When monitoring suggests a problem, keeping students on track typically requires mentoring, and each administrator noted the importance of this. As one administrator put it, “Students … do better in a context where there’s some peer involvement and where somebody is paying attention to them.” Another argued, “I don't think you can ever overemphasize what mentoring is for students—well, for people in general, but certainly for students. So I think that where, in a lot of cases these things may be personal issues, they will not feel comfortable going to a faculty member who's just teaching them in the class. So I think the way we do it is through both initiation from the student … [and] being close enough and being involved with the students enough that you just sort of know these things.” The periodicity of meetings with students varies. Some administrators said that mentors meet with students weekly and others every two weeks. One said, “I see the students all the time. Remember, [this institution] is a small place. I am the adviser for the students, academic adviser for the students.” To reinforce the notion that mentoring—and having the right mentor—is important, one administrator also related the story of a trainee who was receiving no guidance from her mentor and was floundering. After she spoke with the administrator about her problem, he … “talked to the mentor and came to the conclusion that things were not going to improve. The problem wasn't with the student.” So the administrator moved the trainee out of that mentor’s laboratory and into another, where she “blossomed like crazy. I think if we would have kept her in the first one, she would have probably darn near dropped out of school. She was really distressed.” Program administrators may act as mentors themselves, but most programs typically have many mentors with whom students work. The level of interaction between administrators and mentors appears to vary. One has “occasional phone calls” with mentors. Another has irregular contact on an “as-needed basis” but, each fall, has a luncheon for all of the faculty mentors. Another organizes a symposium for students and mentors at which the students make presentations. At the other end of the spectrum, one administrator receives a progress report from each mentor and student on the trainee’s research progress every semester. Another was a former dean and so knows all of the faculty personally, has a good relationship with them, and knows who is and is not a good mentor. Another meets face-to-face with mentors at the end of each summer and once each semester. Issues for Improvement Program administrators did not report many areas for improvement. As noted, one reported that, in response to the program evaluation, they were trying to engage in more outreach to increase the number of program applicants. This did not appear to be an issue at other institutions. Administrators at other institutions reported that there were many more program applicants than slots.
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 Two program administrators noted issues of concern related to research infrastructure. This administrator at a large institution reported, “One problem we don't have is finding research opportunities here for the students. And certainly, other institutions … lot of times, they send their students out elsewhere for the summer.” However, another administrator related, “Coming from a research university and being, now, at a teaching university, I certainly recognize the limitations we have at teaching universities in terms of facilities, resources, et cetera. The grants are supposed to help with that. But, at the same time, there has got to be some institutional support…. The reviews come back: ‘Well, you don't really have the infrastructure to do this.’ That’s a very difficult thing to deal with because many of the campuses don't have a real strong research infrastructure.” Further, valid comparisons with minority students who are enrolled at institutions where there is a substantial research infrastructure are difficult to make under these circumstances, because such institutions are not generally awarded these programs unless they are minority-serving institutions to begin with. (T34) U*STAR Student Outcomes The number of T34 U*STAR trainees interviewed was small, and the trainee response data are not likely to be representative of the larger universe of trainees. Still, the committee notes that among T34 U*STAR respondents there was considerable progress, and the outcomes they report are similar to those reported by campus administrators and other sources. At the time they were surveyed, nearly all T34 U*STAR respondents reported that they had graduated from the program and almost one-half of all respondents had already earned either a master’s degree or the Ph.D. A third had already authored or coauthored and published at least one academic paper, and one-tenth had already been awarded grants for research. Similarly, T34 U*STAR program administrators interviewed for this study reported a high level of success among program participants. Administrators reported such success rates for their individual programs as “85-90 percent of trainees complete the program,” “almost 100 percent of trainees complete the program (only one has dropped in 24 years),” and “93 percent of our students have graduated.” One administrator did not provide a completion rate but did report that 52 percent of trainees who complete the program go on to Ph.D. programs around the country and that MARC students are more likely than other minority undergraduates to go on to graduate school. In a 1995 assessment of the MARC Honors programs, which MARC T34 U*STAR replaced in 1996, NIGMS found similar rates of student progress. For former MARC students through the 1986 cohort, 94.8 percent had obtained a baccalaureate, a level similar to that reported by T34 U*STAR trainees and program administrators in the current survey. At the postbaccalaureate level, 16.1 percent had obtained a terminal master’s degree, 13.0 percent had earned a research doctorate (Ph.D.), 24.9 percent had
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 earned a clinical doctorate (M.D.), and 1.3 percent had earned an M.D.-Ph.D.33 Thus, 55 percent of MARC Honors participants earned postbaccalaureate degrees, which T34 U*STAR students appear to be on track to equal or exceed. Almost one-half of those Honors trainees who earned postbaccalaureate degrees earned the M.D., and it is unclear from the data whether or not a similar percentage of T34 U*STAR trainees will follow suit. When asked what they expect their highest degree will be, a sizable minority of T34 U*STAR respondents said the M.D. However, when asked the highest degree received so far, none reported having received the M.D. degree at the time of the survey. Again, it is not possible to distinguish between growing new talent and harvesting abilities already present, but this sketch appears to confirm the overall success of students in the T34 U*STAR program. However, there appears to be variability in how successful institutions are in moving students to program completion and on to matriculation in graduate school. (T34) COR Student Outcomes The number of T34 COR trainees interviewed was small, and the trainee response data are not likely to be representative of the larger universe of trainees. At the time they were surveyed, nearly all T34 COR respondents reported that they had graduated from the program and most respondents had already earned either a Master’s Degree or a Ph.D. One-fifth reported they had authored or coauthored papers, and one-tenth reported having obtained one or more research grants. In May 2001, the National Advisory Mental Health Council’s Workgroup on Racial/Ethnic Diversity in Research Training and Health Disparities Research issued a report on racial/ethnic diversity in mental health research careers. This workgroup drew on the findings of an October 1999 Workshop on NIMH Minority Training Programs and NIMH staff analysis of data collected about student progress under NIMH’s minority training programs.34 The data on student progress reported by the working group and staff analysis were particularly impressive, suggesting that at least 85 percent of all participants in the T34 COR program had already completed and graduated with bachelor’s degrees. Most of the remaining participants were, at the time, still enrolled. Moreover, of 895 trainees who had graduated from the 15 programs that had been funded by T34 COR, 60 percent (540) had already earned an advanced degree (master’s 33 National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), National Institutes of Health. August 1995. A Study of the Minority Access to Research Careers Honors Undergraduate Research Training Program. Bethesda, Md.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 34 National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health. Undated. NIMH Training Programs for Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic Minorities, NIMH interim staff report. Bethesda, MD.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 degree, Ph.D., M.D., M.D.-Ph.D., or other.) Although aggregate data on student progress were obtained for all 15 programs, more detailed data were obtained by NIMH staff on 11 programs, 10 of which were old enough to provide a reasonably detailed illustration of student progress. Data on these 10 programs are provided in Table 3-2. For this group of 10 programs, 87 percent of participants had already graduated. Of those who had graduated, 44 percent had earned an advanced degree. Three programs provided even more detailed data as shown in Table 3-3. For these programs, the percentage of all participants who had graduated ranged from 80 to 99 percent. Of those who graduated, between 71 and 96 percent had been accepted into graduate school, between 16 and 39 percent were either in graduate or medical school, and 37 to 55 percent had earned advanced degrees. This sketch appears to confirm the overall success of students in the T34 COR program. At the workshop in October 1999, T34 COR training directors commented on this level of student success as summarized in an NIMH staff report: PIs and other participants in the October Workshop expressed the opinion that it is probably not reasonable to expect undergraduate students to commit to long-range plans for a research career. In fact, they believe the kind of outcomes witnessed in the T34 COR are outstanding, especially in the absence of more clearly defined and communicated vertical and horizontal career development support options. At this level, the incentives for pursuing a research career are not clear to students. The NIMH/NIH need to work with training institutions to help educate young people about the positive and exciting aspects of scientific pursuit. The T34 COR programs graduating high percentages of students also enter and complete further research training tend to have enthusiastic and highly motivated faculty, usually multi-ethnic who themselves are engaged in some form of research. These programs offer expanded curricula (involving multiple departments), supplemented with on- and off-campus research and didactic experiences that create a climate of scientific enquiry [that] also embraces non-T34 COR students. These programs require trainee attendance and presentations at local, regional, and national scientific meetings, independent research projects, and they also offer intense career and academic counseling and communications skills development. A sizeable number [of trainees] co-author publications with their mentors in reputable scientific journals. Hence, they are already contributing scientifically to mental health related science at this stage of their training.35 35 National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health. Undated. NIMH Training Programs for Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic Minorities (NIMH interim staff report). Bethesda, Md.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 TABLE 3-2 Indicators of Degree Progress for Ten (T34) COR Institutional Programs Institution Program Age (Years) Entrants (No.) Graduates (No.) Graduates (%) Advanced Degree (No.) Advanced Degree (%) Ph.D. (%) M.D. (%) M.A. or M.S. (%) Other (%) 1 20 98 97 99 36 37 16 0 21 0 2 20 117 112 96 62 56 30 3 20 3 3 20 134 118 88 54 46 13 9 24 0 4 18 74 59 80 27 46 5 7 29 5 5 18 86 77 90 23 30 6 17 78 67 86 13 19 9 10 0 0 7 15 62 62 100 45 72 27 18 27 0 8 14 64 44 69 22 49 27 11 9 2 9 10 53 39 74 15 38 23 0 0 15 10 10 52 36 69 16 45 3 3 33 6 Total 818 711 87 313 46 18 7 19 2 SOURCE: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institutes of Health. Undated. NIMH Training Programs for Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic Minorities (NIMH interim staff report). Bethesda, Md.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. TABLE 3-3 Detailed Indicators of Degree Progress for Three (T34) COR Institutional Programs Institution Program Age (Years) Entrants (No.) Graduate (No.) Graduate (%) Accepted into Graduate School (%) Currently in Graduate or Medical School (%) Advanced Degree (%) Ph.D. (%) 1 20 98 97 99 71 21 37 16 2 20 117 112 96 96 39 55 30 4 18 74 59 80 81 16 46 5 SOURCE: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institutes of Health. Undated. NIMH Training Programs for Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic Minorities (NIMH interim staff report). Bethesda, Md.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 There appears to be variability in the success with which institutions are successful in moving students to program completion and on to matriculation in graduate school. Again, the comments of T34 COR training directors on this variability as summarized in an NIMH staff report is instructive: The T34 COR training directors caution that judging success of a program can and should be done at many levels using many criteria. They emphasize this because T34 COR programs at different institutions are unique, and should be evaluated for their unique contributions and not compared with each other or judged against mainstream programs.36 Conclusion Overall, the T34 U*STAR and T34 COR programs appear to work for most program participants. Both programs appear to have substantial success in moving students through to program completion and the baccalaureate. Estimates of program completion range from 85 to 99 percent, depending on the program. Eighty-nine percent of T34 U*STAR trainees interviewed have completed the program. This is similar to the 87 percent of T34 COR respondents who eventually graduate. The many important and useful features of the program include the opportunity to engage in a hands-on research experience, the availability of mentoring, and the financial support provided by these programs. All are central to the programs and to their success. In the course of reviewing these programs, however, there are areas for further review that may lead to program enhancement. These areas are described briefly below. Demographics and Recruitment. T34 U*STAR and T34 COR respondents were overwhelmingly female. Program administrators reported a need for greater outreach to African-American males. Financial Support. There are differences of opinion about whether trainees should work for wages or salaries while in the program. One T34 U*STAR program administrator said that because the stipend of $10,500 was not enough for some students, trainees work on the side. Also, a sizable minority of T34 U*STAR and T34 COR trainees reported earning wages or salaries while in the program. Another administrator, however, screens students to make sure that they do not work outside the program, saying that such work distracts students from their studies and is a “recipe for failure.” Research. The research experience is a central feature of the T34 U*STAR and T34 COR programs. The adequacy of the research infrastructure available to trainees, however, appears to be an issue for at least some of the recipient institutions. Recipient 36 National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health. Undated. NIMH Training Programs for Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic Minorities, NIMH interim staff report. Bethesda, Md.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3 institutions tend to focus on providing access to higher education for lower-income and minority students. Because of this they tend to be institutions that focus on teaching rather than research and tend to charge lower tuition. One consequence is that they do not have the kind of research infrastructure that a more research-intensive institution could provide. This creates a certain tension because the research experience is critical to the success of the T34 U*STAR program and developing an interest among students in scientific research. NIGMS recognizes this problem and has, since the inception of the T34 U*STAR program, required recipient institutions to develop opportunities for extramural research projects for their trainees. This is mandatory for the summer research experience and may also be developed as necessary for research projects during the academic year. Whether recipient institutions are providing a high-quality research experience under these arrangements should be investigated further by NIGMS. Student Career Goals. A perennial issue, more pertinent to T34 U*STAR than to T34 COR, is whether a student who goes on to earn an M.D. degree should be considered a success for the program. One T34 U*STAR administrator indicated that they screen out students who plan to go to medical school. Another has each trainee sign an agreement to drop out of the program if he or she decided to go to medical school. However, although no T34 U*STAR respondents had yet earned a M.D., more than one-fifth said they planned to. This percentage is similar to the nearly one-quarter of MARC Honors graduates who reported later earning the M.D. degree.
Representative terms from entire chapter: