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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3
struggles and disagreements are common among these long-lived training relationships. mentors usually have the final word on whether or not a trainee graduates at all.
Some graduate-level underrepresented minority trainees experience additional challenges. Some may not have had sufficient undergraduate preparation to withstand the rigors of graduate-level coursework. In these cases, remedial training may be necessary in addition to everything else. Graduate training often entails moving to another city or state. Distance from family and community brings with it a whole host of problems. For example, as the gap in educational achievement between minority trainees and their family members grows, previously shared interests may diminish and finding common ground may become more difficult. Family members who do not understand why graduate training takes so long may be critical of minority trainees. Familiar family refrains include, “Why didn’t you go to medical school?” and “When are you going to graduate and get a job?” Some minority trainees are viewed by their own communities as having “sold out” or as being “too good for the rest of us” simply because they left the neighborhood or the reservation in pursuit of doctoral-level training. Such phenomena may also affect some nonminority trainees.
On campus, minority trainees may experience further isolation.37 They have fewer peers with whom they share a common cultural background. Indeed, many learn not to discuss anything related to their cultural background because doing so may elicit ignorant and offensive remarks by nonminority lab mates, whether intended or not. Some faculty view minority trainees as inherently less-qualified than nonminority trainees. This negatively impacts minority trainee morale. Minority trainees have difficulty finding prospective relationship partners with whom they share a common background, simply because there are comparatively fewer minorities on campus. When minority trainees seek to become involved in minority scientific professional societies, they are sometimes discouraged or even prohibited from doing so by faculty mentors who do not value such organizations. Regardless of these challenges, some minority trainees do ultimately graduate with their Ph.D. and go on to become successful biomedical researchers and allied professionals.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a critical role in training future generations of biomedical researchers. First, graduate training is an extension of the support NIH provides our nation’s scientists as they advance the forefront of biomedical knowledge. In other words, graduate trainees do much of the work funded by NIH research grants. Thus, they are integral to the NIH mission. Second, the costs associated with graduate-level training in the biomedical sciences far exceed those of other graduate or professional training programs, both because the training itself takes longer and because research supplies are particularly expensive. Third, as a condition of their fiscal relationship with NIH, many graduate trainees in the biomedical sciences are not permitted to take an outside job. They are, in essence, wedded to the laboratory bench or office until such time as they graduate. Thus, if graduate trainees were required to pay for even a
The statements in this paragraph reflect graduate trainee responses to open-ended survey questions.