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Improving Diversity in the Academic Sciences is Goal of NIH Grant

Release Date: February 23, 2011

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Gene Morse is heading up efforts to establish a program aimed at helping minority and female faculty members succeed by pairing them with a mentor.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo, in partnership with the University of Rochester and Upstate Medical University, has been awarded a $2 million grant to establish a mentoring program to promote career success among diverse and differently abled junior faculty members in the academic sciences.

The funds derive from the NIH Director's ARRA Funded Pathfinder Award to Promote Diversity in the Scientific Workforce -- which is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Gene D. Morse, UB professor of pharmacy and associate director in UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, is one of the principal investigators on the grant. Morse is collaborating with the PI of the grant, Vivian Lewis, MD, vice provost for faculty development and diversity at the University of Rochester through his co-director role for the Upstate New York Translational Research Network in the Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute. As a former department chair in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Morse has had extensive experience with faculty recruitment and retention.

"Our goal is to identify innovative approaches to sustaining individuals, particularly minority and female researchers, in scientific academic careers," said Morse.

The study will employ the principles of self-determination theory (SDT), which focus on development of autonomy, competence and relatedness. SDT also maintains that feeling connected to a community of others is essential to maintain wellness and vitality.

One approach within the study will be to set up mentoring relationships with senior faculty members and minority and female junior professors. Senior faculty mentors will be educated in the techniques of autonomy support, employee engagement, autonomy and productivity.

Morse notes that the faculty mentors in the study may benefit almost as much as the junior faculty members because "there is no 'course for mentors' at most universities. Most mentoring is learned from experience, which unfortunately means that many young faculty members are the ones providing the experience."

Another approach will be to set up peer mentoring. Peer groups have been associated with both shorter times to complete doctoral theses and reinforcement of curricular goals of women in faculty leadership programs through self-directed learning. While most academic science departments lack the number of minorities that would be necessary to create a peer group, web-conferencing could bridge that gap and create peer mentoring groups across institutions.

UB will have 76 "protege/faculty or peer mentor" pairs with protege criteria that include underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities and women faculty at or below the rank of assistant professor.

As far as outcomes for the study, Morse states the "the desired goal would be to identify the most effective approach for mentoring and sustaining diverse young faculty in order to promote greater career satisfaction, confidence and academic success for women and minorities in biomedical research."

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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