UB Program Will Bring Diversity to Biomedical and Behavioral Science

A $1.9 million grant will enroll 20 new science PhD students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds in science

Release Date: May 29, 2012 This content is archived.


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UB mentors, "who have successfully navigated the competitive world of scientific research, will provide invaluable guidance to the students," Dubocovich says.

Buffalo, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo has been awarded nearly $2 million from the National Institutes of Health to fund the education of 20 new biomedical and behavioral scientists from underrepresented groups between now and 2016.

The grant is part of the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD), a student development program for research-intensive institutions funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

UB is the only institution in New York State to be awarded an IMSD grant for the biomedical and behavioral sciences; the state's only other IMSD was previously awarded in the public health field to Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. There are 44 such grants in the U.S.

This year, four new PhD students will be enrolled in UB's program; the remaining students will be enrolled over the next four years. Students admitted into UB's IMSD can enroll in any of the following UB programs or departments: Biological Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry; Psychology; Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology; Pharmaceutical Sciences, the PhD program in Biomedical Sciences and the graduate division at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

UB mentors are from the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; the College of Arts and Sciences; the School of Dental Medicine; the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

"Increasing the cultural, intellectual and economic diversity of our graduate student body is critical to realizing our university's ambitious academic vision, UB 2020—and essential to the vitality of our university community and the national scholarly community more broadly," says UB President Satish K. Tripathi.

Alexander N. Cartwright, PhD, UB vice president for research and economic development notes: "This award recognizes our continued efforts throughout the university to fully prepare talented students for successful careers in scientific research. It establishes UB as a member of a select group of institutions that are dramatically transforming the education and training of students from underrepresented groups. Ground-breaking research always benefits from multiple perspectives -- this NIH award provides a pathway for students to bring their unique perspectives to their training and research at UB."

According to Margarita L. Dubocovich, PhD, principal investigator on the new grant and chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, institutions that applied for the IMSD had to demonstrate a significant number of mentors with NIH or other extramural research support.

"This is a university-wide endeavor," says Dubocovich "and these mentors, who have successfully navigated the competitive world of scientific research, will provide invaluable guidance to the new doctoral students that this grant supports."

By designing individualized curriculums for each student and by providing one-on-one faculty and peer tutoring and mentoring, as well as workshops on scientific, academic and career development issues, the program will provide an integrated and collaborative learning atmosphere to ensure success during the crucial first few years of the students' graduate education, Dubocovich says.

"We will bring students onto campus on July 1 of each year and immediately form a mentoring committee for them," she explains. "It is the mentors' job to make sure that the students do well and that they are successful from day one."

A significant reason for UB's success in getting this grant is its broad range of existing science-mentoring undergraduate programs, which maximize the students' potential by establishing a strong K-12 pipeline through partnerships with campus leaders and an enthusiastic community of research mentors.

Such programs include CLIMB, (Collaborative Learning and Integrated Mentoring in the Biosciences) now in its fourth year, an umbrella program Dubocovich founded at UB, that provides mentoring experiences for biosciences students at the undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral and junior faculty levels.

Dubocovich was inspired to start that program because of her own background growing up in rural Argentina, where advancing to complete professional or scientific careers was not encouraged and where it was expected that young adults, particularly women, were expected to help their families. In that environment, Dubocovich wondered if her interest and curiosity in science and the natural world was somehow wrong. Now, she is learning that students from underrepresented and diverse backgrounds often have similar experiences.

"It is very isolating," says Dubocovich, "you need people to believe in you and to give you the right support and assistance."

In one case, she notes, a student interested in UB's CLIMB had excellent academic and research credentials, but had learned all his science in Spanish; now entering graduate school, he has to relearn the terminology in English, something Dubocovich also experienced when she came to the U.S. as a junior scientist. A head start in the CLIMB program during the summer of freshman year helps students like this polish their science language skills while conducting research and preparing for a successful academic year.

That's an example of the hands-on approach the UB mentors are taking to ensure student success.

"Here, students have very close connections to the faculty," says Raj V. Rajnarayanan, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology and associate director of UB's CLIMB for undergraduate students. "In other schools' programs, underrepresented students can be isolated and stereotyping of these students still exists."

In addition to Dubocovich and Rajnarayanan, a co-investigator on the NIH grant is Xiufeng Liu, PhD, professor of learning and instruction in UB's Graduate School of Education.

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