Since 2003, University of Missouri faculty have been working to increase diversity in 30 biomedical sciences departments and programs by recruiting minority students into the MU Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP). Now, a $1.1 million training grant from the National Institutes of Health will allow the program to continue for another four years.
“PREP allows students with very high potential to enhance their academic portfolios and their laboratory expertise and gives them a little more time to scientifically mature so that by the time they apply to a doctoral program they are highly competitive,” said Chris Hardin, co-director of the grant and professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. “The goal of the program is to increase the diversity of students entering graduate school in the biomedical sciences by providing research and educational experiences designed to enhance post-baccalaureate students’ competitiveness.”
Of the 28 scholars who have completed the PREP program at MU since 2003, 22 have been accepted into competitive doctoral programs in a biomedical field, one into medical school, and two into masters programs. They also are finishing their doctoral programs approximately one year earlier than their peers. The new grant will support seven post-baccalaureate students each year with research assistantships in the labs of MU faculty members, and include tuition for coursework and additional professional development training.
Collaborative Effort for Success
Hardin co-directs the program with John David, associate professor of biological sciences, and Michael Garcia, associate professor of biological sciences and an investigator in the Bond Life Sciences Center.
While in the program, scholars are expected to be involved fully in all phases of a faculty-mentored research project, from hypotheses development to communication of results. Scholars work with their faculty mentors to select projects and to refine their hypotheses and experimental designs.
“Even though they are undergraduate students, accepted scholars are expected to take graduate courses, interact with graduate students, participate in weekly journal clubs and lab meetings, attend scientific conferences and seminars, and present their research findings,” Hardin said. “The goal is not simply to be admitted into a competitive graduate program but to succeed in that environment.”
Improving the Process of Science
Garcia has mentored PREP scholars for seven years and said scientists also benefit from the program.
“Everybody has a different perspective, and part of our perspective is who we are and where we come from,” Garcia said. “The more eyes you get in the lab and the more people thinking about a problem, the better off science is. Diversity broadens my horizons and makes me a better scientist.”
MU’s 2013-2014 scholars are Edelio Bazan, Gilbert Encarnacion Cortes, Wanda Figueroa-Cuilan, Angela Lovett, Jerry Steward, Charles Washington III, and Patricka Williams-Simon.
The Division of Biological Sciences is located in the College of Arts and Science. The Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology is a joint effort by MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources; College of Human Environmental Sciences; and School of Medicine.