In 2000, the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued an announcement of a new program within the Minority Opportunities in Research Division of the Institute (NIGMS PAR-00-139). The program, named Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP), was targeted to students from minority groups that are underrepresented (URMs) in a broadly defined array of biomedical research fields. Specifically, the target population was URM students who had completed their bachelor's work recently and had shown aptitude for, and interest in, subsequent PhD work. The long-term goal was to entice and enable such students to successfully build careers that involve cutting-edge biomedical research. Mount Sinai PREP was among the first group of PREP efforts to be funded as part of this new initiative. The funding provides financial support for the PREP scholars during their programs, supports the tuition costs and the cost of travel to scientific meetings. Mount Sinai augments the funding from the NIH grant and makes student housing available to those PREP scholars who choose near-campus institutional housing.
Mount Sinai PREP goals, in consonance with the NIGMS Program mandate, have been to: (i) recruit cohorts of talented URM college graduates who are strongly considering PhD or MD/PhD work in biomedical sciences; (ii) provide the PREP scholars with a challenging and stimulating 1-2 year-long research experience coupled with course-work, individualized guidance and interventions that maximize the scholar's chance of entering excellent doctoral programs; (iii) foster scholars' ability to succeed at a high level in those programs so that a significant number of them will go on to independent research careers; (iv) support and expand scholars' interests in serving their own communities through their sensitivity to research problems and other activities in which they can have an impact; (v) guide each PREP scholar throughout their program toward the decision, application, acceptance and choice of their next step so that future success in a biomedical career is optimized for each scholar.
What is the problem that led NIH to initiate PREP and that our Program and others seek to address? NIH first initiated research training programs targeting URMs in 1972 (NIH, 1993
). In recent years, an average of about 15,000 trainees per year, at different career stages, has been supported. NIH began an assessment of NIH Minority Research Training in 1992, the final phase of which was completed in 2005 by a committee of the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies (NIH, 1993
; NRC, 2005
). The committee report noted that NIH minority research training programs have had a direct effect on increasing URM entry into the “biomedical workforce”. However, while there have also been “moderate improvements in recent years in the number and proportion of Ph.D. degrees earned by underrepresented minorities, there has not been a marked increase in the number of minorities who have been successful in securing mainstream NIH research grants not specifically targeted for minorities” (NRC, 2005
), i.e. in establishing competitive independent research careers. These observations are echoed by the 2006 report of the National Science Board of the National Science Foundation (NSB, 2006
) and are widely recognized by active biomedical researchers and their professional societies (Jackson, 2002
It is also widely agreed that educational gaps are a large factor in undermining the attraction and retention of potentially qualified URM students in a biomedical research career path. The NRC and numerous other reports endorse a broad range interventions at different developmental stages, including: changes in pedagogy in K-12; outreach to K-12 science teachers in schools with high student diversity; continued refinement of best practices and pedagogy in URM-targeted undergraduate programs; bridging and PREP-type programs that prepare students for doctoral programs; and changes in the environment of the research training settings that enhance the social-academic integration of URM students (BEST, 2004
; George et al, 2001
; Matyas, 1994
; NRC, 2005a
); Sax, 1994
; Woodrow Wilson Fdn, 2005
). In spite of an increase in URM enrollment in pre-doctoral research training programs (NRC, 2005
; NSF, 2004
), these numbers are eroded by the significantly higher attrition of URM students than other students (Denecke & Frasier, 2005
; NRC, 2005a
; NSF, 1997
) and are further eroded because those who complete doctoral training continue to “leak from the pipeline” that leads from the PhD degree to leadership of a funded, independent research program (Kuh, 2001
; NRC, 2005
; NSF, 2004
There follows an early progress report from Mount Sinai PREP, summarizing the experience with 34 PREP scholars over a 5-year period, with an emphasis on how the Program has been enhanced by the growth in our understanding of: (i) the gaps and impediments that remain among successful URM college graduates who are contemplating careers in biomedical sciences; and (ii) the importance of reflective input from the social work and educational psychology perspectives in developing strategies to address those gaps and impediments.