rior to the pandemic, McKinney (far right) invited Dr. Poorva Dharkar (fourth from right) to campus to meet with Georgetown’s Women in Science & Education student group leaders. At the time Dharkar was president of the Association for Women in Science, Bethesda Chapter. She and the students discussed ways to support gender equity in science.
Category: Access & Affordability, Community Health, Health Magazine

Title:Building diversity in biomedical science

In early January 2022, Georgetown University received a highly competitive and prestigious training grant from the National Institutes of Health intended to invigorate the workforce and inspire students from diverse backgrounds to pursue doctoral degrees in biomedical sciences.

The new program, known as the Georgetown University Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD), will train a diverse, multidisciplinary group of graduate students, targeting enrollment of individuals underrepresented in biomedical research. The five-year program officially commenced in February 2022 and will enroll its first trainees in July. In total, the program will train 20 doctoral students, far more than other training grants.

This initiative brings together 61 faculty members from seven graduate programs and departments across Georgetown. The three main-campus departments include Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. The four Biomedical Graduate Education (BGE) programs are Biochemistry and Molecular & Cellular Biology; the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience; Pharmacology & Physiology; and Tumor Biology, where the IMSD program is managed administratively.

“Building upon our success in graduate professional development and identity formation, we are providing our trainees with a professional toolkit and a community of resources to maximize their career success,” says Caleb McKinney, PhD, MPS, assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine and assistant dean of BGE’s training and development.

McKinney is one of the principal investigators, along with Kathleen Maguire-Zeiss, PhD, professor and chair of neuroscience, and Ronda Rolfes, PhD, professor and director of graduate studies in the department of biology.

To maximize student well-being, the program incorporates protocols to monitor progress, individualized development plans, tailored learning support structures, wellness workshops, and financial assistance as needed. Trainees and faculty also learn from and support each other through POP (Power of Peers) Circles, an externally facilitated coaching program to build resilience, accountability, and well-being.

A sense of belonging

One common thread among all of these training activities is the integration of different forms of mentorship. All trainee and faculty mentors in the IMSD will be required to undergo formal training to maximize inclusive and effective practices in mentorship, as well as evidence-informed teaching.

Students in the program also have the opportunity to mentor undergraduate and master’s students from diverse backgrounds as they consider plans for graduate school and future careers in science.

“We’re hoping to create a sense of belonging for the trainees, certainly within the community of scientists as the first circle, but then extending vertically,” Rolfes says. “We want to support students, especially those from underrepresented groups, even as first-year undergraduates, so that they can connect and imagine a world where they move through graduate education and beyond.”

Ultimately, these efforts will reduce the isolation that many trainees have felt in the past. By forming a tightly knit community with their peers and faculty, these students can carry those alliances forward in their careers.

“We will provide these trainees with the support necessary to build a cohort that we hope will become lifelong colleagues,” says Maguire-Zeiss.

grphic with a kid and grandma, houses and u street sign

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that health is local—and extremely personal. As the pandemic soared across the country, so raged nationwide debates on mask requirements, vaccine mandates, and…

Roberta Waite

On July 1, Dr. Roberta Waite will begin service as dean of the newly reconceptualized and standalone Georgetown University School of Nursing—one that continues a nearly 120-year history of nursing…

Mutsa Nyakabau

“With fewer resources you have to be creative as the provider in how you’re able to advocate and facilitate care for your…