Tag: Training

Claira Sohn Cultivates Neurons and Diversity in the STEM Community

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A headshot of Claira Sohn.
Credit: Courtesy of Claira Sohn.

Claira Sohn credits her grandfather with sparking her interest in science. Although he never studied science at a 4-year university due to financial limitations, he took many community college classes and worked in chemistry labs developing products such as hair dyes and dissolvable stitches. “Every morning, my grandfather would take me to school, and we’d stop to get orange juice and a cookie and talk about science. When I was in elementary school, he bought me a book about quantum mechanics written for kids,” she says. “He inspired me to ask questions and encouraged me to go to college.”

Claira enrolled at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff after graduating high school. She majored in biomedical sciences and planned to become a medical doctor until her microbiology professor talked to her about the possibility of a research career. “That was an epiphany for me, because while I knew that there was research going on in the world, I didn’t realize there could be a place for me there,” Claira says. During her junior year, she joined the lab of Naomi Lee, Ph.D., where she first experienced what it felt like to be a researcher.

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Diversity Supplement Program Paves the Way for Talented Researchers

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“I hope that one day I’m able to increase our understanding of evolution, and I also hope to increase access to research. I want others to know that this space is open to people who look like me, who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and who are underrepresented in the sciences,” says Nkrumah Grant, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate (postdoc) in microbiology and molecular genetics at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing.

Dr. Grant’s work receives support from the NIGMS Diversity Supplement Program (DSP), which is designed to improve the recruitment and training of promising researchers from diverse backgrounds. Diversifying the scientific workforce can lead to new approaches to research questions, increased recruitment of diverse volunteers for clinical studies, an improved capacity to address health disparities, and many other benefits.

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Bridging the Representation Gap in Biomedical Research

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“We hope that students come out of our program feeling like they’re part of a community. Many of us feel inadequate or struggle in some way during graduate school—it can be a challenging time. I want to build a community that our students can always come back to for support,” says Elana Ehrlich, Ph.D., the co-director of the Bridges to the Doctorate Research Training Program (B2D) at Towson University (TU), in Towson, Maryland, alongside Michelle Snyder, Ph.D..

The TU B2D is one of several NIGMS-supported B2Ds, which are dedicated to developing a diverse pool of well-trained biomedical scientists who will transition from master’s degree programs to research-based doctoral degree programs. B2Ds partner with Ph.D.-granting institutions to help aid students in the master’s-to-Ph.D. transition. Students in all B2Ds earn a thesis-based master’s degree and receive training to design, conduct, and analyze experiments effectively. At the same time, these students learn how to build successful applications for doctoral programs, whether they apply to the B2D’s partner school or another Ph.D. program.

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Chemistry Under the Big Top

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The Authentic Community Engagement in Science project is dedicated to getting young students excited about STEM and its place in their communities.
Large red letters spell “ACES” above smaller text that reads “Authentic Community Engagement in Science.”
Credit: ACES.

“Our main goal is to get elementary students excited to learn about STEM, and for them to see how beautiful and relevant science can be to communities in eastern Montana,” says Amanda Obery, Ph.D., an assistant professor in elementary education at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. Dr. Obery co-leads the Authentic Community Engagement in Science (ACES) project with Matt Queen, Ph.D., an assistant professor in biological and physical sciences at Montana State University Billings (MSUB).

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Launching Biomedical Careers for Students Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing

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Five people standing behind one dog and one person kneeling in front.
Group of RIT U-RISE students, including Bo Allaby (standing second from the right) and Maameyaa Asiamah (kneeling in front) who are interviewed in this post. Credit: TJ Sanger.

Scientists who are deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) are underrepresented at all career stages, especially at the Ph.D. level. To address this, the Undergraduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (U-RISE) training program for undergraduates who are deaf and hard of hearing at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, New York, has committed to lifting barriers and increasing DHH representation in science.

Part of RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID),
the program is now in its fifth year and prepares undergraduate students who are DHH to enter graduate programs through community-building activities, mentored research training, communication access services like interpretation, and much more. We’ve interviewed two RIT U-RISE students and its director to learn how the program supports its trainees.

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Innovating Education, Outreach, and Mentorship With Organic Chemist Neil Garg

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Dr. Garg holding a plastic model of a molecule.
Dr. Neil Garg. Credit: Penny Jennings.

“An important part of being in science is being in a community,” says Neil Garg, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). That philosophy has led him to prioritize mentorship, diversity, and inclusion—while maintaining research excellence—as well as re-envisioning what it means to educate students and the public.

Falling in Love With Chemistry

Science was always a part of Dr. Garg’s childhood. He participated in science fairs as a kid but says he did it for the community and not necessarily for the love of science. “When I look back on those projects, they were always with friends—never by myself,” he says. His parents were both scientists and strongly encouraged him to go into medicine, and although he became a premed major at New York University (NYU), he ultimately chose a different path.

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Students With Visual Impairments Empowered to Explore Chemistry Through SEPA Project

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High school students in lab coats and safety goggles feeling tactile graphics while two scientists perform demonstrations of experiments in fume hoods. Dr. Shaw stands in the background.
Dr. Shaw (back left) observes SEPA program students engaging with tactile graphics in his lab. Credit: Jordan Koone

Students with blindness and low vision are often excluded from chemistry labs and offered few accessible representations of the subject’s imagery, which can significantly hinder their ability to learn about and participate in chemistry. Bryan Shaw, Ph.D., a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, hopes to change that through a program funded by an NIGMS Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA). His inspiration to start the program came from his son, who is visually impaired due to childhood eye cancer, and his son’s friends who have also experienced partial or complete vision loss.

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A Career Launched Through “Transformative” NIGMS-Funded Training Programs 

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Headshot of Dr. Andrade.
Dr. Brenda Andrade. Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Brenda Andrade.

Brenda Andrade, Ph.D., assistant professor at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA), wasn’t sure what she wanted to do when she first started community college. Through a program at her high school, she’d participated in Saturday morning science labs on the CSULA campus, and that introduction to science led her to think about pursuing some sort of scientific degree. She recalls flipping through the course catalog to the list of science classes needed to transfer to a 4-year university, and “naively going down the list and taking them.”

When a professor asked her if she’d thought about doing research, she responded, “What’s research?” That professor introduced her to the transfer program between the community college and nearby CSULA, and he encouraged her to apply to the NIGMS-funded Bridges to the Baccalaureate Research Training Program. When she did, she was accepted and began a summer research internship working in the lab of Linda Tunstad, Ph.D., a successful chemist with a similar background to Dr. Andrade’s. “That experience set my career trajectory,” she says. “I saw people like me, other Latinx people and people from underrepresented groups, doing research and thriving, like Dr. Tunstad. It really motivated me.”

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Mentoring: It’s In Our Genes

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Anyone who’s spent time in an academic science lab has probably heard about lab culture. Many labs boast long, rigorous working hours, while others require graduate students and postdoctoral trainees (postdocs) to meet often-unattainable experiment quotas each week. But is sheer quantity really the gold standard we want to hold ourselves to when it comes to training the next generation of scientists?

A gold double helix representing DNA with silhouettes of three people helping one another up to the top of the helix’s backbone.
The #MentorFirst logo. Credit: www.MentorFirst.org.

Neil Garg, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and Jen Heemstra, Ph.D., Charles Allen Thomas Professor and chair of the department of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, think not. In fact, they both felt so strongly that this mindset of training is so outdated and detrimental to academic excellence and integrity that they joined together to create
#MentorFirst, an initiative encouraging academics to embrace mentorship in conjunction with research. “As faculty, both research and mentorship are important,” says Dr. Heemstra. “But it makes a huge difference which one we put first.”

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Mentoring Month: NIGMS-Funded Researchers Make Mentoring Meaningful

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Mentoring is a vital part of training the next generation of scientists. Through a variety of programs ranging from the undergraduate to faculty levels, NIGMS fosters the training and the development of a strong and diverse biomedical research workforce.

To celebrate National Mentoring Month, we’re highlighting a few of the many NIGMS-funded researchers who emphasize being great mentors. Check out the snapshots of our interviews with these mentors to see what they think about mentoring and to access and read their full stories.


A headshot of Dr. Bohannon wearing a lab coat.
Dr. Julia Bohannon. Credit: Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Scientist Studies Burn Therapies After Being Severely Burned as a Child
Julia Bohannon, Ph.D., inspired by her own experience of being severely burned as a child, researches therapies that could prevent patients with burns from developing infections. Dr. Bohannon also mentors students, particularly those who hope to be both parents and scientists. “I’ve had a lot of women ask me for advice on how to be a mom and pursue a career in academia, and it’s been a really cool experience to be able to share that with students and trainees,” she says.

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