IMSD provides “supportive scaffolding” to help students achieve their academic goals, Campbell said.
“The data show that when given adequate time and support, all students, regardless of entry credentials like GRE scores or undergraduate university affiliation, can reach that potential,” he said.
Campbell said IMSD was inspired by his own experiences as a researcher and educator in the sciences.
“Much of my thinking about the program is based on lifelong observations and personal experience,” he said. “Inequities are what lead to underrepresentation in STEM, and they begin with unequal and differential access to educational resources, support and opportunities. When inequities are eliminated, as through the work we’ve been doing with Brown IMSD, the success of underrepresented students becomes indistinguishable from the success of their peers.”
Courtni Newsome was a member of the inaugural IMSD class, earning her Brown Ph.D. degree in 2008. One of the things she most appreciated about the IMSD program was that it included education not just about the sciences, but about working as a scientist.
“We were taught soft skills such as public speaking, presenting research, communicating with non-scientists and other things that you don’t usually learn in the classroom,” said Newsome, now a senior principal scientist at Bristol-Myers Squibb. “These are definitely skills I have been able to use in my career as a pharmaceutical researcher.”
Newsome studied chemistry at Tougaloo University, a historically black school with a longstanding partnership with Brown, and then switched her focus to pathobiology while pursuing a Ph.D. at Brown. She said that the combination of coming from a historically underrepresented group and starting fresh in the field of biology resulted in some feelings of impostor syndrome. Those anxieties, on top of the challenges faced by all early-career scientists — things like securing funding, finding a mentor, learning about available resources — could have been a distraction, she said. In IMSD, she found peer connections, faculty support and confidence in her own knowledge, skills and experiences.
“Having the support of the IMSD program made me feel like I had the necessary skills to move forward in my career,” she said. “It really did make me feel like I could do what I sent my mind to.”
That is part of the mission of IMSD, said Elizabeth Harrington, who has co-directed the program with Campbell since 2012 and is a co-author on the new study.
“By demonstrating commitment and support to students, we hope to bolster confidence in their own ability to succeed in the sciences so that they have the time, energy and focus to do the things they need to do to achieve their Ph.D., conduct their research and launch their career,” said Harrington, associate dean for graduate and postdoctoral studies in the Division of Biology and Medicine.
Harrington said the study results offer quantitative proof of what she has witnessed while working with current and past IMSD trainees. She says that seeing students submitting high-impact research papers, presenting at scientific meetings and conferences, offering seminars and interacting with the scientific community are all signs of the program’s long-term effectiveness. The period during which students are financially supported by the IMSD grant is relatively short, Harrington pointed out. “But the community they create with others in the program, fellow trainees as well as faculty — that lasts beyond their time here.”