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NIH Initiative for Maximizing Student Development funds UMMS program

  IMSD grant co-PIs Kate Lapane, PhD, and Brian Lewis, PhD.

IMSD grant co-PIs Kate Lapane, PhD, and Brian Lewis, PhD 


UMMS commitment to diversity
Receipt of this institutionally important grant was made possible as a result of UMMS initiatives in place that underscore the commitment to increasing the diversity and success of future science professionals, here and in the world. Among those initiatives are:


The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences has received a highly competitive five-year grant to help bolster the success of underrepresented students in science. The $1.6 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, awarded under the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development, supports the UMMS commitment to increasing diversity in all areas of the institution. Brian Lewis, PhD, and Kate Lapane, PhD, are co-principal investigators on the grant, Enhancing the success of underrepresented students in biomedical sciences.

“Getting this grant demonstrates how committed the institution is to addressing the persistent lack of diversity systematically,” said Dr. Lapane, professor of quantitative health sciences, associate dean for clinical and population health research and director of the CPHR training program in the GSBS. “There is a real momentum happening here. Everybody is really thinking about how we can increase diversity.” 

IMSD is an NIH student development program for institutions with research-intensive environments. The goal of the program is to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups in biomedical research (which includes individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups; individuals with disabilities; and individuals from socially, culturally, economically or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds that have inhibited their ability to pursue a career in health-related research),  who complete PhD degrees in the field. The program offers an opportunity to develop new or expand existing effective academic developmental programs in order to prepare students from underrepresented groups for competitive research careers and leadership positions in the biomedical sciences. The UMMS grant can support up to six students per year. 

The ability to attract IMSD funds is a reflection of the success of established initiatives at UMMS to attract and retain underrepresented students, including a highly targeted GSBS recruitment strategy made possible by partnerships with medical school departments and external organizations and colleges that has led to a significant increase in applications from underrepresented students as well as matriculation.

“We were able to get this grant because of the support of GSBS Dean Tony Carruthers and all of the UMMS leadership. Commitments of time and financial support have made this possible,” said Dr. Lewis, associate professor of molecular, cell & cancer biology and associate dean for student diversity in the GSBS.

Many of the underrepresented students pursuing PhDs are the first in their families to undertake graduate education. Thus, one of the primary goals of the IMSD program at UMMS is to create a structure of support that enhances the success of students during the first two years of graduate study, a critical period during which the largest numbers of students who fail to complete PhD studies leave the program. The IMSD program takes aim at this period through a combination of academic preparation and enhanced advising.

One key element of the new program is immediately assigning a specially trained faculty advisor for incoming students who participate in the IMSD program. While all incoming GSBS students are assigned an advisor upon entering the program, the enhanced advising strategy for the program is more structured, with built-in opportunities for frequent feedback on academic matters, research rotations and thesis lab selection, among other areas.

“The purpose of these faculty advisors is not to supplant the role of thesis advisor, but to be an additional, ongoing seasoned voice that the student can turn to,” said Lewis. “All of these advisors are seasoned—they’re at least associate professors, all are tenured and all have a history of advising and mentoring students.”

Another key aspect of the program is a structured onboarding process that includes two courses in the summer prior to matriculation. Required for IMSD students, these courses are open to other entering students as well. The purpose of these newly designed courses is threefold: to introduce students to the rigorousness of the material to be encountered during the first year; to expose students to the active learning style and critical thinking skills required; and to serve as an assessment tool that identifies potential areas of academic weakness prior to the start of the fall curriculum.

The third key element of the program is enhanced career development for IMSD students. While the average time for all PhD candidates to receive a degree is about six years, the time for underrepresented students is seven. Students funded by the IMSD grant will be required to create an individual development plan and to revisit this plan annually to identify new aspirations or reveal deficiencies in the plan, among other career planning requirements. Students will use myIDP, which was developed by Cynthia Fuhrmann, PhD, assistant dean of professional and career development for the GSBS, who is a member of the IMSD advisory board.

“Our goal is to take students who would have been okay on their own and help them to excel. We want to set these students up to be superstars,” said Lewis.

Related link on UMassMedNow:
NIH grant integrates career planning with scientific training