Nearly $2 Million Grant Will Enroll Underrepresented PhD Students

Margarita L. Dubocovich, PhD and students.

Margarita Dubocovich, PhD, with students Jay Garaycochea, Ekue B. Adamah-Biassi and Angelica Rivera.

Published June 11, 2012

The National Institutes of Health has awarded UB $1.9 million to fund the education of 20 new biomedical and behavioral scientists from underrepresented groups between now and 2016.

“This is a universitywide endeavor, and these mentors, who have successfully navigated the competitive world of scientific research, will provide invaluable guidance to the new doctoral students that this grant supports. ”
Margarita L. Dubocovich, PhD
Principal investigator and chair, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology

The grant—one of only 44 in the U.S.—is part of the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD), a student development program for research-intensive institutions funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Award Places UB in Select Company

UB is the only institution in New York State to be awarded an IMSD grant for the biomedical and behavioral sciences. The state’s only other IMSD was previously awarded to Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

“This award establishes UB as a member of a select group of institutions that are dramatically transforming the education and training of students from underrepresented groups,” says Alexander N. Cartwright, PhD, vice president for research and economic development.

Strong Tradition of Mentoring, Research Key to Success

This year, four new PhD students will enroll in UB’s IMSD program; the remaining students will enroll over the next four years.

Students can enroll in any of the following UB programs or departments: biological sciences, biomedical engineering, chemistry, psychology, pharmacology and toxicology, pharmaceutical sciences, phd program in biomedical sciences and the graduate division at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

UB mentors come from the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Dental Medicine, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Institutions that applied for the IMSD had to demonstrate a significant number of mentors with NIH or other extramural research support, explains Margarita L. Dubocovich, PhD, principal investigator on the grant and chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.

“This is a universitywide endeavor, and these mentors, who have successfully navigated the competitive world of scientific research, will provide invaluable guidance to the new doctoral students that this grant supports.”

Individualized Curriculums Designed for Each Student

The program will foster an integrated and collaborative learning atmosphere to ensure success during the crucial first few years of graduate education, says Dubocovich.

This will be accomplished by designing individualized curricula for each student, providing one-on-one mentoring and tutoring with faculty and peers, and offering workshops on scientific, academic and career development.

“We will bring students to the campus on July 1 of each year and immediately form a mentoring committee for them,” Dubocovich explains. “It is the mentors’ job to make sure that the students do well and that they are successful from day one.”

UB’s CLIMB Program Helped Lay Foundation for Grant

UB’s broad range of existing science-mentoring undergraduate programs helped the university secure the NIH grant.

One such program is CLIMB, (Collaborative Learning and Integrated Mentoring in the Biosciences), now in its fourth year.

Founded by Dubocovich, CLIMB provides mentoring for biosciences students at the undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral and junior faculty levels.

Dubocovich was inspired to start CLIMB because of her own background. She grew up in rural Argentina, where advancing to complete professional or scientific careers was not encouraged and young adults, particularly women, were expected to help their families.

In that environment, Dubocovich wondered if her interest and curiosity in science and the natural world was somehow wrong.

Since then, she has learned that students from underrepresented and diverse backgrounds often have similar experiences.

“It is very isolating,” says Dubocovich. “You need people to believe in you and to give you the right support and assistance.”

Close Connections with Faculty Will Ensure Success

In one case, Dubocovich notes, a student interested in UB’s CLIMB had excellent academic and research credentials but had learned science in Spanish. Now entering graduate school, he has to relearn the terminology in English, something Dubocovich also experienced when she came to the U.S. as a junior scientist.

A head start in CLIMB helps students like this polish their science language skills while conducting research and preparing for a successful academic year.

This scenario exemplifies the hands-on approach UB mentors are taking to ensure student success.

“Here, students have very close connections to the faculty,” says Rajendram V. Rajnarayanan, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology and associate director of UB’s CLIMB for undergraduate students.

“In other schools’ programs, underrepresented students can be isolated, and stereotyping of these students still exists.”

In addition to Dubocovich and Rajnarayanan, co-investigator on the NIH grant is Xiufeng Liu, PhD, professor of learning and instruction in UB’s Graduate School of Education.