Melissa R. McCartney Ph.D.

Melissa McCartney

Melissa R. McCartney

Professional Summary:

My research lab is motivated by my own experiences with non-academic jobs and what these experiences taught me about developing a robust and diverse scientific workforce that expands outside of academia. First, scientific skills are in high demand, yet faculty often do not clearly make the connection for students between their degree (content knowledge) and the in-demand skills that it provides. Second, increasing the number of historically marginalized students both as graduates and as members of the STEM workforce is critical to cultivating the nation’s best scientific talent. Third, and related to increasing diversity, the demand for biomedical scientists is expected to increase over the next decade and retention of all future biomedical scientists within the STEM workforce is critical, we cannot afford to lose students at graduation. Therefore, my lab focuses on cultivating and retaining the future biomedical/STEM workforce by 1) developing new ways to implement skills-based interventions into biomedical science courses, 2) developing new assessments for measuring whether or not students identify as scientists, and 3) developing, implementing, and promoting career development interventions into biomedical science courses. All of these research aims are incorporated into the strategic goals of both the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Research Theme 1: Teaching scientific practices. My interest in engaging students in the practice of reading primary scientific literature (PSL) stems from my time as an Editor at Science. My lab focuses on increasing engagement with PSL in the classroom by 1) alleviating implementation barriers, 2) integrating PSL with Vision and Change, and 3) developing new research-based assessments for measuring student learning.

Research Theme 2: Cultivating and retaining new scientists. A sense of belonging is positively associated with academic achievement and retention, and science identity is positively associated with STEM career choice and persistence to a STEM degree. My lab has developed and validated a sense of belonging questionnaire focused at the departmental level as a way to measure whether students feel connected to their department. The department is where students interact with a wide range of faculty and staff and, therefore, departments have several opportunities to increase the extent of students’ sense of belonging. We continue to expand this line of research by developing related assessments on climate and culture of undergraduate departments.

Research Theme 3: Enabling students to realize their scientific skills and identities en route to a STEM career. Almost half of undergraduates in a STEM major choose to pursue different careers than originally intended, and many students continue to debate possible careers after their undergraduate education. We should not assume that students are progressing toward intended STEM careers simply because they have persisted in STEM. Retaining STEM graduates in the STEM workforce starts with teaching them how to navigate the STEM workforce. My lab has developed and implemented a career development course (CDC) specific for biology majors and have shown that participation in the CDC increased students’ science and biology identities. We continue this line of research by qualitatively investigating the mechanisms underlying these identity shifts.

Education and Training:

  • Fellowship, Science and Technology Policy Fellow, The National Academies (2009)
  • Fellowship, Postdoctoral Fellow, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (2008)
  • PhD, Neuroscience, The George Washington University (2006)
  • BS, Biochemistry, Binghamton University (SUNY) (2000)


  • Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences, Florida International University (2017–2023)
  • Program Manager, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (2015–2016)
  • Associate Editor, Science (2009–2014)

Awards and Honors:

  • Top Scholar Award (2023)
  • Research Award (2023)
  • Service Award (2020)
  • Outreach Award (2019)

Research Expertise:

  • curriculum development, assessment design, quantitative methods, qualitative methods, mixed-methods

Journal Articles:

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School News:

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Contact Information

955 Main Street
Buffalo, New York 14203
Phone: 716-881-8003