There Is Concern Over a Lack of Diversity in Graduate Biomedical Research Education

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Biomedical research has played an integral role in improving health and life expectancy. These research accomplishments depend on talented trainees and investigators attacking scientific problems from multiple perspectives. Unfortunately, the diversity of the scientific workforce has not kept pace with our understanding of its importance.

While progress has been made toward closing the gender gap, biomedical research continues to have a lackluster record with regard to the diversity of trainees and principal investigators and we lose many underrepresented minority (URM) trainees early in the ‘pipeline’ from student to investigator.

The importance of increasing the diversity of biomedical researchers is clear. The scientific community and funding agencies recognize that diversity drives innovation and creativity, and have initiated programs to recruit diverse applicants, build “pipelines” and enhance retention.

While trainees that have high undergraduate GPAs, high GRE scores and previous research experience are coveted because of their potential for success, other paths into graduate school should not be discounted. Our combined experiences as a graduate student, faculty member, mentor, recruiter, graduate school administrator and admissions committee member have given us a unique perspective into where holes early in the ‘pipeline’ may lie. We would like to highlight some issues that may underlie low numbers of URMs entering graduate programs in biomedical research.

Demand for flawless applicants

Despite the recent accomplishments made in biomedical research, flat or declining budgets due to economic and political concerns have strained federal discretionary funds available for research. The result is a contraction in exploratory research with short-term reward and “sure thing” research taking priority. This trickles down to the student wishing to pursue a graduate education because of the need to be conservative. This also drives demand for perfect applicants that have extensive research experience and perfect scores.

Unfortunately, this demand may have the unintended consequence of decreasing the number of free thinking/creative-type students, and more importantly, diverse students, both of whom may not have “perfect applications” threatening the goal of increasing diversity.

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Source: Diverse Education | Andrew Bean and Marenda Wilson-Pham

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