Increasing diversity of future life science researchers
The School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis has received $943,000 from the National Science Foundation to increase the number and diversity of future life science researchers.
The NSF award establishes an IUPUI Undergraduate Research Mentoring in the Biological Sciences (URM) program, which will begin in the spring of 2011. URM is designed to broaden participation of African Americans, Hispanic Americans and members of other groups historically underrepresented in science in undergraduate research and will provide them with the experience and expertise needed to succeed in doctoral programs leading to basic research careers in the biological sciences.
Two-year fellowships will be awarded to School of Science students selected by the URM program, which includes immersion in intensive research throughout the junior and senior years. Research will concentrate on biosignaling -- the ability of life from the microscopic to the whole body or plant level to respond to its environment. Work will focus on cell membranes, protein structure and function, molecular modeling and various other facets of this field.
"We are an urban university with a growing number of talented undergraduates enrolled in the sciences. We also are home to outstanding life sciences research labs. The investigators who run these labs will provide the training and support the URM students need to launch themselves on the path toward a Ph.D. in the biological sciences. We hope that eventually the students will develop their own research programs and mentor future students," said Stephen Randall, associate professor of biological sciences in the School of Science at IUPUI.
Randall is the principal investigator on the NSF grant and URM program director. A plant molecular biologist whose research focuses on gaining a better understanding of cold stress tolerance in plants, his work could help improve the survivability and output of crop plants such as strawberries and soybeans.
URM students will receive significant assistance during the two-year program. In addition to a stipend which will enable them to attend school full time -- taking classes and working in a laboratory without the necessity of part time employment -- they will attend seminars and presentations on a variety of topics designed to help them on the path to a career in bioresearch including understanding bioethical issues and concerns, designing a scientific presentation, preparing for the graduate school admission examination (GRE), and other professional development topics. Mentorship in the lab will be augmented by mentorship by graduate degree holders from minority groups.
Co-principal investigator and co-program director Brenda Blacklock, assistant research professor of chemistry and chemical biology in the School of Science, noted that URM will immerse the students in the collaborative nature of science as they work in biology, chemistry, physics, informatics and other labs.
"We will be recruiting URM candidates from throughout the School of Science while some may come into the program when they transfer from Ivy Tech Community College or other schools. By focusing the mentored research on biosignaling, which is a critical underpinning to understanding life sciences, we hope to intrigue students and encourage them on the path to a Ph.D. and beyond in the biological sciences," said Blacklock, a biochemist studying the roles of lipids in signaling and cellular development.
This article was originally published on Jan. 7, 2011.