Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Creating the 'ideal doctoral student’

These days, just 6 percent of scientific doctoral degrees are going to minority students, but a program at one of the nation’s most diverse schools is taking steps to change that.

California State University-Long Beach is reaching out to promising science students and guiding them through the process of attaining advanced degrees in health and other science fields, according to Britt Rios-Ellis, director of the school’s Center for Latino Community Health, Evaluation and Leadership Training. Rios-Ellis spoke as part of a panel on how to engage more minorities in public health, which took place during a Tuesday Annual Meeting session on public health workforce development.

“Our goal is to support racial and ethnic minority students to become skilled researchers,” she told session attendees.

The Research Infrastructure in Minority Institutions, or RIMI Project, is working to create a pipeline that will lead students into the behavioral and biomedical sciences via mentorships, training and research experience. It also seeks to increase interest in health disparities research.

The project takes minority students — three to five per year — who are enrolled in the university’s master’s program and are in good academic standing and grooms them for further work in the sciences. Specifically, the program looks for students who have an interest in health equity research and experience working in ethnically diverse populations.

Since the program began in 2009, it has hosted students from numerous backgrounds, including Mexican, Honduran and Nigerian. About 58 percent speak Spanish, Rios-Ellis said.

“What we’re really trying to do is to create the ideal doctoral student,” she said.

Because the programs have become so competitive, getting accepted into a California school is “harder than getting into Hopkins and Harvard,” she added.

Students in the program enroll in a graduate course on health disparities, attend bimonthly research skills training, present at national conferences and work as research assistants.

“We really want to build their CVs,” Rios-Ellis said.

So far, the results have been good. About 50 percent of students are admitted right away to PhD programs, one student is attending medical school and another is seeking an advanced degree in England.

— C.T.

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