Who are Underrepresented Populations?

In spite of tremendous advancements in scientific research, information, educational and research opportunities are not equally available to all. (See https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-20-031.html). NIH encourages institutions to diversify their student and faculty populations to enhance the participation of individuals from groups that are underrepresented in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral and social sciences, such as:

  1. Underrepresented Minorities (Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders)
  2. Individuals with a disability
  3. Disadvantaged background (must meet two or more qualifications)

Underrepresented Minorities (URM) - Individuals from racial and ethnic groups that have been shown by the National Science Foundation to be underrepresented in health-related sciences on a national basis (see data at https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/showpub.cfm?TopID=2&SubID=27) and the report Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering). The following racial and ethnic groups have been shown to be underrepresented in biomedical research: Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders. 

Individuals with disabilities, who are defined as those with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, as described in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended.  See NSF data at, https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2017/nsf17310/static/data/tab7-5.pdf.

Who are Disadvantaged Students?

Disadvantaged students are those who have hindrances to excelling in school because of detrimental circumstances beyond their control. These include financial and social hardships as well as problems within students’ families. The category also includes students who would not normally be disadvantaged and who have been affected by some sort of natural disaster.

Disadvantaged students must meet 2 or more of the following: homeless (past or present), foster care (past), Pell grant qualified, free and reduced lunch program, food stamps/WIC qualified (past or present), 1st Generation student, or grew up in a disadvantaged community (rural, low-income).

What Research experiences and courses for skill development are available?

Programming for scholars will include high-quality immersive research experiences, courses and workshops designed to ensure that trainees have acquired the skills necessary for being successful in the laboratory, to handle graduate school coursework, and ultimately to be highly competitive for top-tier graduate programs in Neuroscience. While individual needs of iDream scholars entering the program will ultimately determine what courses they take, they are generally expected to have 25% time available for didactic coursework, seminars, and workshops.

Will there be an Orientation?

All iDREAM scholars will participate in an Intro to Neuroscience Research Bootcamp during the first month of the program regardless of their prior training. The introductory bootcamp will address key topics that students in our neuroscience labs have provided feedback that they wish they had received more training on early in their career, including: how to find good mentors, how to be an effective mentee, grantsmanship, presentation skills, networking, writing skills, and learning about fellowship opportunities. Students will be paired with graduate mentors. Peer mentorship is an important strategy for getting support and overcoming imposter syndrome. Similarly, all scholars will be encouraged to apply for the Society for Neuroscience’s Neuroscience Scholars Program. Additionally, the INI will host monthly informal gatherings with scholars, INI mentors, and other students within the INI to discuss student questions, share stories, and further instill a sense of belonging. Orientation will include an overview by the Program Directors (Hultman, Voss, Tranel) of the wide variety of available research within the iDREAM Program.

How do I know which lab to join?

Students have a rich selection of research labs with strong mentorship expertise spanning neuroscience disciplines. Upon undergoing orientation activities aimed at giving students an overview of research at Iowa and immediately fostering their sense of belonging in the program, students will begin the research matching process where they will, in conversation with Program Directors, begin to approach possible research mentors. 

Will I need to complete my own Research Project?

Upon completion of the matching process, trainees will work with their research mentors to identify feasible projects that will help them to experience all aspects of the research process (including experimental design and planning, data collection, analysis, interpretation, and communication of findings). Mentors will be strongly encouraged to prioritize putting scholars on projects with both team and independent components for which a manuscript is planned to be submitted during the students’ two years in the program. Mentors will be instructed to be thoughtful about pairing the scholars with post-docs and grad students in the lab who have demonstrated emotional maturity and cultural awareness, and to continue to develop those mentors along these lines. The student will write a short research proposal (~1-2 pages) that defines the background rationale for the project and a testable hypothesis outlining a feasible set of experiments or secondary analyses on existing datasets in the lab of their chosen research mentor that can be accomplished in the two years of the program. They will also select a Faculty Advisory Committee (with help from Program Leadership; also see Program Faculty section). This committee, comprising the trainee’s mentor and 2 other members of the program faculty will work closely with the trainees to ensure there are effective avenues and outlets for resolving conflicts and working out problems during the laboratory phase of the program. This structure of mentorship will also ensure that there are three faculty members who will have worked closely with the trainee and be able to write strong recommendation letters based on the trainee’s performance in coursework and the laboratory

What do you mean by "Coursework"?

The Graduate College permits individuals (e.g., employees, staff, community) to enroll as Graduate-Students-at-Large and take up to 6 semester hours of courses. This designation provides the trainees a sense of being in/moving toward graduate school. Several of our core courses have committed to piloting strategies that have been demonstrated to foster a sense of belonging in neuroscience. For the most part, coursework will depend on what courses individual students need in order to be competitive for graduate school. There are, however, some key skill-building activities that will also be important to the iDREAM scholars’ entry into research. Evidence-based coursework will be used that is designed to help our scholars build relationships to strengthen their identities as scientists and foster a sense of belonging within the scientific community. This goal is achieved through evidence-based mentee interventions as part of the curriculum of several core courses. The Iowa Biosciences Academy has developed several such courses implementing evidence-based practices to better facilitate success in research laboratories, and our Neuroscience scholars will take advantage of these. Dr. Lori Adams, who developed and manages these courses, has substantial expertise in these areas and has signed our institutional Letter of Support attesting to commitment of these resources. Each course aims to develop targeted fundamental competencies for students who are new to research. A major area of emphasis will include science communication, as skill acquisition in this area can significantly impact pursuit of research careers. Importantly, Program faculty will be involved as discussion leaders in these courses.

Do I have to do any Public Speaking?

The iDREAM program will support public speaking by trainees as they prepare and deliver quarterly updates on their research project, and receive constructive feedback on their presentation skills and the science, as well as annual presentations to INI meetings. Peers and faculty mentors evaluate the presentations and fill out a structured questionnaire that will be sent to both the trainee and their mentor. They will also have an opportunity to present a poster at the Neuroscience Graduate Program Research Day in the Fall of their second year, at national meetings (SFN, ABRCMS), and at schools in Iowa with students without substantial research opportunities. At the conclusion of the program, trainees will have a well developed and articulate presentation of their work that they can “take on the road” for graduate student interviews, will have learned how to “hear” and to answer questions, and be knowledgeable with respect to their research project.

What about Writing?

The Carver College of Medicine offers several important writing resources. Paul Casella, MFA, is supported by the Office of Faculty Affairs. As a writer, teacher, and editor, he gives free writing workshops for faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and trainees. Our Neuroscience program trainees will have access to these services during their time at Iowa. Mr. Casella also gives seminars on grant writing, public speaking, and writing for publication, and he is available to work one-on-one with our scholars. The CCOM also supports a Scientific Editing and Research Writing Core (SERCC), which employs four scientific editors and writing consultants, all of whom all have advanced degrees in the life sciences and experience working in the laboratory. Although this core facility charges for editing time, we will support our scholars in receiving consultation from this group. Two writing experts from the SERCC who would be available to our scholars are Drs. Christine Blaumueller and Jennifer Barr. Dr. Blaumueller, who has been on staff since 2006 and serves as Director of the SERCC, brings 14 years’ experience as a researcher in developmental biology and six years’ experience as an editor of EMBO Reports. Dr. Blaumueller offers free lectures on a variety of topics, including “Scientific Writing from an Editor’s Perspective: Maximizing the Chances of Success with your Research Article Submission," "Rigor and Reproducibility in NIH Grants," and “Editing as a Career Alternative for Scientists.” Dr. Barr has been a Scientific Editor and Writing Consultant within the SERCC since 2017 and was a Scientific Editing intern with Dr. Blaumueller prior to that. She also presents free lectures on grant and manuscript writing on the above topics, and has taught courses on various aspects of grant and paper writing (e.g., "Grant Writing Basics," and "Literature Review Methods), both alongside other SERCC editors and independently, as well as and organized and co-directed Scientist Writers’ Workshop series for faculty. This group also provides a variety of writing resources for grants and manuscripts on its website, as well as puts out a monthly Newsletter, and all of there will be freely available to our scholars. Also, the Graduate College offers a workshop course on crafting and writing a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship, which our neuroscience scholars will take part in both to help hone their writing skills as a whole and to make them more competitive for these prestigious awards. Finally, our scholars will participate in the Writing in Neuroscience (WIN) group, a student-led writing group in the Neuroscience Graduate Program that meets every other week during the Fall and Spring semesters. This provides a venue where scholars will have close learning experiences with the neuroscience graduate students.

How is support provided for Time Management and Professionalism?

The iDREAM program will introduce and reinforce the concept of professionalism – e.g., fulfilling commitments, meeting deadlines, fostering good workplace relationships. At the beginning of the program, the bootcamp that will emphasize the importance of timeliness, arriving at work prepared to work, proper submission of work records, following rules of attire, advance requests for vacation and time off for appointments, proper use of email and university resources, etc. We will support trainees to develop effective time management and organization skills in the bootcamp portion of the program.

How do you really plan on Building Confidence?

Based upon prior post-bac training programs, trainees have benefited from learning the importance of patience and perseverance, learning how to reach out to others for assistance, and developing self-confidence in their abilities. It is important for post-bac students to develop a “sense of belonging” with graduate students. Thus, in addition to participation in the Neuroscience Graduate Program seminars, the iDREAM scholars will be invited to a series of annual social events in the Neuroscience Graduate Program, including several picnics, bonfires, and hayrack rides at Dr. Tranel’s farm (highly popular and successful bonding venues for the graduate students and faculty). Based on prior experiences, the near-peer mentor pairing will be critical to fostering that sense of belong through one-on-one relationship building, combined with networking with the graduate students in large and small group settings. Our scholars will be placed in laboratories with graduate students, they will attend seminars with graduate students, they will hear graduate students give work-in-progress talks, join lunches that graduate students have with outside speakers, and engage in programming and attend events sponsored by the Association of Multicultural Scientists, a graduate student-run organization that fosters a community of inclusion. This informal indoctrination of trainees into the graduate school culture sets the groundwork for understanding their expectations of doctoral students.

What does IDP stand for?

Individual Development Plans: Upon entering the iDREAM Postbacc program, each trainee will take a self-assessment test utilizing the myIDP web based career-planning tool tailored for graduate students and postdocs sponsored by AAAS Science Careers. All of our program faculty have formal training in the use of IDPs and the Neuroscience Program uses this same strategy with students updating their IDP annually. The IDP tool will examine the skills, interests, and values of entering trainees, and provide a framework of scientific career paths that best fits the skills and interests of our scholars. After taking the self-assessment, trainees will meet their research mentor and Faculty Advisory Committee to develop an IDP for each year of training. The IDP will be evaluated midway through the program with potential modifications to meet the trainee’s goals and reviewed one last time upon completion of the program. Career Development: The neuroscience postbacc scholars will be provided career development support in several different ways: 1) career counseling; 2) one-on-one goal-directed mentorship with PDs; 3) career panels within the INI; and 4) evidence-based seminars and coursework on development of mentorship networks and career options.

Why should I consider Iowa?

The Iowa Neuroscience community as a whole and our program faculty mentors in particular have a strong track record of mentoring post-bacs on to graduate school. Amongst our program faculty, 31 post-bacs in the past 5 years have been trained in research in neuroscience and have gone on to graduate or medical school. Several of these students have been students from backgrounds underrepresented in STEM, and two of them are on our program executive committee.