Winning formula

Winning formula

March 1, 2019

The NIH PREP program helps students gain research experience—but also benefits the entire biomedical/biobehavioral field

Now beginning its eleventh year, the campus’s Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP), which supports educational activities that enhance biomedical, behavioral and clinical research workforce diversity, recently was awarded its third grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue funding the program.

It supports students who are exploring the idea of graduate school and seeking research experience to strengthen their applications. The five-year, $1.7 million grant for PREP, overseen by Sandra Petersen, veterinary and animal science, Shelly Peyton, chemical engineering, and Lynmarie Thompson, chemistry, has seen more than 70 students complete UMass PREP, the directors report. Of those, 97 percent were accepted into Ph.D. programs on campus or other institutions. Over 85 percent have finished or are currently enrolled in biomedical or biobehavioral doctoral programs.

Petersen says, “The NIH PREP program has been one of the most successful programs for increasing diversity in the biomedical/behavioral workforce. The Northeast Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (NEAGEP) internship program, which is the model for our PREP program, catalyzed a 42 percent increase in the number of UMass STEM doctoral students from under-represented groups.”

She adds, “Subsequent engagement of the biomedical and biobehavioral disciplines through PREP resulted in a further increase such that enrollment was 274 percent above the pre-internship baseline in 2018. The most striking example of the impact of PREP at UMass was in the Neuroscience and Behavior Graduate Program where PREP alumni comprised nearly 20 percent of the student body.”     

Peyton says, “The PREP program is an excellent way to recruit the very best students from under-represented groups to UMass. Each of my previous PREP trainees has either led or contributed to published manuscripts, even in just one short year in the lab. These students are some of the most motivated and collaborative students I’ve ever trained, and I’m so excited to bring the next cohort of students to UMass this summer!”

Thompson points out that a key strength of the campus’s PREP program is its close alliance with several NIH-funded training programs. “Exposing PREP students to the interdisciplinary opportunities available to them through our chemistry-biology interface training program and our biotechnology program helps to inspire their interests in pursuing Ph.D. programs here on campus.”  

The supervisors say the project will continue to partner with NEAGEP institutions to identify prospective PREP students, and will sponsor joint activities with a new PREP program at UMass Amherst’s NEAGEP sister institution, Boston University Medical School.   

Formed in 1999 through an NSF grant, NEAGEP is a 15-institution alliance of faculty and administrators with a shared goal of developing new initiatives to help diversify the STEM workforce.

Read on:  PREP Program for Diversity in STEM Graduate Programs Awarded $1.7 Million Grant

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