BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - A new five-year, $2 million grant awarded to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Graduate School will be used to help educate and train a diverse community of postdoctoral scholars who will become tomorrow's leading academicians.
UAB is one of only 15 universities nationwide to receive an Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award (IRACDA) from the National Institutes of Health. The award enables institutions to combine a traditional mentored, postdoctoral research experience with an opportunity to develop teaching skills through assignments at a minority-serving institution.
The UAB Graduate School has created the Mentored Experiences in Research, Instruction and Teaching (MERIT) program with the grant, and expanded its partnerships with historically black institutions, Miles College and Stillman College.
"The training grant offers postdoctoral trainees a unique opportunity to get practical, mentored teaching experience while simultaneously expanding their research skills," says Bryan Noe, Ph.D., dean of the UAB Graduate School. "Postdocs who have had the IRACDA experience are highly desirable faculty candidates because they already have demonstrated their desire and willingness to become competent teachers."
The MERIT program will include three years concurrent research training and teaching instruction. The first scholar will begin the program in October and the second in February of 2010. Two scholars will be recruited each year. Six scholars will be in the program at its peak.
The immediate objective of the program is to help developing scientists conduct high-quality research in an academic environment. Long-term objectives are three-fold: to enhance research-oriented teaching at minority-serving institutions; to promote interactions between research-intensive universities and minority-serving institutions that lead to collaborations in research and teaching; and to increase the number of well qualified, under-represented minority students entering competitive careers in biomedical research.
"There are very few programs that teach Ph.D.s how to teach," says Lisa Schwiebert, Ph.D., co-program director for research. "All of these programs teach how to do science on the bench, but we don't put them in the classroom and teach them to teach. This program does that. It enables postdocs to get those teaching experiences, and at a minority-serving institution to help attract more minorities into the sciences."
Schwiebert says the program is well structured with 75 percent training in research and 25 percent teaching at Miles or Stillman.
The research-training plan is similar to other postdoctoral trainee plans. The teaching instruction plan is much more defined. Julia Austin, Ph.D., is co-program director for teaching.
Postdoctoral trainees will observe classes at Miles and Stillman and select a teaching mentor from one of those institutions during their first year. They will become more hands-on in year two, co-teaching a course or helping to organize a new course. The third year the postdoctoral trainee will teach a course they have prepared with their mentor at Miles or Stillman.
"We anticipate that the courses our postdocs teach will be added curriculum," Schwiebert says. "They will expand on existing courses or bring in a new topic to create an advanced-level course."
Schwiebert says the program will partner with the UAB Minority Health and Research Center each summer to help MERIT students augment their fall and spring experiences. MERIT scholars will partner with an undergraduate from the MHRC who is enrolled at Miles or Stillman to begin developing their mentoring skills.
"These postdocs can become role models," Noe says. "The interactions will hopefully inspire some of these students to pursue a career in science or technology and continue their education by going on into a graduate program."
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