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   Society for Developmental Biology

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Choose Development! New NSF-Funded Program for Broadening Participation

By Marsha E. Lucas

In an effort to increase the number of underrepresented minorities (URM) and persons with disabilities entering doctoral programs in pursuit of research careers in developmental biology, the Society for Developmental Biology (SDB) has launched a new three-year National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project called CHOOSE DEVELOPMENT!

CHOOSE DEVELOPMENT! is a program that emphasizes professional development and research training through the pairing of undergraduate students with developmental biology research faculty who serve as academic mentors. The students, recognized as SDB fellows, will spend two summers conducting independent research in their mentor’s laboratory. They will present their research at SDB regional and/or national meetings and receive support from the larger developmental biology community. It is expected that most SDB fellows will choose and be accepted into graduate programs in developmental biology or related areas.

Graciela Unguez, an associate professor at New Mexico State University (NMSU), is the primary investigator on the CHOOSE DEVELOPMENT! grant.  She has personally mentored some 30 URM undergraduate students at NMSU and serves as Associate Director of the NIH Minority Biomedical Research Support-Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (MBRS-RISE) program.

"CHOOSE DEVELOPMENT! will allow students at the college level to have an opportunity to be part of a lab community of scientists that is doing research on any of the multiple areas that aims to better understand how plants and animals develop," Unguez said. "This program also aims to attract more students that are not well-represented in the scientific community. ... We in the science fields want and need a wider range of viewpoints and ideas, and this is a step towards that goal that the Society for Developmental Biology is fully supporting."

The program is open to undergraduate students with disabilities and those belonging to URM groups (African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders; see footnote #4 in National Academies report) who are US nationals or permanent residents. Preferences will be given to sophomores or students in their second year of college.

Critical to the success of this program are the SDB academic mentors. SDB is currently recruiting mentors who are committed to the program’s mission of inclusiveness and to enhancing student preparedness for graduate school. SDB academic mentors are required to be SDB members, hold a research grant, and have space for a summer student. They will be given specialized training to enhance their effectiveness as mentors. Depending on the lab situation, a lab mentor (postdoc, advanced graduate student, or lab manager) who will assist in providing hands-on training for the SDB fellow, will also receive mentor training.

SDB will assist academic mentors in applying for supplemental grant support to help defray any additional expenses.  A stipend and travel/living assistance will be provided for the SDB fellows during their summer research period.  Travel assistance and a meeting registration fee waiver will be provided to one of the mentors (academic or lab) as well as the fellow to attend one SDB meeting per year (annual or regional).

Recently retired University of Missouri professor, Karen Bennett, will be the program coordinator for this new initiative.  She was a member and acting chair of SDB's Professional Development and Education Committee and spearheaded the SDB Boot Camp for New Faculty and SDB Faculty Re-Booth Camp.  She discussed how CHOOSE DEVELOPMENT! can be successful.

"We need ‘buy-in’ by SDB members—for some to become mentors for future SDB fellows, for all who can to pass on their skills and advice, and for regional and annual meetings to provide SDB fellows a venue that demonstrates we, as a Society, value them as young scientists starting out on a hard, but exciting life path," she said

Applications for both SDB fellows and SDB academic mentors will be available online in December on the CHOOSE DEVELOPMENT! page of the SDB website. The application deadline is March 1, 2013.  Applications will be reviewed beginning in January 2013 and exceptional candidates may be accepted before the March 1 deadline. For more information on the program and eligibility visit CHOOSE DEVELOPMENT!  Spread the word by downloading the program flyers for SDB Fellows and SDB Academic Mentors.