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tplivin

Great Support System for underrepresented minority Students

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I am currently in a Post Bac research program,looking to apply to a Biomedical Ph.D program for the fall 2014 term. My general interest are in molecular biology, gene expression/ regulation and I prefer an Umbrella program through the school of medicine. However, being a underrepresented minority (African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans) I wanted to know of any programs that offer a great support system to these type of students? I know obtaining my Ph.D is not going to be easy but I want to attend a diverse program where I will not feel like an outcast. I would love to hear suggestion and any words of wisdom for programs that are not so welcoming. 

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I think that you will find the majority of graduate programs are fairly diverse these days; there were a variety of different students at each interview I attended from all backgrounds and many nationalities. One thing I've noticed, though, is that in graduate school, everyone is at the same level. Yes, there are more opportunities for minorities to apply for grants (which sucks for a Caucasian female and even more for a male), but as far as courses and rotations go, everyone is treated the same. When I look across the classes I take, I don't see a sea of one color. There doesn't feel like there is a need for a minority-specific support system because as a group we are supportive of each other. I had lunch with people from China, Korea, England, and Kenya last week, and all of us are in the same grad school. We study together and go out together (when there is time). The same expectations are held for each student, no matter who they are or where they come from. I feel like this is a wonderful thing; after all, once we get out into the real world, major grant applications are going to be mostly indifferent to your minority status. Instead, they're going to care about the strength and impact of your proposed research, which is the most important part, anyway.

I think that no matter where you choose to go, you're going to find people who are going to be supportive of you as long as you're putting in the effort and living up to expectations. Don't limit your choices simply because you're looking for very specific support programs for minorities; grad school is filled with all kinds of inspiring and hard-working individuals, and you will be surrounded by them. Instead, I would focus more on the things you're going to head to grad school for, (I'm assuming) research, potential PIs, and the type of coursework.

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I love what biotechie said, but would also like to add that often the support for underrepresented minorities is not department specific.  There may be an office of student affairs, grad student support services, diversity coalition, or something similarly titled on campus that assists grad students from all walks with a variety of issues including the feeling of being an outcast.  They may also have a directory of community resources, social events, etc.

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Be careful for the umbrella program through school of medicine. They will get you into the "school" and sometimes support you financially for a year.

However, I noticed that there were a lot of Biomed students were having a difficult time finding a research group in general. I personally know six people got accepted through that route and ended up had to switch to a different department completely or dropped out because they weren't able to find a sponsorship after their first year.

I don't know if there are any websites would give you this kind of information or not.

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This is homework you'll probably have to do yourself.  First, compile a list of schools that meet your academic/research needs.  These are your (ostensible) "good fits".  Then, visit or find some way to talk to current students in the department of interest (minority and majority).  Get a feel for each school.  Do you/current students feel comfortable?  Find out if the department has a history of producing scientists of your background.  Frequently, programs with quality advisors and tightly-knit grad communities also are the ones graduating minority scientists.  I think this is what Biotechie may have been alluding to.  It seems like he/she is in the type department you might want to look for.  To my knowledge, grad schools don't really have the "support system" that one might find in college or HS.  So, you're really just looking for a positive environment. 

But, that task should not be taken lightly.  Without a quality advisor and supportive peers, one's grad experience (regardless of race/gender) can be cut short or fall short of expectations.

 

Oh, you can also contact alumni/ae from the programs you're considering.  And as a bio person, you should also ask yourself if you'd prefer a department that's part of a university or one that's a strict research/med school (Scripps, MSSM etc.).  Hope that helps.  

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