Blog

As part of our year-long programming, ABRCMS will periodically publish blog posts of interest to students, faculty, and other individuals associated with ABRCMS.

Mentoring Graduate Students During & Beyond COVID-19

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We are seeing a disruption in scientific research as we continue to social distance and follow stay-at-home orders in many countries because of COVID-19. Research labs are considered non-essential work and have been forced to shut down. Many universities are not allowing students to be on campus. With graduate students not in the lab, many are left to figure out what to do. So how can mentors help graduate students during this time? How will the temporary pause affect graduate students in the long term? We interviewed 3 professors:

  • Dr. Victor DiRita, Professor & Chair in the Department of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics at Michigan State University.
  • Dr. Aleksandra Sikora, Associate Professor in the College of Pharmacy at Oregon State University.
  • Dr. Mike Ibba, Professor and Chair in the Department of Microbiology at Ohio State University. 

They shared insights on what challenges graduate students are facing and activities they might participate in while labs are closed. They also shared what the long-term effects on graduate education may be. 

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Alternative Summer Experiences for Undergraduate Students During COVID-19

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Register for the May 19, 2020 session titled “Getting Meaningful Research Experience in the Time of COVID-19” on ABRCMS Online COVID-19 Web Events to learn about gaining research experience outside of a lab environment. In this live Q&A session, you will get more in-depth information on citizen science, literature review activities and a repository of open data-sets that you can share with undergraduate students for analysis and presentations.



As a result of COVID-19, many colleges and universities are cancelling summer research programs for undergraduate students. The effects of this will extend beyond the summer. Undergraduate students may miss an opportunity to learn how to think critically in science. They also might be impacted in terms of selection of abstracts for undergraduate conferences or graduate school admission decisions. 

While all students will be “in the same boat,” faculty and undergraduate students can start thinking of some ways to incorporate activities that will advance the scientific learning process. 

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So the Pandemic Has Upended Your Education. What’s Next?

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Although I received my Ph.D. in the last century, I have been mentoring undergraduates, graduate students, medical residents and infectious disease, clinical microbiology and pathology fellows for close to 40 years. I think that gives me a pretty good window into how undergraduates and graduate students in the microbial sciences are feeling right now. Two words come to mind: disappointment and anxiety. 

During a recent phone conversation, an undergraduate student shared her disappointment at not being able to give a poster at our university’s year-end undergrad research symposium. Around the country, both undergraduates and graduate students are experiencing major disappointments. Undergrads are missing much sought-after summer research or clinical experiences. Graduate students’ research seminars and final defenses will be on virtual platforms rather than in familiar rooms filled with fellow labmates, students, postdocs and faculty. Final defenses will be missing family members and their hugs and well wishes after a major career milestone. Disappointment that the presentation planned for a special conference like ASM’s Microbe or Clinical Virology Symposium (CVS) and the interviews for the next career step have been cancelled or put on hold. Finally, the important celebration of graduation with family and friends will not happen.

Perhaps even more concerning is the tremendous anxiety that so many of us are experiencing. For undergrad and graduate students, what will this mean for your future? How does the widespread pause in undergraduate and graduate student research impact the next stages in your career? Will long-term experiments that need constant care have to be started again? How long will this pause be? So many questions.

Right now, so many doors are closed, but I want to assure you other doors in the microbial sciences will be opening in this decade because the world now has a stark reminder of how important the microbial world is in our lives.

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Biology Teaching in the Time of COVID-19: How to Transfer to Online Learning

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As microbiologists, we teach our students to always expect the unexpected from microbes. COVID-19 is currently putting the global education system to the test by forcing face-to-face learning environments to quickly move online. As educators, we need to ensure a seamless transition for our students. 

As professors with more than 30 years of teaching experience combined, here are our best recommendations around distance learning education to help make the transition from face-to-face learning to online modalities efficient and effective.

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Mastering a Mentoring Relationship as the Mentee

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Mentoring offers a myriad of benefits for both mentor and mentee. It is a two-way street and should be navigated thoughtfully. As a mentee, here are some tips to maximize your mentoring time and ensure that you have a healthy relationship with your mentor.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Minority Professor Hires

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What makes a good principal investigator? What makes a great one? Often, there is a certain mold that hiring committees look for in applicants. By and large, the first 2 cutoffs are funding and great papers. However, most of us in the professoriate do more than acquire grants and submit papers. We advise students, sit on committees and teach–all things that are essential to being a successful professor because they show that you can juggle more than just science. Many underrepresented minorities (URMs) take on a lot of those intangible items, not only because people ask us to serve in a multitude of areas for the sake of having representation, but because we also want to be that representation. As a postdoctoral fellow looking to be hired as an Assistant Professor, I performed service, mentoring, teaching and more. Doing some of these intangible activities can make it hard to measure current and future success as a principal investigator, and thus, may be a major problem facing URMs looking to join a research-intensive professoriate.

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Working Collaboratively at ABRCMS 2019 to Build Personal Statements

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Check out the recording of the December 2019 ABRCMS Online webinar that provides peer feedback on personal statement drafts.



At the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) on November 13-16, 2019, many of the professional development sessions targeted towards community college, undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students focused on necessary skills to maximize their research experience, build their professional network and aid their transition to graduate and professional school. A core topic of focus for these students is the personal statement—a document that introduces the applicant to the admissions committee. To support students formulating and refining their personal statements, ABRCMS hosted two sessions entitled, “Building Your Personal Statement” presented by Dr. Victoria Freedman, Assistant Professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Dr. Nancy Schwartz, Professor at University of Chicago. Each session engaged approximately 350 students in an interactive exercise to formulate an effective personal statement.

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Engaging Diverse Trainees in Undergraduate Research

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The Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) is one of the largest expositions of URM student research. ABRCMS Online offers webinars on working with URM research students for faculty and career scientists. Dr. Amanda Marie James is a featured speaker in a webinar entitled, “Engaging Diverse Student Populations in Undergraduate Research”. The next webinar will be “Evidence-Based Strategies to Improve Nontraditional Student Performance in STEM” on December 3, 2019.
 
There are many benefits to mentored research experiences for students, like enhanced science identity, sense of belonging and self-efficacy, research productivity and higher career satisfaction. It is important to ensure that these benefits extend equally to everyone. With an emphasis on diversifying the scientific workforce, it is imperative to define and implement effective methods to engage diverse trainees in research careers.
 
Dr. Amanda Marie James is the Chief Diversity Officer and Assistant Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement at the James T. Laney School of Graduate Studies at Emory University. Dr. James is charged with creating and strengthening an inclusive, respectful and intellectually challenging environment for all research trainees. Dr. James explains her approach to working with diverse trainees and her advice for faculty engaged with diverse trainees in research programs. 

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ABRCMS: A Research Conference for STEM Students & Faculty

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The Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) is one of the largest communities of underrepresented minorities in STEM. Students attend this conference to present their research, enhance professional development skills, explore graduate schools and network. Research faculty and program directors play an essential role in mentoring students and learning strategies for facilitating student success.

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