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The Culture of Undergraduate Research Experience

Welcome to Project CURE! In summer 2011, Dr Jessi L Smithof MSU and Dr Dustin Thoman, at California State University Long Beach, were awarded a R01 Grant by the National Institutes of Health to study Culturally connected Communal Goals: Latino and Native Americans in Biomedicine. This 4 year grant aims to examine the ways in which perceived levels of cultural connection to research in faculty mentor’s labs (and changes in these levels over time) influence Latino and Native American undergraduate science research assistants’ (RA) motivation for and pursuit of biomedical careers and graduate study. Understanding ways to ehnance the diversity of the biomedical workforce is paramount to the sucess and health of the nation and the world.


Project Summary

The aims of this project are (1) to determine whether underrepresented minority (URM) students from cultures that highly value communal purpose goals (focusing on Latino and Native Americans) develop greater interest in biomedical research careers when they feel that their science efforts are benefiting the communities with which they feel connected and (2) to examine whether fostering the perception of communal goal congruency for students working in a biomedical science laboratory as a research assistant (RA) can enhance interest for pursuing careers in biomedical science. We will collect quantitative longitudinal data from 720 undergraduate RAs associated with 2 institutions, Montana State University (and affiliated tribal colleges) and California State University Long Beach. We will follow participants for 2 years. We will analyze both between group comparisons (between Native Americans, Latino Americans, and non-Hispanic White Americans) and within group comparisons (between those who do and do not feel their culturally connected communal goals are congruent with their science task goals) to predict change in interest toward biomedical careers over time. Theoretically grounded in goals congruency theory, from which research has illustrated ways to maintain women’s interest in biomedical and STEM fields, we draw a parallel between the communal orientation that attracts women to certain careers and the communal orientation of Native and Latino Americans. We challenge the assumption that academic preparedness, financial support, and access to undergraduate research opportunities are sufficient for promoting biomedical career interest. Instead, we propose that by increasing feelings of congruency between what they are doing as research assistants (their duties in the lab) and why they are doing it (e.g., the purpose of the research), RAs will experience greater feelings of academic belongingness and interest in pursuing biomedical research careers. We focus on the extent to which undergraduate RAs, especially Latino and Native American RAs, can be made aware of the ways in which their science research experiences are culturally connected – that is – can contribute to the overall understanding of health disparities and other broad impacts for their specific cultural in-group. Knowledge gained from this project will offer theoretical advancements to existing programs designed to promote career interest of URM, and will also produce a simple, low-cost, guided exercise (designed to foster goals congruency with culturally connected purpose goals) to be disseminated and integrated within existing URM training programs aiming to increase interest in and pursuit of biomedical research careers. 


Learn about other NIGMS funded Intervention Projects