Career Awareness

August 12, 2015

Research Training Program: An 18-Year Success Story

By Career Awareness

3448049_0006-2Research Training Program: An 18-Year Success Story

Yeng Her, a Hmong refugee, is on track to achieving his career dream of earning a M.D.-Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

In 2007, Yeng Her, Biochemisty and Molecular Biology, who is a Hmong refugee, was eager to enter the ultracompetitive Mayo Clinic M.D.-Ph.D. program; however, he knew he needed help. His family came to the U.S. when Her was just a child, so he grew up in the American education system. But, he felt his dream required more than just a four-year undergraduate degree to move forward.

Fortunately, 10 years earlier researchers at Mayo Clinic had confronted the reality that underrepresented minority students were missing from biomedical research teams across the U.S. These researchers dreamed of a workforce that reflected the diversity of the U.S. It was a lofty and expensive goal; however, Richard McGee, Ph.D., a pioneering Mayo Clinic educator, was determined.  

National Institutes of Health (NIH) partnership formed

In 1997, Dr. McGee and his team worked with the NIH to build a research program focused on underrepresented students who showed promise as future researchers. NIH would supply the student stipends, and Mayo Clinic would provide the mentors, teachers, physical space and cutting-edge research projects. This program would cultivate students to become researchers and physician-scientists for the future. 

The Mayo Clinic team was looking for students who possessed the qualities of stellar researchers:

  • Curiosity
  • A healthy dose of skepticism
  • More than a little tenacity

Dr. McGee knew such students existed; however, undergraduate program challenges had limited their research training. The missing students needed a training bridge to prepare them for the rigors of academic research programs. 

Current program state

Fast forward 18 years from the launch of Mayo Graduate School's Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP), and the program has become a mature and vital part of the U.S. strategy for promoting research education for underrepresented students. It is a cornerstone of institutional research training diversity efforts at Mayo Clinic. When participants are admitted for one or two years of training, their stipends are guaranteed, enabling them to choose the area of research most appealing to them.

“PREP provided the right conditions to succeed: cutting-edge research, preparation for tests, time to study and guidance,” says PREP student Stephanie Silva-Del Toro, Office for Diversity. “I felt prepared, confident and empowered to reach the next step.”

The Mayo PREP program has trained more than 55 underrepresented students — three-quarters of whom have gone on to Ph.D. or M.D.-Ph.D. degrees. Almost a quarter of the students enter into these educational programs at Mayo Clinic. As a testimonial to the program’s success, the partnership between Mayo Graduate School and the NIH just won competitive renewal for an additional five years.

Today, Her is two years from his M.D.-Ph.D. dream and likely the only Hmong-American refugee in the U.S. on track to that achievement. “I am so grateful to Mayo and PREP for helping me reach my goals. I could not have accomplished this without Mayo’s support,” says Her.


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