The National Science Foundation (NSF) and American Society for Microbiology (ASM) jointly sponsor the ASM-NSF Leaders Inspiring Networks and Knowledge (LINK) program – an initiative to build strong “links” between established research investigators and early-career scientists, undergraduate faculty, and trainees (students and fellows). The program supports individuals who are underrepresented nationally in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines to succeed in bioscience education, research, and careers. The program goals are to:
• Broaden participation of underrepresented minorities in the STEM workforce
• Increase capacity in emerging and interdisciplinary areas of the molecular, cellular, and microbial biosciences
The program highlights NSF-sponsored research at three nationally renowned ASM conferences that are crossroads for developing future scientists and faculty – the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), the Annual ASM Conference for Undergraduate Educators (ASMCUE), and the ASM General Meeting.
• ABRCMS advances undergraduates and postbaccalaureates from underrepresented populations in STEM into doctoral education. Students spend four days presenting research; honing professional skills; hearing the latest scientific updates; and networking with peers, scientists, and recruiters for graduate, postbaccalaureate, and summer program opportunities. Primarily seniors and juniors present at ABRCMS.
• ASMCUE advances teaching and mentoring excellence among undergraduate science faculty (present and future). Participants spend four days presenting their scholarly teaching; learning effective teaching, evaluation, mentoring, and research methods; hearing the latest scientific and educational updates; and networking with science faculty and scientists. About 30% of the faculty come from community colleges, 30% from primary undergraduate institutions, and 35% from master’s and doctoral institutions. Seventy percent teach general biology, and 40% teach introductory microbiology.
• ASM General Meeting highlights the latest advances in microbiology and provides a unique opportunity to form critical connections with microbiologists, basic researchers, fellows, students and others. Participants from more than 80 countries spend four days attending plenary sessions on interdisciplinary topics of broad interest and symposia on specialized topics of presentations and networking events for students and postdocs, and numerous workshops and poster sessions.
The LINK program offers travel awards to ABRCMS, ASMCUE, and the ASM General Meeting and provides seed money to initiate and sustain collaborations. LINK connects established investigators with attendees of three meetings and supports structured mentoring activities. LINK mentees (students, undergraduate faculty, and early-career scientists) receive opportunities to explore interdisciplinary research and develop skills for successful science careers. LINK mentors (established investigators) receive opportunities to hone their teaching and mentoring skills while developing collaborations with undergraduate faculty (present and future) and early-career scientists.
The LINK program achieves its goals by:
• Offering venues for connecting established research investigators with students, undergraduate faculty (present and future), and early-career scientists at three national STEM conferences
• Encouraging collaborations among research scientists, undergraduate faculty (present and future), and/or students; the collaborations are framed by requisite and ongoing planning, training, and sustained mentoring
Numerous challenges continue to widen the gap between active, established researchers and undergraduate faculty and students.
First, in the competitive world of research today, scientists have less time and fewer resources than ever. This leads to their choosing to attend highly focused disciplinary conferences to share research, increase knowledge, build collaborations, etc., rather than the broadly focused meetings that appeal to undergraduate science students and faculty. But when conferences and meetings for beginning investigators go without access to active, innovative and trailblazing scientists, the whole future of science loses.
Second, when research investigators recruit trainees, especially at the doctoral and postdoctoral levels, they often do so from only a few top-tier institutions and foreign nations. This practice can prevent aspiring, talented U.S. undergraduates from entering the STEM workforce. Furthermore, if these students are successful in pursuing STEM education and training, they may lack critical knowledge and skills to remain competitive in emerging and interdisciplinary fields.
Third, there is need for understanding that broadened participation in science requires more than offering lab experiences to students from diverse backgrounds. Stronger connections must be formed to ensure proper training, mentoring, and community building. To succeed in science, students need opportunities to develop their skills, deepen their understanding, and receive sustained coaching, mentoring, and guidance.
The ASM-NSF LINK program is sponsored by National Science Foundation grant no. 1241970.