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Open Access Study protocol

The Academy for Future Science Faculty: randomized controlled trial of theory-driven coaching to shape development and diversity of early-career scientists

Bhoomi K Thakore3, Michelle E Naffziger-Hirsch1, Jennifer L Richardson2, Simon N Williams3 and Richard McGee,3*

Author Affiliations

1 Oakton Community College, Des Plaines, IL 60016, USA

2 University of Illinois-Chicago, Chicago, IL 60607, USA

3 Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, 420 E. Superior Ave., Rubloff 647, Chicago, IL 60611, USA

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BMC Medical Education 2014, 14:160  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-14-160

Published: 2 August 2014

Abstract

Background

Approaches to training biomedical scientists have created a talented research community. However, they have failed to create a professional workforce that includes many racial and ethnic minorities and women in proportion to their representation in the population or in PhD training. This is particularly true at the faculty level. Explanations for the absence of diversity in faculty ranks can be found in social science theories that reveal processes by which individuals develop identities, experiences, and skills required to be seen as legitimate within the profession.

Methods/Design

Using the social science theories of Communities of Practice, Social Cognitive Career Theory, identity formation, and cultural capital, we have developed and are testing a novel coaching-based model to address some of the limitations of previous diversity approaches. This coaching intervention (The Academy for Future Science Faculty) includes annual in-person meetings of students and trained faculty Career Coaches, along with ongoing virtual coaching, group meetings and communication. The model is being tested as a randomized controlled trial with two cohorts of biomedical PhD students from across the U.S., one recruited at the start of their PhDs and one nearing completion. Stratification into the experimental and control groups, and to coaching groups within the experimental arms, achieved equal numbers of students by race, ethnicity and gender to the extent possible. A fundamental design element of the Academy is to teach and make visible the social science principles which highly influence scientific advancement, as well as acknowledging the extra challenges faced by underrepresented groups working to be seen as legitimate within the scientific communities.

Discussion

The strategy being tested is based upon a novel application of the well-established principles of deploying highly skilled coaches, selected and trained for their ability to develop talents of others. This coaching model is intended to be a complement, rather than a substitute, for traditional mentoring in biomedical research training, and is being tested as such.

Keywords:
Biomedical sciences; Biomedical diversity; Graduate students; Intervention; Randomized control trial; Coaching model