WORKSHOP BACKGROUND

WORKSHOP BACKGROUND

WORKSHOP BACKGROUND

Historically, programs aimed at increasing participation by underrepresented minorities (URMs) have been dominated by intuitive approaches with minimal dependence on the research literature. This is evident from examining the typical funded grant proposal aimed at increasing URMs in research related- careers. The irony is that such programs are often developed and implemented by scientists who would never consider such an approach appropriate in other aspects of their work.

In recent years, funding agency requirements have driven the evaluation content of projects and programs aimed at broadening participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Evaluations, though important in assessing the degree of accomplishment relative to program aims, are limited in providing a broader examination of an intervention. For example, a training program for undergraduates may include a summer research component that on the surface, might make intuitive sense as it introduces the student to a research environment on a full-time basis for an extended period. An evaluation of such an activity can provide information on how well the program meets its recruitment goals, affords the student a productive research experience (often based on funding and publications of the PI), and measures satisfaction with and benefit to the student and the mentor. Such a context-specific evaluation seldom focuses on the immediate program/activity to determine its efficacy and appropriateness compared to other interventions.

While there exists a growing body of literature related to the efficacy of STEM interventions, it is dispersed across several disciplines and lacks readily identifiable and utilized outlets which practitioners can access and use in developing programs aimed at encouraging minorities to pursue research careers.

The objective of motivating the NIH-centered training community to embrace an investigative approach to the development and implementation of interventions that encourage minorities to pursue research careers led to the National Academies of Sciences-organized workshop in May 2007. The website and report may be seen at http://dels.nas.edu/bls/more/.

The 2007 Interventions workshop had four primary goals targeted to an audience that overwhelmingly consisted of individuals who have led programs aimed at increasing participation among URMs in research careers. The first was to educate the audience as to the need for hypothesis-based approaches that would inform program design and implementation; second, to familiarize the audience of mainly biomedical scientists that this hypothesis-based approach must tap the expertise of our colleagues in the economic, social and behavioral sciences; third, through a technical assistance workshop, equip the audience with some of the approaches, methodologies, and tools relevant to such scholarly pursuits; and finally, to foster a community of scholars beyond the workshop whose existence and work would be considered when programs are being designed and implemented.

The 2nd Annual Conference on Understanding Interventions thus continues the embrace of investigative approaches in studying interventions that broaden participation in research careers in the sciences by URMs. The focus now shifts to the development and recognition of a multidisciplinary community of scholars. The conference will reach out to scholars in the behavioral, social and economic sciences who will not only present their research in poster sessions and mini-symposia, but will also participate in discussions related to activities beyond the annual conference on Interventions. Such discussions will address issues of funding for Interventions research, organizations that represent networks of relevant expertise and opportunities for collaboration, and the identification and development of outlets for disseminating interventions research around which the community can coalesce.

The focus on research by scholars in the social, behavioral and economic sciences will also facilitate discussions on paradigms, methodologies, and differing views on what is considered good research. Much of the current funding opportunities come from agencies that have cultures that are more reflective of research as conducted in the life and physical sciences. These cultures appear in contrast to what is at times accepted in areas relevant to the study of interventions within the social and behavioral sciences when it comes to issues such as aspects of qualitative sampling and ethnography and the requirement of strict control groups. The difference in research cultures, reinforced by various agency programs, significantly impacts the type of research that is funded and also what is accepted by the community of practitioners who are responsible for developing programs aimed at broadening participation who ultimately will be the practical consumers of the scholarship. By bringing together the various segments of the scholarship and training community, we expect to address some of these issues at this conference.

Finally, we underscore the distinction between evaluation of programs and hypothesis-based investigations that has been blurred in developing and refining many STEM intervention programs. Unfortunately, even among those of us who "get it" there is periodic confusion as to what is making this activity distinct from what has been done in the past. This struggle, one of honest intellectual debate, will continue through the creation of a community dedicated to understanding interventions that encourage the participation of URMs in science-based research careers.

In summary, the May 2007 workshop defined the "what" and addressed a little bit of the "how." The 2008 conference will explore more of the "why" through highlighting some fruits of the research through a range of plenary, breakout, and informal sessions featuring experts from familiar and unfamiliar perspectives. Please join us-we welcome your participation.

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