New Study Seeks BRIDGE To Improved Graduate Experiences and Outcomes


The trajectory for doctoral students in the biomedical and social sciences is no longer a straight path to a faculty research career. Earning a doctoral degree in these demanding fields takes many years and is arduous. The pathway is made doubly difficult when the endpoint is unclear.

To help smooth the way towards a fulfilling career, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has funded a UCSF study, the BRIDGE (Biomedical Research Career Identification in Graduate Education) Project, to determine the effectiveness of a theory-driven, multi-modal intervention on doctoral students’ research self-efficacy leading to persistence. Using a participatory action research (PAR) framework, theory-driven interventions will be developed, implemented and tested at UCSF, with the aim help all students reach their career aspirations and to improve the doctoral experience, including quality of life, scientific values, outcome expectation, identity integration and health.

Underrepresentation in the biomedical workforce pipeline

The NIH has a particular interest in assuring that the current deficit in the research funding climate, coupled with a lack of job security in academia, does not disproportionately impact minority students. Researchers from diverse racial and ethnic groups, disadvantaged backgrounds, and those with disabilities are underrepresented in the biomedical workforce. Increasing their participation in scientific research is an important NIH objective, and it is very valuable.

For example, the experiences of underrepresented minority (URM) researchers in a study may help gauge the degree of sensitivity to topics for certain study participants. This sensitivity may then be taken into account in a range of research-related processes, such as the roles of families and culture in consent, issues of transparency and mistrust in research, and the socio-political and economic context of minority communities.

Contributions of researchers from diverse backgrounds have increased our understanding of the root causes of health disparities and the role of race and racism in contributing to these disparities and the conceptual challenges associated with disentangling the range of predictors of disparities. Research by URM scientists has also led to the development and implementation of many effective interventions that are culturally specific and highly acceptable to participants.

Finally, some URM researchers have championed community-based participatory research and have brought community ownership to research, thereby bridging academics and communities and helping to build trust.

At every step of the US research science pipeline, minorities are underrepresented. For example, as of 2007, only 10.4% of faculty positions were held by underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Moreover, 73% of these underrepresented faculty only hold contingent positions, so they often do not receive adequate wages, benefits, job security, or meaningful academic freedom.  And according to data from the National Science Foundation (NSF), in 2012 minorities only represented 13% of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) doctoral students, and these students are impacted by the stresses of reduced or unreliable research funding.

BRIDGE complements MIND in its support of trainees

The upside is that employment in the sciences is strong for exceptionally well-trained graduate students, such as those who make up the UCSF student body, but not necessarily in academia. Recent data from the NSF shows that unemployment among doctoral scientists and engineers remained significantly below the national average in 2013. Unfortunately, many faculty are unable to advise their students on non-academic career paths. To that end, the MIND (Motivating INformed Decisions) project, led by Dr. Keith Yamamoto and Dr. Terri O’Brien, aims to change the climate at UCSF so that students who are interested in pursuing an alternative career track are given support and focus.  This complements the aims of BRIDGE to improve the doctoral experience for all students, with a special focus on underrepresented minorities.

BRIDGE doctoral survey launches this month

Since it is important to learn about students’ experiences in their doctoral programs, BRIDGE is commencing with a baseline survey, which is due to launch this month.  All first-, second- and third-year doctoral students at UCSF will receive emails advertising the survey. Each eligible student who completes the survey will receive a $20 Amazon e-gift card. One-hundred of these participants will be randomly selected from survey responders to take part in BRIDGE, and the results of the survey will inform integral components of the program.

The program is due to commence in mid-November, and there will be two to three events each month which will include speed mentoring events, grantwriting boot camps, emotional intelligence training, and talks on how to stretch limited funding dollars.

To learn more about the BRIDGE project, visit