scientists in lab

Mentorship makes a difference

Dr. Gbenga Ogedegbe from the New York University School of Medicine is sitting in his parked car in the garage of his home in New Jersey. It is 5:30 p.m. on a Thursday evening and he is eager to join his wife and three sons for dinner. But first, he picks up his cell phone to return a call from his mentee, Dr. Lisa Lewis. Dr. Lewis is panicked because her grant resubmission is due tomorrow and she’s unsure how to address the expert reviewer’s comments. For the next hour, Dr. Ogedegbe walks Lisa through every line of the reviewer’s comments and together they determine how best to respond. “I have never before received this level of commitment from a mentor,” says Dr. Lewis.

Dr. Girardin Jean-Louis, co-principal investigator of the PRIDE Behavioral Medicine and Sleep Disorders Summer Institute along with Dr. Ogedegbe, believes it is interactions like the one detailed above that make the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)-sponsored PRIDE (Programs to Increase Diversity among Individuals Engaged in Health-Related Research) program unique. He said that Dr. Ogedegbe’s thorough and timely response to his mentee is typical of PRIDE mentors, who are extremely passionate about and committed to nurturing the next generation of minority scientists.

In 2010, NHLBI established the PRIDE program. “PRIDE addresses the need for increasing the diversity of the biomedical research workforce by nurturing the next generation of minority scientists in the areas of heart, lung, blood, and sleep research,” explains Dr. Josephine Boyington, the NHLBI Project Officer.

Junior scientists with backgrounds currently under-represented in biomedical research apply to participate in the PRIDE program, which includes mentoring; hands-on practical training; grant-writing skills training and coaching; a mid-year meeting; and an annual conference in Bethesda, Maryland.

Each scientist also participates in one of the six NHLBI-funded PRIDE Summer Institute Training Programs, which forms the backbone of the PRIDE program:

During two consecutive summers, at the all-expenses-paid two-week Summer Institutes, junior scientists further develop their research skills and gain experience in advanced methods and experimental approaches in basic and applied sciences relevant to heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders. PRIDE participants receive advice on research design, skills and methodologies, strategies to prepare research grants, and tips for success in obtaining research funding.

To maximize the career and professional development opportunities beyond what is learned during the Summer Institutes, every PRIDE participant is matched with a team of mentors that includes an NIH program staff member with expertise in their area of research. By working together, this team of mentors helps the mentee enhance and develop all aspects of his or her research career throughout the two-year program.

PRIDE mentor Dr. Karina Davidson from Columbia University says that what makes the program unique is consistent mentoring. At the first Summer Institute, the PRIDE participant is paired with a mentor who is a recognized expert from his or her research field. This expert joins with a team of mentors who work together synergistically to enhance the success of participants. The team includes a career coach, who helps the mentee develop a resume, learn how to network, and practice job interview skills.  

Dr. Carmela Alcántara from Columbia University Medical Center took full advantage of the PRIDE team mentor approach. Working closely with her PRIDE mentors gave her the boost she needed to excel in her career as an academic researcher by helping her build her research competency and grant writing skills, and by providing invaluable networking opportunities.

After applying to become an affiliated investigator, Dr. Alcántara gained access to large research networks such as the NHLBI-supported Hispanic Community Health Study (HCHS/SOL), related ancillary studies (HCHS/SOL Sociocultural and HCHS/SOL Sueño), and the MESA Sleep study.

Access to data from these multi-center studies paved the way for Dr. Alcántara to further develop her research program on sleep and cardiovascular health disparities and publish multiple manuscripts on this topic. She also credits the program with helping her develop meaningful relationships that have allowed her to submit several federal grant applications that include PIs from these studies as co-investigators.

“The PIs I have met are eager to work with junior researchers like myself who are motivated to contribute, and this participation has helped me to excel as a researcher focused on Latino health disparities,” she added.

PRIDE mentee Dr. Lisa Lewis, whose evening call with Dr. Ogedegbe led to the acceptance of her grant resubmission, agrees about the value of participating in the program. She credits her recent major accomplishments –promotion with tenure at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and receiving her first R01 grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research – with the training and mentoring she received from the PRIDE program.

“PRIDE has provided me with a cohort of like-minded people and strong mentors to help me stay focused and motivated even when my grant submissions are rejected,” explained Dr. Lewis.

During the next five years, Dr. Lewis plans to expand her research on hypertension-related health disparities by developing and testing interventions for hypertensive African Americans in community settings. Her decision to continue down this research path was reinforced by her participation in the PRIDE program summer institutes where she saw, first-hand, the meaningful work other researchers were doing in this space. She said she’s counting on the PRIDE program for support in these and other future endeavors.

“I plan to keep my PRIDE family close at hand throughout my career,” she added.