What does underrepresented mean? And why is supporting underrepresented students important?

Nationally, African Americans, Hispanic/Latino(a), Native Americans (including Alaska natives), natives of the U.S. Pacific Islands, and individuals with disabilities or economically disadvantaged backgrounds are regarded as underrepresented in science and mathematical fields. While underrepresented minorities comprise 25% of the U.S. population, only 5.8% of earned science and engineering doctorates in 2004 were awarded to underrepresented people of color. It is imperative that programs in academic research create a more inclusive community of scholars and faculty, and IBA is contributing to that paradigm shift.

Do I have to be a member of an underrepresented group to apply?

Eligible students should identify as a member of an underrepresented group in STEM, including African-American, Alaskan Native, American Indian, Hispanic American, Native Hawaiian, Native Pacific Islander, economically disadvantaged, student with a disability, or first generation college student.

If I know that I want to go to Medical School, can I still be a part of IBA?

IBA is specifically funded and designed for students who are interested in Ph.D.s—NOT M.D.s.  However, if you aren’t sure what the difference is or whether you might be interested in a Ph.D., please contact us to discuss.

What is a Ph.D.?

The Ph.D., or doctor of philosophy degree, is the highest academic degree anyone can earn. Ph.D. holders are not necessarily philosophers unless they have earned their degree in philosophy. The Ph.D. is awarded in most disciplines (i.e. chemistry, physics, biology, history, psychology). Because earning a Ph.D. requires extended study and intense intellectual effort, less than 1% of the population attains the degree. Society shows respect for an individual who holds a Ph.D. by addressing them with the title, “Doctor.” To earn a Ph.D., a student must become an expert in a subject area through coursework and extensive understanding of the published scientific literature. A student must then extend the body of knowledge about that subject by conducting research and answering questions that have not been answered before. Ph.D. recipients are able to engage in thought experiments, reason about problems, and solve problems in sophisticated ways. As an individual pursues a Ph.D., he or she gradually notices a different way of thinking about things. An individual is eventually prepared to consider and debate what he or she knows and how he or she knows it. This means that critical thinking skills have been developed and weighing evidence and questioning assumptions have been learned.

The exact number of years it takes to complete a Ph.D. depends on the field, the student's research topic, and the student's skills. The average number of years is typically between 4-6 years. Doctoral programs in some disciplines accept only applicants with master's degrees. Other programs accept students after completing an undergraduate degree. Most Ph.D. degrees require the completion of coursework, comprehensive exams, and a dissertation. At most institutions in the U.S., graduate students in the biosciences are paid a living wage-level stipend and are not charged tuition. In addition, most bioscience doctoral programs have excellent healthcare plans at little or no cost to the student. The often-flexible schedules of laboratory research usually allow for participation in workshops and other non-laboratory experiences in which students may pick up additional skills including mentoring, negotiating, and teaching.

What could I do with a Ph.D. in the Biosciences and how much could I earn?

Getting a doctoral degree could lead to a career marked by important discoveries that benefit society, stimulate the economy, identify cures for diseases, and add new knowledge for future advances. Teaching at the university level typically requires a Ph.D. and a tenure-track professor position is a typical career option. However, there are many other career choices in industry, government, and nonprofit organizations for doctoral degree holders in the biosciences. A doctoral degree in the biosciences has value in work settings outside of research and development, including management, marketing, consulting, science writing, patent law, and regulatory and government advising.

According to a 2010 National Science Foundation report titled, "Science and engineering indicators," doctoral degree holders in science and engineering enjoy lower unemployment rates, typically 1-2%. Another report from the U.S. Census Bureau in 2002 indicated that a doctoral degree increases the likelihood of getting and keeping jobs in science and engineering. These jobs collectively have a much larger median salary—$70,600 per year in 2007—than that earned by the total U.S. workforce—$31,400 per year in 2007. No matter the career, employers value candidates with doctoral degrees for their independence, drive, initiative, creativity, perseverance, work ethic, and problem solving capabilities.

References: Bradley, M. J. (2011). Why pursue a Ph.D. in the biosciences? American Society For Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Today. Retrieved from http://www.asbmb.org/asbmbtoday/asbmbtoday_article.aspx?id=13709