BDBS Goes Virtual for 2021
The Building Diversity in the Biomedical Sciences (BDBS) program is one of GSBS’s most successful pipeline programs. The mentored, ten-week program allows undergraduates from underrepresented groups to conduct basic science research; get to know graduate students, faculty, postdocs, and other undergraduates; and learn about potential careers in the biomedical sciences.
“Before attending BDBS, I was unsure of my post-undergrad plans,” said Lindsay Ejoh, who participated in 2018, when she was a sophomore. “I knew I was interested in pursuing a PhD or an MD/PhD, but I was not sure which, if either, was right for me.” After attending BDBS and diving into hands-on scientific research, Ejoh decided on a PhD. She is now a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania.
Najah Walton, a second-year PhD student in GSBS’s Neuroscience program who attended BDBS in 2017, was also unsure of her post-graduate plans. She participated as a college sophomore who was weighing the pros and cons of clinical work and basic science research.
“My experience in BDBS allowed me to meet graduate students and professors at Tufts that were all doing really exciting work,” Walton said. “Through the program I was able to picture myself as a graduate student at Tufts, and ultimately the program allowed me to meet my current thesis advisor.”
Walton’s advisor, Jamie Maguire, is the Director of the BDBS program. She has been working hard to plan the 2021 program which, due to the pandemic, will be entirely virtual. Accepted students will work on projects, employing methods such as bioinformatics, computer programming and big data analysis, that can be completed remotely. The program’s non-lab components, such as career development workshops and seminars, will also take place virtually.
For Walton, those elements were some of the most valuable pieces of BDBS. “Throughout the summer we had seminars on how to craft our personal statement, what the graduate school application cycle is like, how to communicate science, and how to identify mentors throughout our careers,” she said. “These seminars were very valuable to me and gave me insight into graduate biomedical research.”
While the 2021 program will be remote, research and mentoring will remain at its heart, allowing participants to benefit from the experience just like previous cohorts.
“The most valuable component of BDBS was definitely the mentorship and companionship that I received,” said Nicah Vhin Driza, who attended BDBS in the summer of 2018, after her freshman year at Pomona. “I loved working with Andrew [Bohm] and the other members of the lab; they were so patient with me as I navigated the research experience! It was my first exposure to research, and I really enjoyed my time in lab.” Yishak Woldetsadik, who attended BDBS the same year and is now a first-year graduate student at GSBS, echoed Driza’s sentiments: “Dr. [Aimee] Shen and [lab member] Oscar Diaz were phenomenal mentors who cared about my success in the lab and beyond.”
BDBS students are prepared well for the pursuit of a scientific career, whatever form it may take. Basic science research, career development programming, and networking opportunities can inform their future careers. BDBS also prepares students for those careers by offering valuable scientific training, and sometimes even a publication or two.
“Dr. [Giuseppina] Tesco showed great trust in me and believed in my capabilities as a scientist,” said Edward Robinson. “The data I analyzed and generated was included in a manuscript submitted for publication. It was the first time in my scientific career I was given so much responsibility and was happy to deliver.” Robinson participated in BDBS in 2018 as a rising senior, and is now completing an MD at Morehouse School of Medicine. Walton’s project was also included in a publication, while Driza’s went on to inform her senior thesis research.
In addition to becoming part of the GSBS community of faculty, graduate students, and postdocs, BDBS participants form tight-knit groups with their cohorts. “BDBS was an opportunity to network and meet other minority students that were just as excited about science as I was,” said Ejoh. “My BDBS cohort encouraged and inspired me to pursue science as a career.” Driza agreed, saying, “My favorite memory of BDBS was definitely the bonding that my cohort did outside of labs and our official sessions together.” She still keeps in touch with many members of her cohort, as well as her advisor and lab mates. Walton, Woldetsadik, and Ejoh are also in regular touch with fellow participants and lab mates; the latter encourages BDBS students to make friends and connect with fellow scientists, as these connections will far outlast the ten weeks of the program.
While this year’s virtual program won’t allow for moments like Woldetsadik’s star dodgeball turn at the GSC Relays – he won the tournament for the Molecular Microbiology department – it will still help participants learn more about potential careers, develop their lab skills, and nurture their passion for the biomedical sciences.
“There’s no way to know if a certain career is a fit for you until you get hands on experience,” said Walton. “Being in undergrad gives you a unique opportunity to expose yourself to a plethora of potential careers before committing to one that you’re truly passionate about.” Driza agreed, describing her application as “a leap” – she didn’t have a background in the biomedical sciences – and one that paid off. “Having this opportunity, being able to see myself grow as a scientist, was so rewarding.”
Robinson agreed, saying, “BDBS is a wonderful opportunity to experience how research is conducted at the highest level.” He also encouraged participants to really take responsibility for and ownership of their research: “It is important to keep in mind that the summer program is only a platform. The amount of work you put in will determine the worthiness of your experience.”