Randomized Controlled Trial of Theory-Driven Group Coaching toward Academic Careers

Sunday, 16 February 2014
Columbus AB (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Richard Mcgee , Northwestern University , Chicago, IL
Historical approaches to training life scientists have been successful at creating a talented, creative, community of scientists, but have failed to produce meaningful improvement in participation of individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic minority (URM) groups. The absence of change likely is an unintended consequence of the fundamental culture and practices of research and training. The culture and practices can be well-modeled and interpreted drawing on several social science theories and models, including: Communities of Practice; cultural capital; Social Cognitive Career Theory, and identity formation. Using these frameworks, we are testing the hypothesis that a hybrid model employing sophisticated coaches to complement what scientific mentors typically provide can mitigate the unconscious processes that negatively impact professional advancement of young URM scientists. In this NIH-funded, randomized controlled trial called the Academy for Future Science Faculty, our coaching model is being tested with a diverse cohort of 100 beginning and 60 advanced PhD students from around the U.S. along with 16 scientist coaches. The Academy is sustained through annual professional development gatherings, virtual electronic coaching group meetings, and individual contacts among students and coaches. The great majority of Academy students report high value from participation. Impacts have been as great as reports that a few participants would have dropped out of their PhD programs had it not been for the guidance and support from the Academy. Overall, the most commonly expressed critical characteristic of the Academy is the creation of a ‘safe space’ where students could openly discuss and get support around important issues without fear of judgment or evaluation as often occurs in their PhD programs and mentored research. They also highly value the systematic career development information and skills/tools provided by the Academy and individual Coaches.  Although it is still early in the study, there is some evidence that underrepresented minorities and women perceive greater levels of benefit and positive influences on aspirations toward academic careers than other students. Data to allow meaningful comparison between Academy and Control groups are currently being gathered, but preliminary results suggest that while commitment to an academic career has declined among all participants, the decline is less steep among experimental participants than among control participants. Supported by NIH Award DP4 GM096807 (ARRA)