Stanford ADVANCE: A Novel Program for Transitioning Bioscience Students to Graduate School

Saturday, 14 February 2015
Exhibit Hall (San Jose Convention Center)
Diana Marie Proctor, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA
Background: A major challenge that students face when transitioning to research-based PhD programs is that graduate education comes with a completely different set of expectations than that of undergraduate education. In addition, students entering PhD programs often have different socioeconomic, academic, and ethnic backgrounds, making it difficult to prepare universally effective programming to ease the transition to graduate school. The Stanford Bioscience ADVANCE Summer Institute was created to address this unique challenge. The specific goals of ADVANCE are to foster community, academic excellence, and career readiness in an interactive learning environment. As a part of the ADVANCE Summer Institute, students attend social events, networking sessions with industry and academic professionals, and skill development workshops to cultivate success in graduate school. Methods: We measured the impact of ADVANCE through surveys, using a 5-point Likert scale, and personal dialogue. Surveys were administered through REDCap before and after the ADVANCE program and after each event. We asked students to rate their self-confidence, proficiency with, level of concern for, familiarity with, or awareness of certain key aspects of being a graduate student. We linked participant responses to a unique subject identification code, so we could track the relative change in each metric each subject experienced over the course of ADVANCE.  Results: In two years of ADVANCE, we recruited a diverse class of fellows. In the second year, in terms of academic preparedness, fellows reported significantly increased confidence (p < 0.05, Fisher’s Exact Test) when asked about their preparation for performing graduate research, their ability to independently steer their academic careers, their awareness of resources for graduate students, their familiarity and experiences with journal clubs, their familiarity with the San Francisco Bay Area, and their proficiency with R programming. In contrast, students did not report an increase in their feeling of preparedness when it came to their preparation to excel in graduate coursework or their ability set and achieve short-term goals. In terms of community building, the 2014 Fellows reported a significant decrease in their level of concern about engaging in community activities, suggesting they had attained a level of comfort in the communities they built over the summer in ADVANCE. Conclusions: In the first two years of ADVANCE, we met our original goals of fostering community, building academic skills, and encouraging acceptance and enrollment of diverse students. We also identified productive workshop formats; notably, the more interactive workshops were more positively received and successful. In future years, we aim to increase enrollment and diversity amongst ADVANCE fellows, especially the recruitment of more women, and to incorporate past ADVANCE fellows into leadership positions.