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NIMH Training Program Draws Women, Minorities

A National Institute of Mental Health training program to expand the pipeline and diversity of new researchers in geriatric mental health has turned out to be not only a huge success in generating a cohort of motivated trainees to enter the field, but has also attracted an abundance of women and ethnic minorities.

The Summer Training on Aging Research Topics-Mental Health (START-MH) Program provides mentored research opportunities to undergraduate, graduate and medical students across the United States. The program was piloted in 2003 and extended into a 5-year grant in 2004 to be conducted by the division of geriatric psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego and VA San Diego Healthcare System.

Fellows at the START-MH conference poster session

START-MH offers competitive scholarships to students who may be interested in aging and mental health research. In its first year, the program attracted 85 student applications. Thirty trainees were selected to participate with 30 primary mentors — all established investigators in the field. In the second year, the number of applicants jumped to 159. More than 75 percent were women and more than a third came from ethnic minority groups. Thirty-two applicants were selected and paired with 38 mentors; some students had co-mentors. The grant funding was used primarily for stipends to the trainees so that they would not need to find other summer employment.

Each trainee spent 10 weeks in the mentor's research lab. Labs ranged from basic science to clinical research to epidemiology. At the end of the summer, each trainee prepared a poster presented at a weekend-long mini-scientific meeting at UCSD. For most students, the workshop was their first experience attending a professional meeting.

More information about the program and guidelines for applicants can be found at

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