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Vol. LVII, No. 10
May 20, 2005

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NIAID Program Builds Diversity

Recently, 24 undergraduate, graduate and medical students from diverse backgrounds, and equally diverse goals, were invited to NIH as part of the third annual Intramural NIAID Research Opportunities (INRO) program. Begun in 2003, the program is the backbone of NIAID's effort to increase intramural research program diversity.

Students from across the country spent 5 days learning about training for biomedical research careers, attending scientific lectures and touring. The event culminates with students interviewing scientists who most interest them.

The program traditionally begins on a Sunday. Current NIAID research trainees are on hand to address visitors. This year, postbaccalaureate trainee and INRO alumni David Reynoso of the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research, spoke about the hands-on approach of his mentor and the gradual fostering of independence as he became more comfortable with his research. He also offered useful tips on how to find affordable housing in the Washington metropolitan area. Dr. Frank De Silva, Laboratory of Viral Diseases, provided insight into challenges faced by minority researchers, emphasizing the importance of strong mentorship.

Dr. Wendy Fibison, associate director, Office of Training and Special Emphasis Programs, guides the INRO program. She has current OTSEP-sponsored trainees spend the entire week with the visitors, offering their insights.

"The visiting students connect most with people at their own level, people who have recently struggled with the same questions they are now asking," said Fibison. "And, the trainees remember so well their own struggles."

Dr. Thomas Kindt, NIAID scientific director, has strongly supported the program since it began. He has no doubt that "the diversity of the workforce offers significant advances in biomedical research at NIAID and throughout the NIH."

Since its inception, INRO has grown. Begun as a 3-day program with 11 participants chosen from a pool of 18 applicants, it has evolved to a 5-day session hosting 24 students selected from more than 120 applicants. More than 40 NIAID researchers requested interviews with one or more of the INRO students during the visit.

Although the program is formally over for the year, students will receive regular mailings from OTSEP informing them of new research advances, events of interest and the latest information about training opportunities.

Ultimately, the success of the program is measured by how many INRO participants actually receive offers to participate in a traineeship within the intramural research program.

To date, seven INRO 2005 students have accepted offers to return and 11 more are talking about it. Before the students boarded planes to go home, they took INRO 2006 promotional cards for their colleagues and friends, assuring more potential trainees will learn about the program.

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