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Vol. LVIII, No. 5
March 10, 2006
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'PIMP Your Ride'
Johnson Motivates Students to Prepare for Research Careers

Dr. Alfred Johnson is not new to recruiting researchers and trainees to NIH. Nor is he new to encouraging students — particularly underrepresented minorities — to pursue science careers. Nevertheless, his recent keynote address at the Florida-Georgia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation was a milestone 28 years in the making.

This year's conference was hosted by Albany State University, a small, historically black college in rural Georgia, where Johnson received his B.S. in 1979. Johnson, the 12th in a family of 14 children, grew up near Selma, Alabama, where he attended a segregated high school. "If a cotton-picking, cornbread-eating country boy from rural Alabama can do this," he said, referring to his career in research, "there is no one in this audience who can't."

 
Dr. Alfred Johnson (c) shares research results with UGSP scholars Isaac Darko and Edna Chavez.  

Referring to a popular MTV show that transforms jalopies into hip, stylish, super-accessorized cars, Johnson challenged students to "PIMP their ride" on the road to careers in science.

"On this road, the P in PIMP is for proactive, perseverance, patience, practice and striving for perfection," he said. "On this road, the I is for intelligence and insight. The M is for mentoring, and the last P is for praise — praise for those who mentor you, teach you, brought you to this conference, raised you and praise to higher powers."

Johnson warned students that the road to a science career would have many obstacles — curves (failures), loops (confusion), flats (bad jobs) and red lights (bad influences) — but he promised, "If you PIMP your ride, you will have an engine called perseverance, a transmission called motivation, a spare called determination, brakes called patience, shocks called a mentor, a horn called praise, insurance called faith, and a driver called the Almighty, and you will make it to the place called success."

The recent conference is one of nearly 30 Louis Stokes Alliances, which were established to increase the quantity and quality of underrepresented students in science fields. The alliances were named in honor of Rep. Louis Stokes, who represented Ohio from 1968 to 1998 and was a strong supporter of research and training. NIH dedicated Bldg. 50 in his honor in 2001.

Johnson is an adjunct investigator in NCI's Laboratory of Molecular Biology and has directed the NIH Undergraduate Scholarship Program (UGSP) since 2000. Since 2004, he has served as acting director of the Office of Loan Repayment and Scholarship in the Office of Intramural Research, and last year he became an assistant director in OIR.

The UGSP provides scholarships of up to $20,000 per year to disadvantaged students who are committed to careers in biomedical, behavioral and social science research. The participants commit to two service obligations at NIH — a 10-week summer internship and a yearlong internship after graduation.

Last year, an independent, non-partisan firm completed a formal evaluation of the UGSP. It offered a strong, positive assessment of the program and showed that its students are successfully meeting numerous benchmarks within the research training pipeline.

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