NRMN STAR is Born at Morgan State University

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By Gillian Silver

Morgan State University’s ASCEND program partnered with the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) Steps Towards Academic Research (STAR) Fellowship Program in the spring of this year to work with a cohort of 10 Morgan State faculty from a variety of disciplines, including biology, chemistry, physics, computer sciences, public health, and education. 

NRMN STAR combines on-site professional development and education with distance-learning techniques. The program, which ran at MSU from January to June 2018, included four one-day in-person sessions and four two-hour webinars, during which the instructors and coaches assisted participating faculty with all stages of grant-proposal development. Harlan Jones, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center and associate director of the NRMN Professional Development Core, led the program, with the assistance of an instructor, Avery August of Cornell University, and three coaches including Roland Thorpe of Johns Hopkins University, Kathryn Sandberg of Georgetown University and Dexter Lee of Howard University.

Morgan State faculty Pumtiwitt McCarthy, Robin Spaid, and Monique McMillian work with NRMN STAR coach Dexter Lee of Howard University. Photo courtesy MSU ASCEND.

The instructors and coaches provided Morgan State faculty with information and insight related to obtaining research funding. Participants learned about mechanisms and alternative sources of research funding, the submission and grant review process with the National Institutes of Health Center for Scientific Review, and how reviewers read, score and discuss grant proposals in NIH study sections. MSU faculty fellows spoke directly with NIH program officers to hear their perspectives and participated in a mock study section grant review process.

One of the MSU faculty participants was Pumtiwitt McCarthy, Ph.D., assistant professor in the chemistry department. She had submitted a Support of Competitive Research (SCORE) 2 proposal in January 2017. She received a summary statement of reviews that she was able to use as a basis to revise the proposal for resubmission while in the NRMN STAR workshops. Using what she learned over the spring, she resubmitted the proposal, titled “Mechanistic Studies of a Bacterial Capsule Polymerase,” on May 25, 2018. McCarthy was awarded the grant—$440,855 over three years.

“The program takes a lot of commitment, and you have to be self-motivated to complete the work and make the most of it,” McCarthy said. “NRMN taught me how to improve my proposal writing. The mentors really helped me make my resubmission more compelling.”

Jones was McCarthy’s coach, and they worked together during the in-person meetings, and in-between those meetings she submitted materials for his review and he provided comments. 

“Several committed colleagues participated [in the workshop sessions], and their feedback was helpful,” McCarthy said. “The mixture of disciplines was helpful, to see outside of ourselves.”

McCarthy expressed a positive view of the NRMN STAR program.

“I thought it was a really valuable experience to have so much hands-on reworking of our proposals and really important advice on how to improve our proposals from actual NIH grantees and individuals who have served on NIH study sections,” McCarthy said. 

Based on the positive feedback and results, Morgan State plans to continue these faculty development activities.

The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.