University of Arizona scientists have just landed a five-year, $3.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to aid young researchers in the life sciences in the quest for tenure at research institutions. At the same time, the grant will boost life sciences education at a partner, minority-serving institution, Pima Community College.
Typically, academia hones the research skills of young post-doctoral scientists seeking tenure-track university faculty positions. It typically neglects teaching, successful grant-writing and public service skills.
Markow, Regents' Professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the UA Center for Insect Science, will direct the new Postdoctoral Excellence in Research and Teaching (PERT) program. Biochemistry Professor Michael A. Wells is co-director.
PERT offers up to three years of financial, instructional and career support to outstanding young insect scientists in genetics, biochemistry, neurobiology, ecology and evolutionary biology, molecular and cellular biology, physiology and other life sciences disciplines.
As part of their training, research associates recruited for the new UA program will develop substantive teaching skills and teach for a year at Pima Community College.
UA program administrators have begun reviewing applications for five research associate positions to be filled this fall. Research associates will be selected on the basis of research excellence and academically based in the Center for Insect Science. The starting salary is $29,000, with an annual $5,000 research allowance and $1,000 travel allowance. The young scientists each will have exclusive use of a laptop computer. Applicants must have a doctoral degree and be citizens or permanent residents of the United States.
PERT scientists will be trained to develop teaching methods, design laboratory exercises that use insects in teaching science, develop their own new laboratories, give classroom lectures and, eventually, take charge of an entire course at Pima Community College.
In addition, the program will bring new perspectives to Pima Community College students, Markow said. The arrangement will give Pima instructors release time to take classes or conduct research at the UA.
"Participants at both institutions will experience tremendous gains," she said.
The program is modeled on an idea conceived by Clifton P. Poodry, director of the Minority Office for Research Excellence within the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
"Poodry wanted to assist researchers through the critical post-doc period, before they apply for tenure. Most of the time, young scientists are focused on doing pure research. They might have been teaching assistants in grad school, but that's as much teaching as they've done.
"When they get to a tenure-track position, they immediately have to develop new lectures, teach classes, serve on committees and still win grants and maintain active research programs," Markow said.
"For most people, these first five or six years at the university are hell. And we lose a lot of really good people through the tenure process because they weren't experienced, weren't good at juggling everything they're required to do."
"Poodry - himself a Native American - is acutely aware of the need for people with cutting-edge research to teach at minority-serving institutions," Markow added. "Often in minority serving institutions, the teaching faculty have been away from cutting-edge research for some time. Furthermore, resources at these institutions are limited, further restricting their ability to expose students to the most recent and exciting scientific developments."
"This will have to change in order to excite minorities about science," she said. "Our PERT program will be an important step in that change here in Arizona."