Educational Outcomes of the NIGMS Maximizing Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (MARC U-STAR) Program


UPDATE: The MARC U-Star report includes an addendum on the demographics of the program’s alumni.

We recently analyzed the educational outcomes of trainees who participated in the NIGMS MARC U-STAR program. The goal of the program is to enhance the pool of students from underrepresented groups earning baccalaureate and Ph.D. degrees in biomedical research fields. MARC U-STAR is part of a larger effort at NIGMS to support the development of a highly skilled, creative and diverse biomedical research workforce [PDF]. This study was designed to identify the educational outcomes of over 9,000 MARC U-STAR alumni appointed at 114 institutions between 1986 and 2013.

MARC U-STAR grants are awarded to undergraduate institutions. Each grant supports a continuous 2-year program for the junior and senior (or final two) years of college that provides the trainees with academic enhancement, research training and professional skills development. In addition to these on-campus enhancements, MARC U-STAR institutions are expected to provide each trainee with a summer research experience at a research-intensive institution. The recently released Funding Opportunity Announcement describes the expectation that a majority of MARC U-STAR alumni nationwide will matriculate in a research doctorate program.

Highlights of the analysis include:

  • Many contemporary MARC U-STAR programs are at institutions that enroll substantial numbers of individuals from underrepresented groups. Among MARC U-STAR institutions, about one-third were described as Historically Black Colleges and Universities/Primarily Black Institutions, and one-third were described as Hispanic-Serving Institutions. In terms of research strength, programs were split almost equally into research universities, master’s universities and baccalaureate institutions.
  • Among MARC U-STAR alumni appointed between 2001 and 2005, 70 percent are enrolled in or have completed a graduate degree. Twenty-nine percent earned a Ph.D. or M.D.-Ph.D., 12 percent earned an M.D. or D.O., 5 percent earned a doctorate in another professional/clinical field, and 14 percent earned a master’s degree. This percentage of students obtaining a Ph.D. is about twice that for undergraduates supported by the NIGMS Diversity Supplement Program [PDF].
  • While reporting varied, about 59 percent of recent MARC U-STAR alumni overall matriculated in Ph.D. programs, and of those, two-thirds completed the degree. Reports from the Council of Graduate Schools indicate that the 10-year cumulative Ph.D. completion rates in the life sciences have been between 50 and 58 percent for students from underrepresented groups and in the range of 59 to 69 percent for all students. MARC U-STAR trainees who earned doctoral degrees did so at research-intensive universities and medical schools, as do students nationwide.

For more details about the analysis, read the report.

Based on the current analysis, the MARC U-STAR program appears to be achieving its intended goals to enhance the pool of underrepresented students earning baccalaureate and Ph.D. degrees in biomedical research fields.

4 Replies to “Educational Outcomes of the NIGMS Maximizing Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (MARC U-STAR) Program”

  1. I am a bit confused by the statement in bullet 3 above: “While reporting varied, about 59 percent of recent MARC U-STAR alumni overall matriculated in Ph.D. programs, and of those, two-thirds completed the degree.” In the table on page 13 of the paper “Educational Outcomes of Recent MARC U-STAR Alumni 29.2% enter doctorates. Where did the 59% number come from? Also in Bullet 2 on p.7, the 29% number is also referenced.

    Thank you for this very informative study,

    Frank Bayliss

    1. Under “Educational Outcomes,” the 29 percent refers to the NIH staff-verified percentage of the entire cohort of MARC U-STAR alumni from 2001-2005 who earned Ph.D. or M.D.-Ph.D. degrees. Of these 1,810 students, 504 earned Ph.D.s, 25 earned M.D.-Ph.D.s and 101 individuals are still in graduate school. This cohort earned other advanced degrees. Adding in the master’s and other doctorate degrees earned brings the projected non-M.D. biomedical advanced degrees for the entire 2001-2005 cohort to 55 percent.

      The 59 percent value in bullet three is the grantee, self-reported matriculation data extracted from progress reports. For the reasons articulated below, the self-reported matriculation data cannot be compared to the advanced degree completion data of the entire cohort discussed in the paragraph above. Ph.D. matriculation by MARC U-STAR alumni proved challenging to quantify since the degree of detail and completeness of the grantee reports varied considerably. To estimate Ph.D. matriculation by MARC U-STAR alumni, successful competing grant applications collected in 2013 were analyzed for reported outcomes of alumni appointed between 2001-2005. New programs or programs without a successful renewal in that period were not included. Because this approach focused on continuing programs, these data may be biased toward strong outcomes. The aggregate matriculation data represent 29 MARC U-STAR programs reporting on graduates from the 2001-2005 cohort. Grantee-reported Ph.D. matriculation rates varied from 23-95 percent of initial MARC U-STAR trainees. Together, these programs reported that 874 trainees completed MARC U-STAR and earned baccalaureates, and 512 enrolled in a non-M.D. advanced degree program, or a 59 percent self-reported non-M.D. doctoral degree matriculation rate average. Although the focus of the analysis was initially on Ph.D. and M.D.-Ph.D. program enrollment, a variety of factors suggest that the value is likely to reflect matriculation into any non-medical, advanced degree programs, including students who start out on a Ph.D. path but end up with a master’s. In light of the variable reporting and other matriculation rate data quality issues, we cannot yet make strong conclusions about this parameter. It will be important to obtain more detailed trainee information to improve our understanding of the program. The introduction of several standard NRSA tables is expected to improve the quality of these data.

Submit a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.