As I drove into downtown St. Louis, Missouri, I found my heart leaping with glee as I saw droves of young round, brown faces with large plastic cylinder tubes and black conference bags strapped over their shoulders, bussing across Washington Avenue approaching America’s Center, the city’s convention and meeting space. It was a tale-tell sign that there was a science conference afoot! Sure enough, I took a closer look at those black bags saw my confirmation.

The ABRCMS Conference bag.

I got giddy inside, seeing these young adults, all convening in one place to discuss a topic so very near to my heart – SCIENCE! These young people were among the nearly 3000 participants attending the largest Minority science conference in the United States – The Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS). And I as l perused the poster sessions and talked with these students, it became clear to me that they were indeed the best and brightest and completely embodied the conference theme “Increasing Diversity to Improve Global Scientific Competitiveness”.

The conference is primarily aimed at attracting undergraduate students to the STEM pipeline, therefore there is a very strong emphasis on professional development and preparation for graduate school study and culture. Keynote speakers for this meeting included Dr. Cora Marrett, Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation, and Dr. Juilanne Malveaux, President of Bennett College (in Greensboro, NC. However, my absolute favorite speaker was The Incomparable and Most Highly Revered Dr. Howard G. Adams. He spoke very honestly and vibrantly about the realities of pursuing post-graduate education in STEM and the importance of mentoring in achieving goals. Basically, I love him! HG Adams is ALL AWESOMENESS! I felt like we were having church. I jumped up more than once, offering an amen wave, as he laid down the rules of success to these amazing young people.

Do away with a nine to five mentality. Act on advice. Don’t make excuses. Come prepared to work hard and long. Professors are busy, so don’t waste their time with poor work and coming to meetings unprepared.

Getting a PhD or MD is hard work, and mentoring is an essential part to making that hard work pay off. Individuals with mentors progress faster than folks without mentors. However, students must earn a mentor’s effort to advocate for and sponsor him or her. Mentoring is an enabling relationship to help good people to become better.

One of the points I repeatedly make when it comes to attracting and retaining students from under-represented groups to STEM is making the pathway very clear to students. ABRCMS does an amazing job at this. The exhibit hall includes nearly 300 institutions – universities, private and government agencies all looking for prime talent for their summer research programs, post-bacculaurete programs, graduate and medical schools, faculty, and teaching and research staff. I was inspired by the number and breadth of opportunities available to these students. I think back on my college days and I cannot recall such programs, but now the chances for college, even high school students to not only do, but present ground-breaking research seems limitless.

If you are a professor interested in keen, driven, and well-prepared science talent, then ABRCMS should be on your recruiting list. I think science departments should take a page from athletic departments and send scouts out to find new talent and bring them to their labs. Especially if your institution is serious about diversity, then attending ABRCMS is a must.

2011 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students

I feel like I’m among a whole galaxy of superstars, just waiting to be discovered. Now in its eleventh year, ABRCMS is now beginning to track those earliest participants – to see where they attended graduate school and how many have achieved doctorates to dates. I have no doubt that report will highlight how successful this program, which fuses experiential science education, professional development, mentoring, and affirming support, is and will offer many opportunities for othr programs to mimic their success.

What are your ABRCMS experiences? Are you an ABRCMS scholar, mentor, or does your institution host an ABRCMS program or event? If this is your first time hearing of ABRCMS, then would you or your institution be interested in working with ABRCMS to foster more diverse science talent? Leave me your thoughts and comments below.