SOT Program Spotlight: Undergraduate Diversity Program

By Frederic Moulin posted 08-06-2020 17:11


Program-Spotlight-Transpernt.pngThis is the inaugural edition of the “SOT Program Spotlight” series, which is aimed at increasing awareness of how SOT programs and activities are focused on addressing and/or supporting the Society’s guiding principles of (1) serving the needs of the scientific discipline and our members to enhance human, animal, and environmental health; (2) life-long learning and intellectual scientific stimulation; (3) diversity of representation in all activities of the Society; and (4) integrity.

For more than three decades, the SOT Undergraduate Diversity Program (UDP) has welcomed over 1,000 undergraduate students to the Annual Meeting to learn about the science of toxicology and career paths, socialize with fellow students, and network with expert toxicologists.

Overseen by the SOT Committee on Diversity Initiatives (CDI), the program spans three days of the SOT Annual Meeting, during which participants attend tailored toxicology lectures, participate in mentoring groups, meet and network with academic program directors and toxicologists from various employment sectors, and immerse into the science of the Annual Meeting. The undergraduates learn from professionals and academic advisors about the role of toxicologists in society, as well as strategies to successfully enter and complete graduate school and what careers in the biomedical sciences are opened by a toxicology degree.

UDP_2019.jpgParticipants are selected for the Undergraduate Diversity Program Student Travel Awards from a national pool of applicants. Eligible students are those underrepresented in the sciences—including those from racial/ethnic groups that are underrepresented, first-generation college students, or those attending institutions receiving low amounts of federal funding for biomedical research. Sophomores and juniors receive preference so that the program can have an impact earlier in the undergraduate career. The recipients are provided with transportation and lodging, meals, and registration for the Annual Meeting. Each institution may nominate up to four students, who work together with their advisors to complete the application materials for the awards. 

The association with Host and Peer Mentors is a highlight of the UDP experience, consistently ranked highly by the student participants. Host Mentors are established toxicologists who provide their expertise on topics such as the benefits of a graduate research degree, employment opportunities in the biomedical sciences, and what life is like for a toxicologist. Peer Mentors—typically toxicology graduate students, but sometimes undergraduate students or postdoctoral scholars, and including previous UDP participants —contribute to the cohesiveness of the mentor groups and facilitate intergenerational communications. Peer Mentors are excellent resources for understanding what graduate school really is like and the many reasons to consider a career in toxicology. All CDI mentors generously volunteer their time to help the undergraduate student participants gain a clear picture of work and education in toxicology. 

Organizing and delivering the UDP involves about 100 SOT members every year, including the Committee members, speakers, mentors, and others involved with the sessions. The program provides leadership and skill development opportunities for graduate students as well as more senior SOT members, including members of SOT Special Interest Groups. Several UDP alums are currently serving on SOT Committees.

SOT continues to encourage involvement of UDP participants in SOT. The Perry J. Gehring Diversity Student Travel Award provides travel support for a student presenting an abstract at the SOT meeting within four years of participating in the program.

The UDP will take place during the SOT 60th Annual Meeting and ToxExpo, March 14–18, 2021, in Orlando, Florida. Undergraduate educators are encouraged to share the Undergraduate Diversity Program Student Travel Award opportunity with their deserving students, and those interested in serving as Host or Peer Mentors should be on the lookout for more information on volunteering as the Annual Meeting approaches. 

To read testimonials of how the UDP has influenced SOT members in their careers, see the “Eye on CDI” web page of the SOT website. The “Undergraduate Students” web page also offers more information on the UDP as well as other opportunities SOT offers for undergraduates.