Providing social support for underrepresented racial and ethnic minority phd students in the biomedical sciences: a career coaching model

Simon N. Williams, Bhoomi K. Thakore, Richard McGee*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Improvement in the proportion of underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities (URMs) in academic positions has been unsatisfactory. Although this is a complex problem, one key issue is that graduate students often rely on research mentors for career-related support, the effectiveness of which can be variable. We present results from a novel academic career “coaching” intervention, one aim of which was to provide supplementary social support for PhD students, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds. Coaching was de­livered both within small groups and on an individual basis, with a diverse group of coach­es and students coming from many universities. Coaches were provided with additional diversity training. Ninety-six semistructured interviews with 33 URM students over 3 years were analyzed using a qualitative framework approach. For most of the URM PhD students, coaching provided social support in the form of emotional, informational, and appraisal support. Coaching groups provided a noncompetitive environment and “community of support” within which students were able to learn from one another’s experiences and discuss negative and stressful experiences related to their graduate school, lab, or career plans. This coached peer group model is capable of providing the social support that many URM students do not find at their home universities.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberar64
JournalCBE Life Sciences Education
Issue number4
Early online date1 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

© 2017 S. N. Williams et al. CBE—Life Sciences Education © 2017 The American Society for Cell Biology. This article is distributed by The American Society for Cell Biology under license from the author(s). It is available to the public under an Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License (

Funding: NIH Director’s Pathfinder Award to Promote Diversity in the Scientific Workforce, “Translating Theory to Practice to Diversify the Biomedical Research Community,” DP4 GM096807 (ARRA), and the following NIH grants: R01 GM085385, R01 GM085385-02S1 (ARRA), R01 NR011987, R01 GM107701, and 1R35GM118184-01.


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