On July 13, 2017, the ASCB Minorities Affairs Committee (MAC) kicked off its annual Faculty Research and Education Development (FRED) Program in Seattle, WA. The FRED Program is a year-long program to promote grant funding success of junior faculty at institutions with a strong commitment to recruiting students from backgrounds underrepresented in STEM. Attendees at the meeting consisted of junior faculty, the majority of whom were at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs); their mentors; members of the MAC (including the PIs for the FRED Program, Renato Aguilera and Latanya Hammonds-Odie); and FRED alumni like me.

Cecilia Zurita-Lopez

I came to this workshop as an invited speaker and was asked to share my experience as a pre-tenure junior faculty member at a PUI and minority-serving institution. I was on a panel with fellow FRED alumni Jonathan A. Kelber, from California State University, Northridge, and Nathan Bowen, from Clark Atlanta University. Together we shared our “best practices” on everything from hiring new students to work in the lab, lab budgeting, establishing a research plan, publishing, and grant writing. As I shared my experience with my colleagues, senior faculty also chimed in, volunteering valuable information useful for all in the room. Together, the entire group contributed and created a learning experience.

From my vantage point, all of the sessions were like this—engaging and supportive. Everyone volunteered advice and resources. This was especially true when the mentees presented their proposal ideas by way of short PowerPoint presentations. We heard proposals on areas of cancer research such as DNA double-strand break repair and pancreatic cancer, HIV/immunology, and science education. Each of the presenters was enthusiastic, poised, and extremely knowledgeable. They received valuable feedback on how to further focus their specific aims and were then given an opportunity to present a revised version. Here is where, through insightful questions and comments, the mentors all helped us think like grant reviewers!

The mentors, some of whom have over 30 years of experience, gave valuable comments and suggestions for all mentees, were supportive and were determined to help the mentees think like a study section or panel. The most impressive part of the FRED workshop was the fact that there was probably over 150 years of combined grant-writing experience in the room. Many of the mentors were former or active National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation (NSF) grant reviewers. Some had also served as directors. There is no doubt that this is the most valuable part of the FRED workshop—getting experts to give you new insights on your grant application. They not only offered advice on grants but also briefly presented their own research.

The FRED workshop also included topics such as the tenure process and career advancement. We also heard a presentation from a program director from the NSF Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Directorate about the importance of the broader impacts portion of NSF grant applications.

Since this was an intimate setting and a small group, everyone was candid about their own struggles as junior faculty, and many talked openly about issues concerning race, gender, and ethnicity. The FRED workshop was a valuable experience.

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Cecilia Zurita-Lopez