Mission of the FUTURE-MINDS-QB Training Program

Jun S. Song, Program Director, UIUC
Stephen A. Boppart, Principal Investigator, UIUC
Lee E. Limbird, Principal Investigator, Fisk University
Lei Qian, Principal Investigator, Fisk University


Racial and ethnic minorities and women have been historically under-represented in quantitative sciences. Even within biology, diversity in quantitative sub-branches is much lower than that in experimental counterparts, with the historical data clearly showing that the more mathematical and computational skills a discipline requires, the fewer the enrollment of these under-represented students. Our training program seeks to ameliorate these especially pronounced disparities within the biomedical sciences by establishing a streamlined bridge between Master’s programs at Fisk University and doctoral programs at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Our bridge program designed to nurture a diverse future generation of active minds specifically in the areas of biomedical data science and quantitative biology is named FUTURE-MINDS-QB (Fisk-UIUC Training of Under-represented Minds in Data Science and Quantitative Biology), where quantitative biology encompasses bioinformatics, computational biology, genomic biology, and biophysics.

Our training program will diversify the pool of Ph.D. researchers to include those currently under-represented in biomedical discovery and leadership by accomplishing the following objectives:

  1. Establish pathways for transitioning Fisk M.S. students to UIUC Ph.D. programs by providing ample opportunities to strengthen their background in relevant fields and acquire core computational and mathematical skill sets.
  2. Ensure the trainees’ timely Ph.D. attainment after Master’s degree;
  3. Accelerate the admission to and completion of Ph.D. programs by creating a new 4+1 M.S. track at Fisk, rigorously preparing undergraduates for a shortened 1-year M.S degree at Fisk and successful completion of a Ph.D. degree at UIUC.
  4. Create an inclusive and diverse inter-institutional environment by training both students and faculty in equity-focused teaching, mentoring, peer interactions, rigor, reproducibility, and the responsible conduct of research.
  5. Devise effective career development plans and opportunities.
  6. Implement a longitudinal survey of the development of individual trainees, and disseminate an open network of current trainees, graduates, and faculty.
  7. Make FUTURE-MINDS-QB a dynamic entity that continually improves by integrating feedback from trainees, faculty, oversight committees, and independent evaluators.

As outcomes of our training, we expect that our seamless infrastructure and appealing inclusive environment will help increase the recruitment of under-represented students to quantitative biomedical sciences and that the reinforced academic and psychological preparation will increase the completion of doctoral degrees by under-represented students and ultimately improve their long-term retention in biomedical sciences. FUTURE-MINDS-QB thus seeks to establish an exemplary foundation for training under-represented graduate students and have a long-lasting scientific and socioeconomic impact stemming from their persistence and leadership in their careers.