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Advancing Interest in Research Among BIPOC Students 
Collaborative Training Program

April 17, 2023

Brianna Clifford and Janel NelsonBrianna Clifford, a junior psychology major at Lincoln University, plans to attend graduate school to focus on counseling psychology. That was definitely the plan before she participated in a training program to increase the number of researchers who are Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC).

“I might have to change that a little bit,” Clifford said of her future. “This was my first experience in research, and I find it really interesting.”

That’s exactly the goal of the nine-month program, developed and implemented by Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and Public Health Management Corporation in collaboration with Lincoln University. Through the program, Lincoln undergraduates receive training in research methodology, psychology, and addiction science through seminars, experiential activities, and a mentored research project culminating in a poster and oral presentation.

Preliminary outcomes from the first three program cohorts (a total of six students) were recently published in the academic journal BMC Medical Education to raise awareness about the institutional research collaboration, as “the necessity of welcoming and preparing BIPOC students into healthcare, health policy, clinical research, and behavioral science fields remains an urgent priority,” according to the article.

The collaboration was co-led by Michelle R. Lent, PhD, an associate professor in the School of Professional and Applied Psychology at PCOM, and Diana Harris, PhD, MBe, a health equity consultant at Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC). In 2019, the researchers, led by Karen Dugosh, PhD, senior research scientist and director of the Research and Evaluation Group at PHMC, received funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Health to conduct a randomized clinical trial examining how to best provide psychosocial services to individuals taking buprenorphine for opioid use disorder. In addition to funding the clinical trial, the project assembled the multidisciplinary team of investigators across the partner institutions and established the student-training program.

Among the primary project aims is leveraging the research activities within the trial to help train select undergraduate psychology students from Lincoln who are interested in exploring a career in addictions or psychology research. Two students rotate through the program each academic year, with primary objectives to enhance interest in and understanding of clinical research; expand students’ knowledge of substance use disorders and treatment; recognize historical, cultural and ethical considerations and their impact on marginalized communities in clinical research and treatment; and advance student development for graduate-level study or “practitioner-scholar” career fields.

Clifford and Janel Nelson, also a junior psychology major at Lincoln, are the program’s fourth and final cohort. They participate in weekly seminars on foundational research and ethical concepts, as well as shadowing opportunities such as watching informed consent processes and meeting with study interventionists, including behavioral health counselors and peer-support specialists. Their independent projects ask and answer their own research questions using data from the clinical trial. Participation involves a commitment of up to 20 hours per month and includes annual stipends for each student. According to the research team’s journal article, the shadowing experiences most frequently ranked as students’ favorite element of the program.

Nelson said she hadn’t conducted research before but was eager to apply what she’s learning in textbooks and in class—like tests and equations—to research with people. “It’s my first time stepping out of the textbook and applying it to real life,” she said. Likewise, Clifford said it is “fundamental to apply what you’re learning in class to real life.”

“It’s really that aha moment,” Clifford said. “It’s all about making connections. You can go to school and get a degree, but if you don’t know anyone, it can be harder to figure out where you want to go or what you want to do. … I’ll have these connections even after the program is over. Everyone needs a support system and people who can point them in the right direction.”

To Lent, the program is an opportunity to intervene and address a broken pipeline for research careers. “I hope that these are relationships that will continue throughout their lives, whether in research, graduate study, or other careers,” she said.

To Harris, the students’ experiences and feedback are reflected “in a way we intended to provide the training and mentorship and grow the collaboration in the first place.”

“From a pedagogical perspective, our research team’s skillsets are complementary, and these inclusive experiences that are multidisciplinary help connect the theoretical to the real world,” Harris said.

What the students gave back to the research team, Harris added, “is rigor, practice, receptiveness and curiosity.”

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  • About Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine

    Founded in 1899, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) has trained thousands of highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists who practice a “whole person” approach to care—treating people, not just symptoms. PCOM operates three campuses (PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia) and offers doctoral degrees in clinical psychology, educational psychology, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy and school psychology, and graduate degrees in applied behavior analysis, applied positive psychology, biomedical sciences, forensic medicine, medical laboratory science, mental health counseling, non profit leadership and population health management, organizational development and leadership, physician assistant studies, school psychology, and public health management and administration. PCOM students learn the importance of health promotion, research, education and service to the community. Through its community-based Healthcare Centers, PCOM provides care to medically underserved populations. For more information, visit or call 215-871-6100.

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