Biomedical training program focuses on whole-person success

April 15, 2024

Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (IMSD) represents essential support for a growing number of PhD students.

Graduat student Angelica Escoto stands at open window

Angelica Escoto is a PhD candidate in molecular & cellular biology. Photo credit: Leslie Hawthorne Klingler

—Tucson, AZ—

The Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (IMSD) program is more than a funding source for a small cohort; it is helping a growing number of underrepresented Ph.D. students obtain their degrees in a wide range of critical biomedical fields.

Each year since 2001, the National Institute of Health (NIH) IMSD program at UArizona has provided a cohort of underrepresented PhD biomedical students with first-year funding, a tuition waiver and health insurance. The program also welcomes a larger group of students to participate. IMSD director Frans Tax, associate dean of student affairs and professor of molecular and cellular biology, says the broader group is critical to fulfilling NIH criteria. “NIH is asking that we help build an infrastructure of support for more students. These IMSD scholars don’t get the funding, but they get the coursework, connections, and, most importantly, the peers.” IMSD students participate in a colloquium course on graduate school survival skills, experience 3-4 laboratory rotations, are encouraged to attend a national scientific conference and are offered multiple social events and mentorship opportunities.





IMSD director Frans Tax has dedicated much of his career to helping underrepresented students achieve success in graduate education. Photo credit: Leslie Hawthorne Klingler


Ph.D. student Angelica Escoto was funded by the Arizona Biological and Biomedical Sciences (ABBS) umbrella program in her first year. Still, she says IMSD was the building block she needed to succeed in graduate school. “IMSD is not just a first-year thing. I’m in my sixth year, and this training grant is still helping me.”

Escoto emphasizes the value of the diverse community IMSD creates: “Being part of a cohort made us feel safe and welcomed. That sense of belonging helped us get on our feet with the toolkit we’d need moving forward.” She appreciates how her cohort's interdisciplinarity got people out of their bubbles to learn about scholarship more broadly, "and it made for fascinating conversation!”

When her lab lost funding before her second-to-last semester, Escoto knew she could reach out to IMSD despite finishing her traineeship years earlier. Tax told Escoto that IMSD’s goal is for all of their scholars to leave UArizona with degrees in hand and offered to fill the funding gap. This safety net made it possible for Escoto to continue her dissertation work on potential treatments for an aggressive form of breast cancer.

Escoto wants to pass on the benefits of mentoring. “The whole graduate school experience is not a very obvious process, especially for people like me who are the first in our families to try to figure it out.” As she completes her dissertation, she is glad IMSD continues to help her build her resume by recruiting her for outreach and mentoring activities. While the road ahead is “a bit intimidating,” she says she is well prepared to set out and see where it leads.

Subscribe to the UArizona Impact in Action newsletter to receive featured stories and event info to connect you with UArizona's research, innovation, entrepreneurial ventures, and societal impacts.

Subscribe now