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Group photo of event attendees and organizersUNC Lineberger’s Cancer Research Training and Education Coordination (CRTEC) program sponsored the inaugural Underrepresented Postdoctoral Fellow Recruitment Day on Oct. 12. The event aimed to raise awareness about the cancer center’s training programs among individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in biomedical research, as well as those with disabilities or who are from disadvantaged or low socioeconomic status backgrounds and to encourage them to consider training at UNC.

Five graduate students, selected from a national pool of applicants, met with faculty and administrative leaders from with UNC Lineberger, UNC School of Medicine, UNC School of Nursing and UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health to learn about postdoctoral studies and the culture and environment at UNC and UNC Lineberger.

Samuel Cykert, MD, co-leader of the Lineberger Equity Council, spoke during lunch about the cancer center’s actions to provide an environment that is welcoming, inclusive and equitable. Academic leaders from North Carolina Central University attended the luncheon. After one-on-one meetings with faculty members based on their research interests, they had dinner with Wendy Brewster, MD, PhD, associate director for diversity, equity and inclusion at UNC Lineberger, Checo Rorie, PhD, chair of the Department of Biology at North Carolina A&T State University, Deborah Stroman, PhD, Lineberger Equity Council consultant, and current postdoctoral fellows and faculty who are Black, Indigenous and people of color.

The students also attended UNC Lineberger’s 47th annual Postdoc-Faculty Research Day on Oct. 13, where they presented their research in the oral presentation and poster sessions.

The recruitment day was the vision of CRTEC program’s leadership, Ashley Leak Bryant, PhD, RN, OCN, FAAN, Bernard E. (Buddy) Weissman, PhD, and Jen Jen Yeh, MD, and was coordinated by Julie Trollinger and Barbara Austin, MEd.

Leak Bryant, associate professor of nursing and assistant director of CRTEC, said CRTEC sponsored this postdoc recruitment day to increase awareness of postdoc opportunities specifically for Black, Indigenous and people of color interested in training at UNC. Potential trainees were able to engage in discussion with faculty, UNC Lineberger leadership, and predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees.

A researcher talks with event attendees in a small group discussion.

“The postdoc recruitment day is necessary because it provides a more comprehensive discussion about UNC Lineberger’s commitment to research focused on health equity and health disparities in historically marginalized populations. It allowed for intimate, reflective and meaningful dialogue,” Leak Bryant said.

“Based upon the feedback from the visiting students, they left with a very positive view of UNC Lineberger,” said Weissman, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and co-associate director of CRTEC. “As one student told us, his visit had exceeded the very high expectations he had before arriving here. Two students have already identified mentors for their postdoctoral studies and intend to join UNC Lineberger for their studies, while a third remains highly enthused about coming here. The other two students will not graduate until 2024 but also left with excitement for postdoctoral training at the cancer center.”

Weissman said the success of the event provides another avenue to expand diversity within the cancer center’s trainee community. He said there were several lessons from this initial outreach event, including the value of having a small group of students for in-depth discussions with cancer center and UNC School of Medicine leadership, the benefits of timing the visit to coincide with the UNC Lineberger Postdoc-Faculty Research Day and the camaraderie produced by pairing the visiting students with cancer center postdoc mentors.