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A Closer Look at the BIGGER Program

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BIGGER is a 6-month immersive research experience for students who have graduated from a degree program and are taking a gap year before applying to graduate or professional school. The program selects a small, diverse group of 6 participants and pairs them with faculty mentors who guide them in completing a clinical research project. BIGGER employs an expansive approach to recruitment, encouraging applications from any community underrepresented in STEM and medicine. The program also partners with minority-serving organizations throughout North Carolina to attract diverse talent.

BIGGER is designed to show trainees what it’s like to conduct research at a rigorous institution like Duke. Participants enjoy extensive access to Duke’s campus and resources, including a network of practitioners outside of the program who can supplement career development. BIGGER also partners with STAR, another pathway program at Duke, to share access to STAR’s didactic sessions on research ethics and the impact of health disparities. Trainees get exposure to grant terminology that they will continue to encounter as research students and employees, including an understanding of K and T awards. This demystifies the infrastructure of research grants and inspires confidence in navigating those systems. 

Perhaps most importantly, BIGGER teaches participants what it means to be a good mentee. Through initial sessions with Co-PIs Kevin Thomas and Vivian Chu, participants are prompted to ask themselves what it will take to impress their mentors over the next six months. They are primed to use the program to not only strengthen their skillsets but set themselves up for a lasting and lucrative relationship with their mentors. They are taught the importance of being responsive, punctual, diligent, and proactive. They also develop a sense of how they themselves can be good mentors to other developing professionals. 

BIGGER’s history is filled with stories of participants who have taken full advantage of what the program provides. For many, the journey is not linear. One student took an additional gap year after the program to live in South America and learn the language to better serve patients. Upon return, he applied to medical schools and was accepted at the Medical School at Tulane, feeling more prepared to be a stronger physician. Another trainee was uncertain about the direction of her BIGGER research project but experienced an epiphany when she decided to focus on what it takes to create an effective clinical research presentation. She’s now at Howard University, pursuing a Ph.D. 

Though they may not enter the program with total clarity about their future directions, BIGGER participants are given the opportunity to “be in the arena” and gain invaluable exposure to what a research environment requires. Graduates of the program leave with the tools and confidence to navigate their next steps and cultivate mentor relationships that will support them along the way.

BIGGER is now accepting applications for the 2022 program cycle. Click here to learn more. 

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