Cierra Abellera, first-year social psychology PhD student, is one of 40 fellows to participate in the Yale Ciencia Academy (YCA) for Career Development. This week, these young science leaders will kick off their year as fellows at an in-person meeting held to coincide with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Seattle, WA (February 13-17, 2020).
Abellera earned her Bachelor of Science degree in psychology at Boise State University where she was a McNair Scholar and conducted research on stress and resilience among university students that identified as refugees. Working with faculty member Evelyn Mercado, her current research focuses on resilience factors among recently resettled refugee populations and how intercultural relations influence this resilience.
The YCA provides doctoral students from underrepresented backgrounds in the life and health sciences with opportunities for mentoring, networking, skills development, and contributing to their communities through science outreach. The program is led by the non-profit organization Ciencia Puerto Rico (CienciaPR) in collaboration with Yale University. Fellows must apply to be selected to participate in the year-long, mostly virtual program which leverages the CienciaPR community—one of the largest networks of Hispanic/Latinx scientists in the world.
During the in-person meeting, fellows participate in science communication, networking, science outreach workshops, and use improv exercises to build trust and a sense of community. Fellows also participate in the AAAS Meeting, which offers additional professional development and career exploration opportunities. The rest of the year, fellows gather for online conversations with role models and mentors who share advice on academic and professional milestones and expose trainees to a range of careers, as well as for peer-led and facilitator-guided discussions on overcoming common concerns and challenges related to graduate school and research careers. A series of online workshops also helps them to develop actionable career plans, establish effective mentoring relationship (both as mentees and mentors), and incorporate inclusive science teaching practices. As part of the modeling of proactive career advancement practices, fellows receive individual feedback on their career plans from program staff twice a year.
One of the most innovative aspects of the program is that YCA fellows are guided to design and implement a science outreach project that helps them put into practice transferable skills (e.g. science communication, leadership, etc.) and allows them to connect with a community they care about.
“The Yale Ciencia Academy complements traditional graduate training with access to a diverse network of peers, role models and advisors”, said Dr. Giovanna Guerrero-Medina, Principal Investigator and Director of the YCA. “The goal is to help students gain clarity in their academic and professional goals and become the scientists they want to be. We are excited about the talent and promise among this new class of YCA fellows.”
Started in 2016 and funded by the National Institutes of Health, the YCA has thus far trained four cohorts for a total of 154 young scientists from more than 70 institutions across the United States and Puerto Rico. The program has been shown to help students define the career they want to pursue, improve their professional development and mentoring practices, and increase their confidence in their ability to navigate graduate school and career transitions successfully. The peer community of support and science outreach project are particularly highly-rated elements among past YCA participants with more than 135 outreach projects completed over the past four years, reaching more than 25,000 people.
About Ciencia Puerto Rico
CienciaPR is a nonprofit organization that connects more than 12,000 Puerto Rican and Hispanic scientists, students, and educators worldwide through an innovative online platform. By leveraging its community’s collective knowledge, the organization has created thousands of resources to improve science education and help forge the next generation of Hispanic/Latinx STEM leaders.