International graduate and postdoctoral trainees in biomedicine are struggling with career confidence, study says

March 25, 2024
Biomedical programs in the United States attract a significant number of graduate and postdoctoral trainees from around the world.

Using national data from 6,000 respondents across 17 institutions, a new study in PLOS ONE found that citizenship status and gender were associated with different levels of career self-efficacy. Most notably, international and female trainees reported lower career-self-efficacy across the national sample.

Rebekah L. Layton, PhD, director of professional development programs in the Office of Graduate Education (OGE) at the UNC School of Medicine, and Ana T. Nogueira, PhD, an education research scholar and postdoctoral research fellow in the UNC Department of Pharmacology, co-led the study on this multi-institutional team.

Deepshikha Chatterjee, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Baruch College and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, and Sunita Chaudhary, PhD, associate professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and director of research education at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, co-led the study as well.

Systemic barriers, such as complex visa regulations, significantly limit the opportunities of non-citizen trainees. Visas can also restrict where non-citizen trainees intern or work off-campus. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, the United States government issued a policy that international students must leave the country if all their classes had been moved online.

In addition to assessing how trainees’ race and citizenship relate to career-efficacy, the current study also examined how these factors relate to their pursuit of research-intensive principal investigator-focused careers. Researchers found that trainees that are on the principal investigator career pathway had higher self-efficacy compared to trainees displaying diverse career interests.

Additionally, trainees who reported higher career self-efficacy felt more supported by their graduate program and/or department.

UNC School of Medicine release on Newswise