Initiative to Maximize Student Diversity (IMSD) at HSPH

IMSD Program Overview

The Harvard School of Public Health is home to one of the prestigious National Institutes of Health’s Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (IMSD) Graduate Study Awards. The IMSD program supports outstanding underrepresented students who are admitted to doctoral programs at HSPH. The IMSD Program is administered through the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health with the broad aim of improving the academic and research competitiveness of underrepresented minority students at the undergraduate, graduate, or postdoctoral levels and facilitating their progress toward careers in biomedical research.
The IMSD program at the Harvard School of Public Health is administered by and housed in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences (formerly known as: Society, Human Development and Health), under the guidance of two program directors: Prof. Ichiro Kawachi and Associate Prof. Stephen Gilman. The program can support 10 doctoral students from the departments of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Epidemiology, Environmental Health, Global Health and Population, and Nutrition.   Our IMSD program allows us to provide students with a supportive learning and mentoring environment at HSPH.  Although the IMSD is organized around the theme of minority health, it has the flexibility to support doctoral research in a wide variety of areas of application.
Many students initially funded by IMSD have successfully applied for their own individual grants, including Howard Hughes Predoctoral Fellowships and NIH F31 grants. These students continue to participate in some of the activities organized under the IMSD program and are a great source of support to the current IMSD students.


The IMSD grant has a scientific focus on health disparities and community-based research. The grant ordinarily provides tuition and fees for health insurance, limited travel funds, and a monthly salary for up to two years of support. The NIH requires that we administer the IMSD grant differently than an NIH training grant. The primary difference is that living costs provided by the IMSD grant are not considered to be a stipend, but rather a salary paid in return for involvement in research-related activities (see further discussion below). A number of students originally funded on the IMSD have successfully competed for an F31 grant from NIH. An F31 grant is a prestigious individual training grant that supplies a monthly stipend. F31 grants provide a higher allowance than institutional training grants for training-related expenses.


There is no application form for the IMSD training grant. Funding available through the IMSD program is decided through the individual participating departments.


Students supported by the IMSD grant must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents.  Students on the IMSD grant are expected to commit full-time to their educational training on a twelve-month basis. The NIH defines normal training activities as a minimum of 40 hours per week. IMSD students must be registered as full-time students.
All IMSD students are required to attend our Student Diversity Forum which is  focused on issues related to health disparities and community-based research and is organized around weekly seminars with topics in research, professional development and student activities.  In addition, students supported on the grant are expected to develop and submit a yearly research plan and to report regularly on their research activities.  Students may also be encouraged to take specific subject matter courses of direct relevance to their research.
The IMSD program has an external advisory board which meets annually at the end of June. Past and present IMSD trainees who are enrolled in a HSPH degree program are expected to attend this meeting.
Although students are expected to work the full three summer months, as well as during the Winter session period, we recognize the need for flexibility. Students who wish to participate in alternative summer activities may do so with the permission of the IMSD director and their Department Chair, provided the activities are consistent with the overall training mission.
During the first two years of support, IMSD students ordinarily take at least one course per year of support on a topic related to health disparities or community-based research.
Students should be aware that federal regulations limit the maximum period of time a student can remain on predoctoral training grants to five years. Students who have been on other training grants should notify the IMSD Administrator.

Part-Time Employment

IMSD students are permitted to serve as a teaching assistant (TA) during either the fall or spring semester.  Students should refer to their own department for policies on course credit or payment for serving as a teaching assistant.
The NIH has clear guidelines concerning part-time employment of trainees. The Department conforms to these guidelines provided the student obtains written permission for any outside employment from their advisor, the IMSD program director, and the Department Chair. Students with less than a 3.5 GPA will not be allowed to take on outside employment.
Under no circumstances may the conditions of stipend supplementation or the services provided for compensation interfere with, detract from, or prolong the trainee’s approved training program.


For more information on IMSD funding, please contact:

Elizabeth Solomon
Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115

For information on Admissions, please contact:

Harvard School of Public Health Admissions
Vincent James, Director of Admissions
(617) 432-1031

*Please note that all applications for admission to graduate degrees at HSPH are handled centrally though the Office of Admissions.

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