Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce program?
- What types of questions/hypotheses should be addressed within this program?
- What initiatives make up the Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce program?
- Where does NIH expect transformation from this program to occur?
- Why is the NIH making this investment?
- Why is this program being funded through the NIH Common Fund?
- Will funding for this program end in 5 years?
- What is Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD)?
- What is the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN)?
- What is the Coordination and Evaluation Center (CEC)?
The Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce program supports transformative and innovative approaches to strengthening institutions and faculty dedicated to the engagement, training, and retention of diverse biomedical scientists. The program includes three integrated initiatives which will to allow institutions to develop and pilot novel approaches to biomedical research training and mentoring. The long-term goal of the program is to catalyze a systemic change in the biomedical research culture to have a broad impact on scientists from backgrounds nationally underrepresented in the biomedical, behavioral, social, and clinical research workforce (referred to as the “biomedical” research workforce).
The Diversity Program is an opportunity to increase the understanding of the needs, attitudes, motivations, and career trajectories of students from diverse backgrounds; to test ways to more effectively steer young scientists toward research careers and encourage their persistence to become future NIH-supported researchers; and to test hypotheses about practices most likely to lead to successful career outcomes. Although receipt of a PhD has often been used as an intermediate marker of success for programs that seek to diversify the biomedical workforce, NIH is interested in developing additional measures that are effective predictors of long term research career success.
Awardee institutions, in close partnership with the NIH, will develop and test hypotheses about how to best prepare individuals from diverse backgrounds for research careers. The program will support innovative and novel approaches and strategies to build upon and extend beyond existing efforts. These initiatives will not support replication or expansion of existing programs at applicant institutions. Promising practices and principles derived from the literature or from pilot programs may be leveraged to inform approaches and/or expansion of existing efforts in novel ways. Rigorous evaluation of these innovative approaches is key and proven approaches will be widely disseminated so that institutions beyond those funded through this program can benefit. Successful models will ideally supplant less effective practices nationwide, leading to a broad and sustained impact on the diversity of the NIH-funded workforce.
Relevant questions addressed within this program include, but are not limited to: What are the hallmarks of a successful biomedical research career at each phase of the training process? What motivates students to enter biomedical research career paths, and what factors contribute to their sustained participation? What factors (e.g., institutional, social, and individual) influence emerging scientists, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds, to enter, exit, or sustain a biomedical research career, and how can these factors be addressed? What must happen during different training stages to ensure that trainees and participants, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds, develop the skills, knowledge, and competencies essential to success in biomedical research careers and careers in the NIH-funded research workforce? How do institutional structures and resources facilitate successful research training and professional development activities? How can approaches be designed so that their impact continues beyond the period of NIH funding?
This program will consist of three highly integrated initiatives, the awardees of which will work together with the NIH as a consortium. Collectively, these initiatives will develop and test innovative approaches to engage, train, and retain trainees from diverse backgrounds. Efficacy will be monitored throughout the grant period, and lessons learned will be extended to other NIH-supported programs and the community as a whole.
The three initiatives are: Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD), National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN), and Coordination and Evaluation Center (CEC). Each of these initiatives is described in more detail below.
4. Where does NIH expect transformation from this program to occur?
The Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce program provides the opportunity for transformation of the biomedical research workforce through institution-wide and eventually nationwide implementation of successful training and mentoring strategies. The nationwide transformation is expected to come as the novel training and mentoring strategies implemented by awardee institutions are evaluated and successful approaches are disseminated for adoption by other institutions.
The NIH mission to “seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and apply that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability” requires the best and brightest minds in the country. However, several segments of the U.S. population are underrepresented in the NIH-funded workforce, despite significant investments in programs intended to support workforce diversity. This relative void in the nation’s biomedical research enterprise has a negative impact on the ability of the NIH to achieve its mission. It is vital to the interests of the NIH to engage the biomedical research community to address this challenge effectively. Innovation, networking, and rigorous assessment of “what works” are key components of this new program and are intended to synergize with ongoing investments, ultimately enabling all of them to have a greater impact.
The Common Fund supports programs that are intended to have a transformative impact on biomedical research conducted across all NIH Institutes and Centers. Common Fund programs encourage highly innovative approaches to broadly relevant challenges, coordination among awardees, and rapid dissemination of results and lessons learned. These programs represent NIH-wide priorities, and program areas are selected with input from all Institute and Center Directors and from extramural scientists. Common Fund support of the Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce program is indicative of the recognition by NIH Leadership that talent from all sectors of the population is necessary to accomplish the NIH mission. This program will synergize with ongoing NIH investments in Diversity programs, building upon them to establish a network of institutions, mentors, faculty, and trainees.
This program is a high priority for NIH as a whole. In addition to Common Fund support, every NIH Institute and Center has committed funds to this program.
The NIH Common Fund has committed to support the Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce program for 10 years with the expectation that this timeframe will be required to develop and assess new approaches to training and mentoring.
The initial awards will have a 5-year project period. Progress of the program will be assessed throughout the 5-year period. At present there are no confirmed plans to release any additional funding opportunity announcements. Awardees will consider sustainability beyond the external funding.
BUILD awards will support novel, transformative, and broad-based approaches to training biomedical research students. Approaches will emphasize research opportunities, along with innovative activities and mentoring, which engage and prepare participants for success in the NIH-funded workforce. The BUILD initiative provides great flexibility for institutions to develop innovative strategies and approaches for biomedical research training. Tangible advances are expected in three key areas: institutional development, faculty development, and student development.
BUILD awards are made to Primary Institutions, which are domestic baccalaureate-granting colleges/universities, receive less than $7.5 million (total costs) of NIH research project grant (RPG) funding per year (averaged over fiscal years 2010-12) and meet additional requirements defined in the Funding Opportunity Announcement. These institutions typically emphasize undergraduate training and may be ideally poised to encourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter research careers. To broaden the potential pool of participating students and maximize opportunities for research training and faculty development, Primary Institutions may also partner with one or more of the following types of institutions:
- Pipeline Partners – Two- or four-year undergraduate institutions with students that will enrich and expand the pool of participants engaged in BUILD activities.
- Research Partners – Research intensive institutions with committed investigators able to serve as effective research mentors. Academic institutions, government institutions, industry, and nonprofit research institutions may all be considered as potential Research Partners.
- Graduate/Medical Partners – Medical or graduate institutions that do not have undergraduate programs but do have research-active faculty and doctoral-level students engaged in research or planning research careers. Graduate/Medical Partners should receive less than $7.5 million per year (total costs) through RPGs. Primary Institutions and Graduate/Medical Partner Institutions will work collaboratively to provide joint programs for both undergraduate and graduate students.
The NRMN will address the critical need for increased access to high quality research mentorship and networking opportunities for individuals from undergraduate to early-career faculty levels. A critical element of the NRMN will be the capacity and ability to provide effective mentoring and networking opportunities to a diverse population of mentees, including those from backgrounds underrepresented in the biomedical research workforce. The network will develop an interconnected set of skilled mentors linked to mentees across the country, from both BUILD institutions and elsewhere. NRMN will also develop best practices for mentoring, provide training opportunities for mentors, and provide networking and professional opportunities for mentees. The NRMN is intended to serve any eligible mentee (U.S. citizens or non-citizen nationals or permanent residents as described more fully in the Funding Opportunity Announcement) who may benefit from additional mentoring beyond what they are receiving at their home institutions.
The CEC will coordinate consortium-wide activities and evaluate BUILD and NRMN programs. It will facilitate the definition of Consortium-wide hallmarks of success; it will coordinate activities necessary to achieve and evaluate efficacy of the various consortium goals; it will also work with individual awardees to adjust objectives and strategies in response to evaluative data obtained. The overarching question that the CEC will address is whether the innovative approaches taken by BUILD and NRMN for student engagement, training, and mentoring are more effective than prior approaches and identify what works and for whom. The CEC will also be critical for the dissemination of successful approaches to the community at large, enabling transformation to take place on a nationwide scale.