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Overview

The NIH has long recognized that achieving diversity in the biomedical, behavioral, clinical, and social sciences (collectively termed “biomedical”) research workforce is critical for ensuring that the most creative minds have the opportunity to contribute to realizing our national research and health goals. The nation’s population continues to become increasingly diverse and there is an urgent need to ensure that the scientific talent which is key to our nation’s success is nurtured, recognized, and supported across all demographic groups. The NIH expects efforts to diversify the workforce to lead to recruitment of talented researchers from all groups; to improve the quality of the training environment; to balance and broaden the perspective in setting research priorities; to improve the ability to recruit subjects from diverse backgrounds into clinical research protocols; and to improve the Nation's capacity to address and eliminate health disparities.

In 2012, the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) Working Group on Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce explored ways to improve the recruitment of individuals from diverse backgrounds underrepresented in biomedical research and prepare them for successful biomedical research careers. (These individuals include persons from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, people with disabilities, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds; see http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/showpub.cfm?TopID=2&SubID=27, and the latest NSF report on Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/women/). The Working Group provided recommendations, endorsed by the ACD, about how to develop and support individuals from diverse backgrounds across the lifespan of a biomedical research career   (http://acd.od.nih.gov/Diversity%20in%20the%20Biomedical%20Research%20Workforce%20Report.pdf). In response to these recommendations, the NIH established the Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce program.

Scientists have demonstrated the powerful impact that psychosocial factors play in the pursuit of science careers and have provided hypotheses and small scale data about interventions that might ultimately have a transformative effect if implemented on a large scale. This research provides an evidence base that suggests a fundamental shift in the way scientists are trained and mentored needs to occur to attract and retain individuals from underrepresented groups in the scientific workforce. The Diversity program is bridging research findings with biomedical research training to develop new ways of training and mentoring to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to enter into and thrive in biomedical research careers. This program is a national collaborative through which the Diversity Program Consortium, in partnership with the NIH, will develop, implement, and determine the effectiveness of innovative approaches to strengthen institutional capacity to engage individuals from diverse backgrounds and help them prepare for and succeed in biomedical research careers. This program provides a unique opportunity to understand and address multi-dimensional factors (at the institutional, social, and individual levels) that may strongly influence student success, professional development, and persistence within biomedical research career paths. It will build upon and move beyond existing programs and paradigms to support transformative approaches to student engagement, research training, mentoring, faculty development, and infrastructure development. Transformation is expected to occur at awardee institutions, but broader transformative impact will result from dissemination of lessons learned to enable nationwide adoption of effective strategies.

Relevant questions to be explored within the context of 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?

The program consists of three highly integrated initiatives, in which awardees are working together as the Diversity Program Consortium. Through these integrated initiatives, the program is investigating what training experiences work in various contexts. The Consortium is collectively determining hallmarks of success, including academic as well as psychosocial competencies, at each phase of the biomedical career pathway, develop approaches to enable young scientists to meet these hallmarks, test the efficacy of these approaches, and adjust approaches during the course of the program to maximize impact. Finally, the Consortium will disseminate lessons learned to enable adoption of effective approaches by institutions nationwide.

To learn more about the BUILD, NRMN, and CEC awards, please visit the Funded Research page.

Other initiatives emerging from the ACD recommendations are being explored elsewhere at NIH. These initiatives include efforts to ensure fairness in peer review, implementation of an NIH Steering Committee Working Group on Diversity, and appointment of the new NIH Chief Officer of Scientific Workforce Diversity, Dr. Hannah Valantine.

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