Research and Funding

NIA assesses impact of Diversity Supplements

December 1, 2011

(Published in LINKS: Minority Research & Training - Fall 2011)

NIA supports a variety of training opportunities for researchers from diverse backgrounds. The Summer Institute on Aging Research is one example. Another is NIA’s participation in the NIH-wide Diversity Supplement Program. Through this initiative, principal investigators can apply for supplemental funding to existing grants to recruit early career scientists (high school through junior faculty) underrepresented in biomedical research and health-related sciences. This program was established by NIH in 1989 in response to concerns about the low representation of racial and ethnic minorities in scientific research. In 2005, its scope was expanded to include investigators with physical disabilities and people from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.

Anecdotal information, such as success stories, from former supplement recipients support the merit of NIA’s participation in the program; however, more formal assessment helps track the impact of NIA’s efforts. This year, the Institute conducted an analysis of its 115 former diversity supplement recipients from 2002 through 2009, looking at their research careers since each received the supplement. The analysis identified three components that characterize a productive researcher career: grant application success rates, publication history, and current institutional placement.

The results of this analysis suggest the program’s value, notes Robin Barr, D.Phil., Director of NIA’s Division of Extramural Activities. “This analysis and a similar one that we conducted 7 years ago both point to a key role for this program in advancing diversity in aging research,” he says.

According to the analysis:

  • As of July 2011, 82 of the 115 investigators had submitted applications to NIH at some point in their careers.
  • Eight supplement recipients currently are funded by NIA; three are also funded by another Institute/Center (IC) at NIH.
  • Sixteen recipients currently receive funding from another NIH IC, not NIA.
  • Thirteen recipients received NIH funding in the past, but are not currently funded by NIH.
  • At least 30 supplement recipients have received research funding from a non-NIH source; 14 of 44 investigators who had applied for NIH funding without success received funding from a non-NIH source.
  • Between 2002 and 2010, the overall success rate for receiving a Research Project Grant from NIA was 18.2%; for NIA supplement recipients, the success rate was higher, at 20.5%.
  • Of the supplement recipients studied in this analysis, those who are currently NIA grantees have the most peer-reviewed papers and the most first-authored papers, and all have published in a peer-reviewed journal in the last 18 months.
  • Ninety-three recipients are currently affiliated with an academic institution; 50 are at the institution where they received their supplement support.
  • Ten recipients appear to be employed full time in clinical practice; five appear to be in the private sector. Two have government positions.

Barr says the analysis has some limitations—a small sample size, lack of qualitative data, and variables that make it difficult to demonstrate a direct link between the diversity supplement and future research productivity. Nevertheless, the data shows that supplement recipients have had success as researchers. “Though analyses alone cannot prove a particular award advanced a research career, these data, along with the many personal affirmations that we have heard, help to sustain our interest in the supplement and advocate its continuing use,” shares Barr.

For more information about the Diversity Supplement Program:

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