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Diversity and inclusion will build the scientific workforce of the future

Shahrooz VAHEDI [Former NIA Staff],
Division of Extramural Activities (DEA).

Note: This post was authored by Shahrooz Vahedi, Ph. D., former NIA training officer.

Our mission at NIA is to support and train scientists in aging research to promote healthy aging and improved care for individuals in our communities. To do so, we believe it is vital to build a diverse and inclusive scientific environment where innovative ideas and solutions can emerge. This week, I am highlighting several programs that promote racial/ethnic/gender diversity as well as inclusion of people with disabilities, those from disadvantaged economic and educational backgrounds, and individuals who have had a career interruption.

A deep tradition of diversity at NIA

Since its early days, NIA has developed programs to promote diversity in science at different education and career stages, from high school to faculty. At the undergraduate level, NIA actively participates in the ENDURE program to encourage students from groups underrepresented in the biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research workforce to pursue further studies or careers in aging research. At the graduate level, there are a number of funding mechanisms to enhance diversity among doctoral students across NIH, including:

  • Predoctoral Fellowship to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (F31-Diversity)
  • Aging Research Dissertation Award (R36)
  • Support of Competitive Research (SCORE) Research Advancement Awards (SC1 and SC2)
  • NIH Blueprint Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience (D-SPAN) Award (F99/K00)
  • BRAIN Initiative Advanced Postdoctoral Career Transition Award to Promote Diversity (K99/R00)

NIA also provides support via Diversity Supplements to current NIA awardees to expand and diversify the aging research workforce. The Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research (RCMAR) program is another landmark effort that seeks to expand diversity via mentorship and support of promising scientists from under-represented groups to help them build sustained careers in aging research. Visit our website to read more about NIA’s training opportunities for special populations as well as our supplement programs.

Diversity beyond race and ethnicity

We believe that a workforce drawn from a mosaic of backgrounds and life experiences helps make for stronger science. While all of NIA’s Diversity Supplement awards in the 2018 fiscal year were based on race and/or ethnicity, NIA is now looking to expand further. In particular, we want to be more inclusive of individuals with disabilities in our scientific community, and we invite those applicants to apply for funding.

We also want to increase participation by people from disadvantaged financial and educational backgrounds. This group includes those whose family’s annual income falls below established thresholds or who come from an educational environment that directly inhibited them from obtaining the knowledge and skills to participate in a research career.

Life circumstances sometimes can force individuals to leave research temporarily, interrupting their career advancement. Check your eligibility for awards under NIH’s re-entry program (PA-18-592) if you’ve had a qualifying interruption, including: child rearing; illness/injury; relocation to accommodate a spouse, partner, or other close family member; pursuit of a non-research endeavor that would permit earlier retirement of debt incurred in obtaining a doctoral degree; and/or military service.

Open to dialogue

Above all, diversity is a dialogue. If you are a scientist or student from a nontraditional background like those I’ve described, we welcome your perspective and ideas on these and other challenging questions:

  • How can we bridge the gap and advance individuals from underrepresented minority groups in science? Can their leadership make the difference we seek?
  • Who is more knowledgeable about challenges that older adults with disabilities face than someone who lives with similar limitations? Won’t someone who has been there themselves bring more innovation and commitment to disability research?
  • What accommodations and training are needed in your institution to help individuals across all races, ethnicities, ability levels, financial backgrounds, and gender identities to thrive? Are we doing enough?
  • How inclusive is the lab for someone with autism? ADHD? Cerebral palsy? Physical, visual, or hearing disabilities? How can we make it more accommodating?
  • Are there barriers to recruiting older people as graduate students?
  • Beyond creating funding opportunities, what else can NIA do?

You can leave a comment below or email me with further questions or suggestions. We need your input to expand our definition of diversity as we work together to build the research workforce of the future!


Submitted by Denny Clark on April 17, 2019

Are you doing any work around mentoring?

Submitted by Preeti Zanwar on April 17, 2019

Include first generation immigrants, females who have broken cultural and societal expectations and barriers to earn PhD, females to earn PhD in field traditionally dominated by men, for example economics.

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