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Supporting the best science means supporting diverse talent

Dr. Richard Hodes
Richard HODES,
Director,
Office of the Director (OD)
.
Dr. Marie Bernard
Marie A. BERNARD,
Deputy Director,
Office of the Director (OD)
.

When NIH Director Francis Collins announced on June 12 that he would no longer participate in conference panels that fail to reflect gender and other diversity, he drew considerable attention from the scientific community and the media.

As we reminded our stakeholders shortly thereafter, NIA fully supports this commitment toward greater diversity and inclusivity in the biomedical research community, not just at conferences but across the entire scientific enterprise. And our commitment is not new.

Diversity is strength for the scientific workforce

NIA has experienced an extremely welcome surge in resources targeted to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (AD/ADRD) research, along with an increase in our general funds for research that is in keeping with increases across NIH. To realize the potential created by this increased funding, it is critical that talented researchers submit their innovative ideas. The best science is generated by a diversity of viewpoints. Thus, our collective and collaborative efforts are needed to ensure that our research workforce is diverse, with representation of people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds; gender identities; ages; and socioeconomic, geographic, and disability status.

A critical element of our strategy for achieving a diverse research workforce lies in training and early career support. Please help us by sharing information about our research training and career development programs with your colleagues and students so that more scientists can take advantage of our many opportunities. Following are some of the programs that NIA has established to support this effort.

NIA RCMAR seeking trainees

Since 1997, the Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research (RCMAR) have been mentoring promising scientists from underrepresented groups. Located at universities across the United States, the centers focus on health disparities and minority aging issues as a major part of their research education programs. A recent analysis found that the program is working well: Most RCMAR scholars have pursued careers in academic research related to aging, health disparities, or some combination of the two.

Currently, the centers are undergoing expansion as RCMARs for AD/ADRD are developed, and the newly funded centers are soliciting trainees.

NIA MSTEM seeking institutions and students

A newer endeavor is the NIA Medicine, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (MSTEM): Advancing Diversity in Aging Research through Undergraduate Education program, which provides college students from underrepresented groups with coursework, lab instruction, and mentoring. By engaging students at a critical point in their development, we aim to increase the number of students who complete science-based undergraduate degrees and continue to graduate school. The goal is to develop trainees in aging and geriatrics research to expand our pipeline of investigators. We need more institutions to apply for this funding so NIA can grow the MSTEM program. We particularly need faculty who can inspire a diverse group of students to focus on the challenges of preventing and treating AD/ADRD.

NIA Butler-Williams Scholars Program seeking early-career scientists

Through NIA’s Office of Special Populations, we have long offered researchers with an interest in health disparities a variety of opportunities, such as the Butler-Williams Scholars Program. The program boasts many prominent scientists as graduates, and applicants from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply. Applications for the 2020 program, planned for July 6–10, 2020, will be accepted starting this fall.  

Help us diversify the applicant pool

In addition to the programs listed above, NIA participates in a variety of programs designed to enhance the number of high-quality research proposals and to expand the number of talented scientists in the aging field. Please join us in raising awareness about our expanded opportunities and share in our future success. Help us remind students and early-career researchers “if you don’t apply, you won’t get funded.”

Let us know your ideas below about how NIA can be even more effective in supporting the scientific workforce of the future.

Comments

Submitted by Brian Gordon on September 04, 2019

I grew up in a very rural and economically depressed area where many individuals may not go to college let alone get advanced degrees. There were minimal opportunities to be exposed to academic research. In both graduate school and in my current faculty position there are very few individuals from similar backgrounds. There is also a general undercurrent in higher ed of scorn and distain for poor, rural parts of America that has shocked me.

I'm glad that the NIH is recognizing broader definitions of diversity that would include someone with my background. Looking at Diversity supplements (PA-18-906) it does specify the categories and it appears to be allow such backgrounds. For Aging Research to Promote Diversity the category is mentioned (C1 and C2) but explicitly not allowed ("For the purposes of this program, the disadvantaged background category (C1 and C2) is not applicable." The Predoctoral and Postdoctoral (RFA-NS-19-011) currently only mentions "underrepresented racial and ethnic groups or individuals with disabilities." Again, I applaud the effort to expand to include other diverse viewpoints and look forward to this being made clearer in the grant announcements.

Submitted by Stephanie Holden on September 04, 2019

Well done in NIA's stance and efforts on driving diversity in the health research/science workforce. Parallel to the lack of diversity in the health research workforce is the lack of diversity among core university faculty and postdoc opportunities, especially academic centers associated with healthcare systems. While much of the patient populations and health disparities often identified at many teaching healthcare systems, the associated cadres of faculty, physicians and researchers often lack diversity in terms of race/ethnicity, gender and age. Mentoring and support to encourage a more diverse health research/science workforce will most likely require such brave stances from more leading organizations, and an action plan to include ongoing funding opportunities.

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