Supporting the best science means supporting diverse talent
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.