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Cultivating a diverse research workforce across career stages

Laura Major
Laura MAJOR,
Health Specialist,
Office of Strategic Extramural Programs (OSEP)
Maria Carranza
Training Officer,
Office of Strategic Extramural Programs (OSEP)

Research has long shown that diversity in scientific teams leads to more creative and innovative thinking. Last fall, NIA hosted the fourth #ResearchDiversity Day Twitter event, an annual spotlight on NIH programs dedicated to increasing research and clinical workforce diversity. This year’s theme was diversity supplements, which support the development of eligible candidates at all career levels — from high school students to investigators seeking independent research careers — who are underrepresented in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral, and social sciences. These awards are also available to researchers who are disabled and need support for accommodations to complete their projects. NIA awards growing numbers of these supplements each year.

On #ResearchDiversity Day, we were gratified to see many NIA diversity supplement candidates describe how the program has helped their careers and offer tips for potential applicants. This enthusiastic reaction contributed to our most successful #ResearchDiversity Day event yet: The hashtag was used in nearly 920 tweets by more than 300 users, resulting in #ResearchDiversity appearing on Twitter users’ timelines more than 7 million times. Take a look at our event summary and get inspired to talk to an NIH-funded principal investigator about collaborating on a diversity supplement project, or support diversity supplement candidates on an existing award.

What makes diversity supplements special?

The supplement program strengthens the diversity of the aging research workforce pipeline via mentored training for candidates to develop their research skills. Diversity supplements offer the opportunity for a “parent grant” to provide an eligible candidate with access to training they wouldn’t otherwise be able to receive. These supplements also enable funded investigators to mentor the candidate in completing a research project to enhance the aims and increase the impact of the parent grant. This mentorship and training — and the opportunity to actively contribute to exciting areas of aging research — can jumpstart candidates’ independent research careers and build lasting collaborations.

A detailed Research Training and Career Development plan is required for each candidate, including an integrated timeline, appropriate benchmarks, and pathways to research independence to serve as a roadmap for the supplement experience. NIA has continued to prioritize and build on investment in this program as part of our efforts to foster diversity in the research workforce.

The beauty of increasing the diversity of the scientific workforce is that broadening the participation of investigators from underrepresented groups also expands research horizons to topics that might have been overlooked in the past. Recent supplement candidates are currently investigating a number of intriguing questions, including whether childhood home environment influences the genetic effect of child temperament on midlife cognitive ability; how to use community-based participatory research methods to engage incarcerated older adults in research projects; and the role of rural/urban residence in disparities in chronic stress, physiological resilience, and mortality.

Tips for applicants

Now that we’ve piqued your interest in diversity supplements, it’s time to apply! Here are some tips before submitting your application:

  • Read NIA’s Diversity Supplement Guidelines and the Funding Opportunity Announcement.
  • Consider including letters of support from the principal investigator and/or mentor. These are not required but are encouraged.
  • Describe how the supplement will enhance any research training already planned for the candidate, above and beyond what they could have achieved without the diversity supplement.
  • Submit the diversity supplement via the investigator/institution holding a funded NIA award.
  • Submit early in the fiscal year when possible. The last date to submit a diversity supplement for consideration in the current fiscal year (which ends Sept. 30) is June 1.
  • Contact your program officer for feedback on your proposed supplement project.

NIA accepts diversity supplement applications and makes funding decisions on a rolling basis, factoring in the availability of funds. We are here to help: Email with any questions. Best wishes to you with your applications and other aging research endeavors!

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