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July 28, 2022
Developing Extramural Workforce Diversity and Inclusivity in the Biomedical Research Ecosystem
UNITE Co-Chairs’ Corner
Despite the critical importance of having a diverse and equitable biomedical and behavioral research workforce for advancing NIH’s mission of improving human health, persistent systemic inequalities continue to hamper our ability to bring the full power of science to bear on the most complex health-related issues confronting our Nation.
To address this, the UNITE E Committee has been charged with identifying and addressing policies and practices that may contribute to a persistent lack of inclusivity and diversity in the extramural biomedical and health research ecosystem. Challenges included identifying funding disparities among different racial and ethnic groups. Recognizing that there is no single solution for advancing the changes we seek, the committee developed a framework built on four pillars to promote extramural workforce diversity and inclusion:
- Enhancing career pathways for all groups, including those underrepresented in biomedical research, by reviewing existing programs to identify successful approaches that can be scaled up, while considering additional resources and strategies needed to address ongoing barriers to advancement.
- Bolstering support for research resources and capacity at Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), including developing strategies to strengthen the workforce and infrastructure of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and other MSIs that do not have a history of significant levels of NIH funding.
- Identifying and addressing academic cultures of inequity across extramural institutions. To inform a strategy that sparks change in the environment and culture of these institutions, we tapped into a body of evidence-based interventions designed to address cultures that may perpetuate discrimination and to promote equity.
- Advancing equity within NIH policies and procedures to mitigate well-documented funding disparities. The focus includes NIH peer review; NIH funding opportunities, priorities, and decisions; and interactions of NIH staff with applicant representatives and prospective PD/PIs, including those from historically underrepresented groups.
The E Committee has been hard at work for the last year evaluating available data, drawing on existing reports and recommendations, speaking with subject matter experts, and incorporating internal and external input to assess on-the-ground experiences with relevant policies and programs. This work has culminated in an initial series of recommendations from the E Committee, which have been presented in a variety of forums, including to the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director.
To translate our recommendations into action, we have assembled 13 implementation working groups, drawing on expertise across NIH to develop funding opportunities and prizes, policies, and internal training and outreach programs that advance the E Committee charge.
Examples of the initiatives under development include the following:
Expansion of the Science Education Partnership Awards (SEPA) Program
NIH recently published a Notice of Participation of Additional NIH Institutes and Centers in the Science Education Partnership Awards (NOT-HG-22-017). The purpose of the SEPA program is to provide opportunities to pre-K-12 students from underserved communities to learn about careers in biomedical research through formal and informal classroom projects. To date, 17 NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices (ICOs) have signed on to participate in the funding of additional SEPA grants.
Institutional Research Capacity Building Needs Assessment and Action Plan Development Grants
As a starting point for enhancing efforts to build research capacity at eligible minority-serving institutions (MSIs), the E Committee is developing a program to enable MSIs to conduct institutional needs assessments and develop action plans based on the results. Examples of capacity building needs might include developing sponsored programs administrative capabilities, hiring in specific scientific areas, renovations, and purchasing new equipment. The E Committee is also working to ensure that programs are in place to help institutions address the needs that they identify.
Instrumentation Grant Program for Minority-Serving Institutions
Cutting-edge scientific equipment is critical for advancing both the research and teaching missions of academic institutions. To help meet this need, the E Committee is developing a program that will provide grants for eligible MSIs that have limited funding from NIH to purchase scientific equipment.
Support Institutional Climate Change to Promote Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity, and Accessibility
Research has shown that improvements in institutional culture are best accomplished when institutions have an objective understanding of their own internal DEIA challenges. With this in mind, the E Committee is developing a new program that will fund grants to enable institutions to:
- Conduct objective climate assessments using validated instruments,
- Perform critical self-studies of institutional culture change needs, and
- Develop action plans for culture change, including metrics and methods for assessing progress, disseminating results, and sustaining efforts.
Excellence in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Research Grants
The E Committee is developing a five-year combined research and mentoring funding opportunity that will support PIs who have demonstrated excellence in promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in biomedical research. The grants, which will support the PI’s research and the continuation of their DEIA efforts, are intended to help offset the “diversity tax,” which can put a heavy burden on investigators committed to DEIA-enhancing efforts, including those from under-represented groups. Additional benefits of this program might include the promotion and recognition of the integral role of mentoring and DEIA activities in sustaining biomedical research and reducing funding inequities among groups and institutions.
Channels for Reporting Discrimination and Hostile Work Environments
In partnership with the NIH Office of Extramural Research, the E Committee contributed to the expansion of NIH’s harassment reporting portal to include reports of discrimination and hostile work environments.
Training Modules to Address the Potential for Bias in NIH Peer Review and to Promote Equity in NIH Staff Interactions with the Extramural Community
To mitigate potential bias in NIH peer review and to promote equitable engagement with and outreach to the extramural community, the E Committee is working in conjunction with the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) and NIH training offices to update training modules and to develop new training required for NIH Program staff, Scientific Review staff, and peer reviewers.
Although the past two years of UNITE have been productive, the E Committee and its implementation working groups continue to push forward multiple strategies to advance racial equity and create the most inclusive biomedical research environment possible.
Authored by the UNITE E Committee led by its Co-Chairs
This page last reviewed on July 28, 2022