You are here
March 20, 2023
Looking forward, UNITEd
UNITE Co-Chairs’ Corner
It has now been two years since UNITE was publicly unveiled in February 2021. At this pivotal moment, I’m honored to join, as co-chair, this ambitious, grassroots effort to break down structural barriers and advance equity in all aspects of NIH’s activities, ranging from the NIH-supported biomedical research ecosystem to our own internal workforce and institutional systems.
The entire effort is powered by over 100 UNITE members from across NIH who bring their experience, insight, energy, and commitment to change―helping to make us a stronger, more diverse, inclusive, equitable, and accessible organization. Some of the results of their efforts are outlined in the recently released UNITE Progress Report.
In addition to my inclusion as a co-chair of UNITE, there are exciting UNITE leadership transitions. New co-chairs are joining four of the five UNITE committees.
Co-chairs Courtney Aklin, NIH Office of the Director, and Mia Rochelle Lowden, National Institute of Nursing Research, are joined by incoming co-chair Shelli Avenevoli, National Institute of Mental Health. Many thanks to Monica Webb Hooper, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), for having served as a co-chair of the UNITE U Committee. She will continue to lead UNITE efforts as a new co-chair of the N committee.
In addition to Dr. Hooper, two new co-chairs will be leading UNITE N—Kathy Etz, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Xinzhi Zhang, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The new co-chairs are taking over from Michele Evans, National Institute on Aging; Anna María Nápoles, NIMHD; and Robert Rivers, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. We appreciate their capable leadership.
Co-chair Trevor Archer, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, will be joined by two new co-chairs: Laura Koehly, National Human Genome Research Institute, and Kevin Williams, NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. The UNITE I Committee had been co-chaired by UNITE co-chairs Marie Bernard and Alfred Johnson.
Mohammed Aiyegbo, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will join Amy Bany Adams, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), and John Burklow, NIH Office of the Director, as a co-chair. We appreciate all the efforts of the outgoing committee co-chair, Sadhana Jackson, NINDS.
The current E Committee cochairs, Ericka Boone, NIH Office of Extramural Research; Jon Lorsch, National Institute of General Medical Sciences; and Anna E. Ordóñez, National Institute of Mental Health, will continue leading this committee.
In addition to changes in leadership of UNITE committees, Marzjah Esther, will be moving on from the UNITE staff lead position next month. Tammy Reddick Lockett has joined as the UNITE program manager. We owe thanks to Trenell Mosley, Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity office, for serving as acting program manager.
Addressing UNITE’s Areas of Focus
UNITE has four principal areas of focus:
- Elevating health disparities and minority health research across institutes and centers
- Promoting equity in the NIH-supported biomedical research ecosystem
- Promoting equity in the internal NIH workforce
- Improving the accuracy and transparency of racial and ethnic equity data
At the Center for Scientific Review (CSR), where I serve as Director, we have been addressing the area of the NIH mission that we manage―the peer review of extramural research applications for funding (which has an impact on Focus Areas 1 and 2) and publishing data on the diversity of our review panels (which concerns Focus Area 4).
As mentioned in the July 28, 2022, post “Developing Extramural Workforce Diversity and Inclusivity in the Biomedical Research Ecosystem,” CSR has been working with the UNITE E Committee and the NIH training offices to update training modules and has developed bias awareness training for reviewers and staff, which includes tools to intervene, recognizing that bystanders are an important part of the solution. The goal is to mitigate potential bias in the peer review of grant applications submitted to NIH for funding consideration, as well as to help ensure equity in how NIH engages with the extramural community. As of December 2022, 16,646 reviewers have completed the training, which will be adopted by all of NIH as mandatory training for peer reviewers. The training is an excellent model of an effective intervention that is based on reality.
Additional actions CSR has taken to address bias in extramural research include launching an avenue for investigators, reviewers, and NIH staff to report biased or unfair peer review, diversifying our review panels across many dimensions, leading efforts to strengthen review processes to reduce reputational bias, and increasing transparency through communication and responsiveness to the external community.
Concurrently, we have applied many of the same principles in efforts to improve our own workplace (related to Focus Area 3). We have opened lines of communication, increased staff involvement in decision-making, increased transparency in hiring processes, taken actions toward equity in career development and advancement opportunities, and worked to recruit a more diverse workforce. I hope to leverage our experience, our successes, and our challenges in these areas, as a co-chair of UNITE.
UNITE has made significant progress thus far in all four focus areas. The September 2022 Co-Chairs’ Corner focused on the 2021–2022 progress report. I would like to highlight a few examples of progress.
To elevate health disparities and minority health research in relation to Focus Area 1, UNITE facilitated the development of the Common Fund’s Transformative Research to Address Health Disparities and Advance Health Equity initiative and the Community Partnerships to Advance Science for Society (ComPASS) initiative. Progress made in Focus Area 2 includes the development of the Harassment Reporting Portal to include reports of discrimination and hostile work environments at grantee institutions. To further equity in the NIH internal workforce (Focus Area 3), the Anti-Racism Steering Committee, now 500+ volunteers strong, is driving new initiatives. Progress towards enhanced transparency and data sharing (Focus Area 4) includes the hosting of 14 internal and external listening sessions with more than 1,300 participants to gather information from the community. We shared summaries of these sessions, and we are working to translate what we learned into action. Last week, UNITE-E shared a new notice of funding opportunity (NOFO), PAR-23-122, Research With Activities Related to Diversity (ReWARD), an R01 program which focuses on the health-related research of scientists who are making a significant contribution to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) and who have no current NIH research project grant funding. Today, another new notice of funding opportunity was announced, PAR-23-138, Instrumentation Grant Program for Resource-Limited Institutions, an S10 program which supports the purchase of state-of-the-art scientific instruments to enhance the research and educational missions of resource-limited institutions.
While we are making progress toward our goals, we recognize that there is still much work to be done. In the coming year, UNITE intends to expand its efforts—from new funding opportunities to expanded educational programs—with increased data transparency.
As we work toward our goals, we will continue to evaluate efforts in terms of short- to long-range effects so that we can adjust our strategies to have maximum impact. We hope you―extramural scientists and NIH staff, alike―will continue to engage with us as we move forward.
Authored by Noni H. Byrnes, Ph.D.
This page last reviewed on March 23, 2023