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January 31, 2024
Reflecting on UNITE's 2023 Achievements and Advancements
UNITE Co-Chairs’ Corner
As we begin a new year—and approach the third anniversary of UNITE’s public launch—we are pleased to share an overview of the strides UNITE made in 2023. We featured these in the UNITE update presented at the December NIH Advisory Committee to the Director Meeting, where we highlighted progress in UNITE’s four focus areas. The activities described are a testament to the commitment, collaborative spirit, and innovative mindset that define UNITE.
Focus Area 1: Elevating health disparities and minority health research across institutes and centers
- NIH launched the Community Partnerships to Advance Science for Society (ComPASS), a community-led research program focused on advancing health equity to create lasting change in communities nationwide. UNITE inspired ComPASS, which is supported by the Common Fund with an initial five-year commitment.
- The number of NIH funding opportunities related to minority health and health disparities grew significantly from 18 in 2018 to 204 in 2023. While this growth cannot be fully attributed to UNITE, it demonstrates NIH’s commitment to this area.
- An additional ongoing activity includes developing a resource portal for advancing health equity in research. The portal will help scientists obtain best practices and tools for conducting health disparities and minority health research.
Focus Area 2: Promoting equity in the NIH-supported biomedical research ecosystem
- Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) is a UNITE-related initiative supported by the Common Fund. FIRST recruits cohorts of early-career faculty with a demonstrated commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) and supports them in becoming a tenured faculty member. NIH announced the third and final FIRST cohorts in July 2023. Altogether, 15 cohorts will support approximately 150 early career faculty nationwide.
- The following five active funding opportunities have emerged from or been enhanced by UNITE. A sixth funding opportunity, the Research Capacity Building Program to Enhance Workforce Diversity, is in development.
- Assessment of Climate at Institutions (ACt) Award (RC2, PAR-24-038)
- Research With Activities Related to Diversity (ReWARD) program (PAR-23-122)
- Instrumentation Grant Program for Resource-Limited Institutions (RLI-S10, PAR-23-138)
- STrengthening Research Opportunities for NIH Grants (STRONG) (UC2, PAR-23-144)
- NIH Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) (PAR-23-137) – This preexisting program has been expanded with support of 19 Institutes, Centers, and Offices.
- The NIH DEIA Prize Competition awarded 10 prizes of $100,000 each to U.S. institutions.
- The new Engagement and Access for Research-Active Institutions (EARA) initiative aims to enhance outreach and connections between Research-Active Institutions and NIH Institutes and Centers to share information regarding NIH research funding opportunities.
- NIH launched the Review Integrity and Bias Awareness Training requirement (NOT-OD-23-156) and Program Officer/Scientific Review Officer Training for Inclusive and Equitable Interactions with Applicants and Grantees.
- Maximizing Opportunities for Scientific and Academic Independent Careers (MOSAIC), led by NIGMS, is not a direct UNITE program, but it is enhancing faculty diversity. MOSAIC awarded more than 130 K99s between fiscal years 2021 and 2023, a success rate of approximately 50%. MOSAIC scholars are about 75% women, with around 70% from underrepresented groups. About 42 scholars have begun or accepted faculty positions.
Focus Area 3: Promoting equity in the internal NIH workforce
- In collaboration with the Office of Intramural Training and Education, NIH piloted the Medical Student Summer Opportunities to Advance Research Program (M-SOAR) in summer 2023. M-SOAR had 88 applicants; the program accepted 23 applicants and 16 participated.
- A new listserv inclusive of federal affinity groups for advertising NIH vacancy announcements aims to broaden and increase the diversity of the applicant pool to include applicants from underrepresented populations.
- Two pilot career development programs designed for GS11 staff are planned to pilot in 2024 to enhance diversity at higher career levels within NIH.
- NIH has taken actions to address disparities in NIH Director’s Awards, including a review of the language used in the award program, adding award categories focused on expanding opportunity and access, and providing more direction on the scoring rubric and guidance to nominees.
Focus Area 4: Improving the accuracy and transparency of racial and ethnic equity data
- UNITE published reports detailing the findings from its 2021 Request for Information and internal and external listening sessions held in late 2021 and early 2022.
- UNITE committees are studying the NIH Civility and Equity Survey findings to better understand the perceptions of the NIH workforce.
- An inventory will detail all NIH DEIA activities, within and outside UNITE, to focus its goals and outcomes and continue to improve DEIA across NIH.
- UNITE has worked with the NIH Office of Extramural Research (OER) to enhance transparency of the OER data dashboard. There are also numerous internal-facing initiatives to foster greater transparency of NIH workforce data.
UNITE was initiated at a unique time in history of disproportionate morbidity and mortality among communities of color with the COVID-19 pandemic. We also saw racialized violence, most vividly illustrated by the murder of George Floyd but evident in several nationally publicized incidents, including the murder of six Asian-American women in March 2023—the month following UNITE’s public launch.
Using a racial and ethnic equity lens, we systematically examined our health disparities research, the internal NIH workforce, and the external biomedical and behavioral research workforce supported by NIH funding. We believe that this type of data examination resulted in outcomes that are widely beneficial to all the NIH community. As the adage states, a rising tide lifts all boats.
We are grateful to everyone who has played a role in UNITE’s achievements, and we look forward to the mid- and long-term impact of the changes that UNITE has initiated.
Authored by the UNITE Co-Chairs
This page last reviewed on February 6, 2024