Summary

Students and Trainees Virtual Listening Session

Wednesday, January 26, 2022, 6:00pm-7:30pm ET

Brief Overview

The purposes of the virtual listening session were to listen and learn about perspectives and experiences related to racial and ethnic equity in the biomedical research enterprise, with an emphasis on students and trainees. The listening session, facilitated by an outside contractor, was attended by more than 70 participants. Dr. Walter Koroshetz, Director of the National Institutes of Neurological Diseases and Stroke (NINDS) at NIH, welcomed attendees and summarized the mission and goals of UNITE.

Summary of Discussion

  • Topic 1: Interests, needs, and issues regarding racial and ethnic equity in healthcare and biomedical sciences
    The group highlighted inequities in healthcare and academic settings, stemming from insufficient diversity and inclusion at multiple levels. At the university or college level, they expressed concern that racial and ethnic minority groups continue to lack representation in academic leadership positions, despite diversity efforts and the overall expansion of departments and faculty positions in many colleges and universities. They also described high levels of perceived bias toward racial and ethnic minority faculty members and researchers in these settings, which negatively impacts their success and retention. Among students and graduate trainees, there was agreement that implicit bias toward racial and ethnic minority persons is also prevalent and has adverse impacts on the overall experience and likelihood of pursuing careers in biomedical science. Increased training to address implicit bias was identified as a significant need and an approach to address the issue. However, participants also described challenges around implementing these trainings at colleges and universities, due to notable pushback, voluntary attendance policies, and/or relaxed compliance.
  • Topic 2: Opportunities and challenges to racial and ethnic equity in career pathways and within the workforce – education, hiring, and research opportunities
    Participants noted challenges and opportunities to racial and ethnic equity along the pathway to a career within the biomedical research ecosystem. Among the challenges were limited resources committed to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in primary and secondary schools. The group advocated for increased funding for STEM programs in K-12 education, particularly programs that expose students to career opportunities and include meaningful mentorship within schools in racially and ethnically diverse communities. As students matriculate into college, there is a need to address financial barriers (e.g., the cost of college or university attendance) that have a disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minority students. Participants identified paid internships as opportunities to provide students with professional development, skill-building, and income to support their overall education.

    The need for increased mentorship opportunities was also identified for college and university students. The group discussed the critical contributions of mentorship experiences to overall professional success, as well as for building and sustaining biomedical science careers. Participants suggested that large research institutions provide students with culturally responsive and supportive mentorship opportunities to facilitate retention of racial and ethnic minority students. Participants indicated and underscored that such support is of particular importance for college students transitioning from Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) or Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to graduate programs at R1 institutions (doctoral universities with very high research activity). Faculty mentors should also be compensated and otherwise rewarded for providing this valuable and needed service.

    The group discussed inequities in the career pathways of racial and ethnic minority faculty members. They described challenges in career progression for these faculty members compared with White male faculty. They emphasized that inequities are embedded in the current academic system, which was designed to enable the research and success of White persons. Participants suggested that the biomedical research ecosystem should integrate the needs of racial and ethnic minority populations and address the structures that facilitate exclusion. Publication-related inequity was an example underscored by others in the session. Specifically, behavioral and social science research, as well as community-based and/or community-engaged research – which are of interest to some racial and ethnic minority scientists – is less likely to be accepted for publication in high-impact peer-reviewed journals. Moreover, the lack of diversity among journal reviewers and the perceived lower-valuing of these topics are problematic. Given the need for researchers to publish in top-tier journals, these are structural barriers to career progression and earning promotion and tenure.
  • Topic 3: Opportunities, needs, and challenges in racial and ethnic health disparities and health equity research
    The discussion centered around two main needs and opportunities. Participants highlighted the importance of community engagement in advancing health disparities research and promoting health equity. They noted that community-based participatory research (CBPR) and other community engaged approaches could amplify the voices of affected communities, allow residents to define priorities, and increase participation in clinical trials. Moreover, the group highlighted the importance of involving young people in research to infuse new perspectives and identify concerns of relevance to youth and young adults. Participants also suggested that much can be learned from existing health disparities research and that synthesizing the available evidence could point to areas of need as well as new scientific directions.
  • Topic 4: Actions and initiatives to address racial and ethnic equity within your institution
    Participants highlighted ongoing initiatives to promote equity within their institutions. They described strategies to increase diversity among faculty members, including new hiring methods. “Cluster hiring” was described and underscored as a method of inclusive hiring, in which academic institutions recruit a cohort of early-stage investigators from demographic groups that are underrepresented in STEM. Among the goals of cluster hire efforts are building support networks and facilitating retention. Participants also described an increase in support networks for racial and ethnic minority faculty members that provide resources, mentorship, and research funding opportunities. Some colleges and universities have recently established “antiracism” centers, which seek to increase awareness of workplace racism and career inequities and to provide resources, mentorship, and support to racial and ethnic minority students and faculty members.
  • Topic 5: Proposed solutions for NIH tactics, actions, initiatives, policy, and engagement
    The group proposed solutions in the areas of community education and resources, addressing barriers to diversity and inclusion in biomedical research, and increasing opportunities to publish scholarly projects in academic journals. Participants suggested that new educational initiatives focused on sharing the benefits of NIH-supported science for underserved communities should be located in community settings, thus building trust and demonstrating that NIH values inclusion of racial and ethnic minority populations in clinical research. They also suggested that NIH support K-12 school educational programs to encourage students to pursue STEM education and careers in science and medicine. Participants also suggested considering initiatives to address financial barriers to pursuing biomedical science careers, including fair compensation standards for interns, graduate students, and mentors. Participants also suggested efforts to enhance equity in peer-reviewed publication options, such as an NIH-supported scientific journal without processing fees and a focus on publishing articles submitted by new investigators, small laboratories, and diverse scientists.

NIH is grateful for the participation and perspectives provided by the wide variety of stakeholders in these listening sessions. For more information about past listening sessions, and to follow the efforts of UNITE, please visit the UNITE events webpage at nih.gov/ending-structural-racism.

This page last reviewed on June 2, 2022