The Society Supports NIH’s Workforce Diversity Effort

As part of ongoing efforts to support a diverse and productive biomedical research workforce, The Endocrine Society recently contributed to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiative to increase support for underrepresented minorities in the biomedical research workforce.

NIH sought feedback from the scientific community after an August 2011 Science article titled, “Race, Ethnicity, and NIH Research Awards” raised concerns about opportunities for minorities. The article, which presents data correlating NIH R01 applicants’ race or ethnicity and the probability of receiving an award, shows that underrepresented minorities—including African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans—with doctorates in science and engineering make up less than 9 percent of occupations in these fields. Compared to their white colleagues, Asian scientists are 4 percentage points less likely to receive R01 funding from NIH, the article said. For African-American scientists, the probability of receiving funding is even less likely, falling at 13 percentage points below whites (see http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6045/1015).

In response to the article the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) created a working group to examine diversity in the biomedical research workforce. Acting on the working group’s request, the Society sent a letter recommending specific actions that NIH can take to improve the participation and success of minorities in the field. Focusing on concepts that could enhance diversity throughout the biomedical research workforce pipeline, the Society suggested ways to bolster the success of minority grant applicants, including funding support for mentoring and career development programs. The Society also advocated for the development of a tracking system to monitor the progress of trainees throughout their careers. These recommendations are included in the working group’s final report to NIH. In addition, the report encouraged NIH to establish an Office of Diversity and a new ACD working group to further examine methods for reducing disparities in research awards.

The Society has long been a proponent of programs to increase opportunities for minorities in the biomedical research workforce and maintains a broad array of career development activities and programs specifically for underrepresented groups. Student outreach and professional development programs, mentoring and networking activities, and comprehensive summer research training programs are a few examples of the Society’s diversity portfolio.

A second NIH ACD working group was charged with recommending actions NIH could take to enhance training for all biomedical researchers—not just underrepresented minorities—while reducing overall training time. The Society’s response to this working group highlighted the importance of recognizing scientific work outside of academia. The Society encouraged NIH to assist institutions in providing training and career development opportunities to prepare trainees for a variety of careers, specifically recommending the inclusion of training related to business management, mentoring, and teaching science.

These recommendations were included in the working group’s final report to NIH, along with calls for the development of a more permanent research staffing model, for increases in the number of early career awards that NIH issues, and for limits on the amount of investigator, student, and postdoc salaries that can be charged to grants. The group also proposed that NIH undertake a closer examination of physician-scientist training.

The Society will continue to work with its members and the scientific community to advocate for equity in biomedical research and to develop programs and awards that support a sustainable, diverse biomedical research workforce.

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