Diversity—Looking at the Numbers


As I posted last month, the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) heard recommendations from several working groups at its June 14 meeting, including the one tasked with studying the recruitment and retention of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, people with disabilities, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds in biomedical research careers. Today, I’d like to take a look at some of the data included in this working group’s report.

First, to set the context, we’ve previously discussed the data showing that fewer than 2% of NIH principal investigators (PIs) on research project grants are Black or African-American, which is lower than the percentage of these faculty at medical schools and much lower than the 10.2% of Blacks or African-Americans in the general population. One question that comes to mind when looking at these data concerns the size of the educational pipeline of underrepresented groups in general, and Blacks in particular, on the path to becoming a PI through all levels of training. 

The working group looked at this and found that although the pipeline is leaky throughout the biomedical educational continuum, there is definite racial and ethnic disparity in the number of people receiving PhDs, particularly in the biological sciences, chemistry and physics. This shortfall in PhD awards to underrepresented racial and ethnic groups has been documented in the National Science Foundation’s “Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities Report 2011” and is summarized in figure 5 of the ACD working group report, also presented below. 

Awarded Degrees in Biological Sciences, Chemistry, and Physics to Citizens and Permanent Residents by US Institutions (2000 to 2008)

Awarded Degrees in Biological Sciences, Chemistry, and Physics to Citizens and Permanent Residents by US Institutions (2000 to 2008)
Source: NSF Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities Report 2011, Tables 5.7 and 7.4

From 2000 to 2008, the average number of individuals from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups (Black, Non-Hispanic; Hispanic; and American Indian or Alaska Native) who obtained a PhD in the biological sciences, chemistry or physics averaged 507 people per year. This is strikingly low compared to the average of 4,589 PhDs earned by Whites in these fields during the same time period. In addition, it is evident from the BS/BA to PhD ratio that Blacks have the lowest percent of people moving through to the advanced degree. 

These data highlight that the biomedical educational pipeline is not robust for many racial and ethnic groups. Improving this pipeline is a challenge not only for NIH, but also for the academic community. We are committed to working together to strengthen the pipeline and offer opportunity for all individuals who aspire to careers in biomedical research.

Note: For a copy of the 2011 NSF Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities Report, please contact NSF External Web Site Policy.


  1. These kinds of studies are great…for telling us what is not working. How do you make someone (of any race and gender) complete a PhD?

  2. Excelencia in education might have some good input on these numbers for Latino/Latina information. I am a member of many diversity groups and organizations that support Native Americans in the sciences. I am in Chemistry. The answer to the above question is quite complex and looking that the Double Bind study might help to explain the factors that cause issues. I have a whole power point on data and statistics I’m looking at for the Native American community. It is true that NIH is committed as I’ve been funded by them before to do many service and research oriented activities through my PhD. Almost done so I’ll keep NIH posted as I’m sure they would like and prefer.

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