NIH Wants Your Input on Increasing Diversity Among Biomedical Research Faculty

Promoting scientific environments that can encourage and benefit from a full range of talent is necessary in biomedical research today. Because previous approaches focused on individuals have only slowly “moved the needle,” targeting systemic change is the next step for NIH.

The NIH Common Fund is conducting strategic planning for a potential new program exploring ways to create a route of entry and advancement for talent from diverse backgrounds into independent academic faculty positions. The goal is to employ a cohort model at the faculty level as a catalyst for institutions to create a route of entry and advancement for talent from diverse backgrounds, in the biomedical research enterprise.

NIH is seeking broad input on this approach from academic institutional leadership, biomedical faculty, and interested members of the public. Responses to this RFI will be accepted through May 16, 2019. For details, see the full Request for Information.

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25 thoughts on “NIH Wants Your Input on Increasing Diversity Among Biomedical Research Faculty

  1. We all welcome diversity and inclusion criteria. Diversity and talent consideration should go hand in hand while choosing faculty members for research work force. Including more minority and women with talents and new ideas will provide tremendous opportunity to them and lead to overall increase in research productivity.

  2. Diversity is simply another name for discrimination (against more qualified people). The government has no business forcing diversity in the STEM fields or any other.

    Individuals should compete for jobs and resources based on their merits alone. Otherwise there is a risk of decreasing the quality of research to the lowest common denominator. Making allowances less talented individuals negatively affects quality and efficiency and births unnecessary bureaucracy to “enforce” needless rules and track numbers. Put another way, not everyone needs to be a rocket scientist.

    All diversity programs in the Federal Government should be eradicated.

  3. While including diversity is good, it must also be balance with merit. Does the NIH want to fund less scientifically sound projects in favor of diversity? And if too much funding goes to diversity, the “traditional” researchers will feel discriminated against. Thus, in short, the question is: does the NIH want the best science to make the fastest progress in biomedical research, or does the NIH want to support social groups with the risk of delaying progress? I hope this helps with the reflection.

    • Women and minorities have been so heavily discriminated against in the public and private sectors, there needs to be positive selection in favor of these groups because of bias and discrimination that have prevented these groups from succeeding in the past.

      • Public funding should be in the public interest, not in special groups’ interests. You cannot right one wrong that happened in the past with another wrong which amounts to reverse discrimination. Getting a faculty position or NIH grant is already marred by secondary criteria such as personal connections, belonging to specific ethnic or religious groups, perceived fame of a name or publication, or avoiding to shake the status-quo, to the detriment of research quality and expected impact for public health. Points of view such as yours made me quit academic research and start my own company. But many I know abandoned research altogether in favor of activities with more objective evaluation of merits.

      • Yes, there are a hundred studies showing bias against women and minorities in grading, hiring, evaluations, grant applications! Scientists need to KNOW THE DATA! Bias is pervasive today -not just a decade ago.

    • Part of the mission of NIH is to produce the best next generation of biomedical researchers. As study after study has indicated, a diverse research group out performs a less diverse one. No one is suggesting that training grant proposals should lack merit rather it is important for the best research programs in future to have this added benefit of diversity. https://extramural-diversity.nih.gov/diversity-matters

  4. The requirement that an individual is within 10 years of having received their terminal degree to qualify for early stage investigator status works against people who choose a slower career development path in order to spend more time with their families. This is likely to disproportionately affect women and reduce the diversity in STEM fields. Furthermore, it discourages men from taking on family responsibilities, which is necessary for work/life balance to be distributed in a manner that encourages gender equity in the workplace. The purpose of this limitation is unclear – why not just have a new investigator status, and have the grant mechanisms that are currently earmarked for junior faculty available to everyone who does not have a past history of NIH project funding? Thanks for inviting and considering our comments!

    • I agree 100% with Michelle! we need to get rid of this 10 year limitation. I decided to start a family and this put me at a great disadvantage. The NIH gave me a few months ESI extension for my child but as many of you that have children know: raising a family takes a lot more time than a few months. I also agree that it discourages men from taking on family responsibilities.

    • NIH recognizes that some researchers may have lapses in their research or research training, or have experienced periods of less than full-time effort. NIH does consider requests to extend the ESI status period for reasons that can include: medical concerns, disability, family care responsibilities, extended periods of clinical training, natural disasters, and active duty military service. These requests are considered on a case by case basis.

      • Could family care (ie having a child) allow a 1 year extension for ESI? I guess when I requested ESI, I asked for 3 months (maternity leave), but could I ask for a full year????? Thank you so much for this thread! I am loving and learning from everyone’s comments!

        • Investigators, both male and female, may request an extension of ESI status equivalent to the amount of time away from research because of family care responsibilities that have occurred during the ten year period after the terminal research degree or the end of medical residency. Family care responsibilities can include the birth or adoption of a child, or the direct care of sick, injured, or disabled children or other close family members.

          See NOT-OD-18-235 for information on extensions specifically for childbirth.

      • The original post by Michelle proposed eliminating the 10 year deadline altogether, not bypassing it with exceptions, and I fully support that idea. What NIH does with the 10 year limit amounts to age discrimination. The junior rule should apply to anyone who has not previously obtained NIH funding. The number of situations is so diverse that it cannot be covered by exceptions. What if someone worked in the industry for 10 years then switched to academia? It is also well known that when a post-doc starts in a lab, he/she is often given a project instead of starting their own project. If the project given by the mentor does not go anywhere, does that mean that the post-doc is incapable? In the opposite case, if the project given by the mentor works beautifully in a couple of years (sometimes the project is half done by a predecessor), does that mean that the post-doc is very capable? I don’t think so. Worst case, the 10 year limit should apply to years of INDEPENDENT research, when the scientist already has a faculty position and generates their own projects. Otherwise, NIH grant review in fact evaluates the merits of the mentor (and often the NAME of the mentor) not the merits of the applicant themselves.

        • Gabriel, I could not agree with your more!!! it is often the case in labs that some projects are way more developed than others when post-docs jump on them. Sometimes you get a post-doc two years in that is given a great project by the PI and they move through the system way too quickly to then fail miserably as an independent PI, because they are simply not ready. Productivity should always trump age! Even if it was a 5-10 year post-doc, was that post-doc productive in terms of # of publications and impact. To make real breakthroughs in new/emerging fields it takes time and a whole lot of dedication. But I think that the NIH already recognizes that, it’s just a matter of crafting the right mechanisms to find those people and fund them!

  5. With regard to diversity, institution and state are as important as race, gender and age.

    There are large differences in grant application success rates and award sizes (whose impacts on amounts of funding are multiplicative) between investigators grouped by institution and by state. Across vast swaths of the nation, investigators are—due to their institutional affiliations and the states in which they reside—underrepresented in the biomedical research enterprise.

    If the NIH is truly interesting in promoting diversity and harnessing the talents of “next generation” scientists, it will have to deal with the geographical disenfranchisement students, trainees and investigators caused by heavily skewed allocations of funding.

    • NIH grants should be awarded blinded to factors such as institution, geographical area, minority, ethnicity, gender, prior grants, Nobel Prizes, etc. The only factor should be the quality of the proposed project and its potential impact. If social impact (for the development of a particular ethnic group or region) is desired as a secondary agenda for NIH grants, this should be so stated and separate funds should be allocated for that agenda. That is why I am proposing that grant reviewers should be completely blinded with regard to the applicant. Sure, this could be often guessed from the cited preliminary data. But some format could be implemented to limit preliminary data to unpublished results and keep reviewers blinded.

  6. 1. There needs to be a push for transparency from the NIH on the number and percentage of women owned and funded small businesses that 1) apply and 2) receive NIH grants.
    2. There is still a huge discrepancy in funding small businesses that are socially and economically disadvantaged and is not being included as part of the funding decision. Its still a whose who that gets funded.
    3. Peer reviewers should be accountable for their errors and mistakes when reviewing grant applications that can effect small businesses as we are all accountable for our errors.
    4. The appeals process is biased as it prevents ‘similar’ grants that are within the review process from being considered when a grant is in review. There is a no win situation for the applicant. Appealing will delay other applications.
    5. The NIH should carefully review, reviewers conflict of interest before they review an application which may compete with the reviewers own applications and research goals.

    • I fully agree with you on these points and I propose that the reviewers are fully blinded to the identity of the applicant. It is difficult, but it can be done, to avoid positive or negative discrimination based on any type of criteria. Furthermore, in contrast to current NIH practices, I propose that the reviewers of a grant should be from the same general field of an application, to be able to evaluate it, but from a completely different specific field, to avoid conflicts of interest. E.g. an application on breast cancer should be evaluated by specialists in ovarian cancer, signal transduction, pharmacology, etc. Otherwise it is like inviting wolves to guard the sheep. I am sure that such suggestions will be fiercely opposed by those who benefit from current system.

  7. Racial/ethnic groups underrepresented in the research workforce and in the upper echelons of the workforce in general will always be so until the early life opportunities and supports for these groups more closely match those of the population as a whole. Absolutely programs for students in higher education, faculty, and early career researchers are needed and do improve diversity. But a strategic plan should also include recognition and actions to improve lives in underresourced communities. The David Lynch Foundation Quiet Time program (in schools in San Francisco, Chicago, and now NYC) is one example of a program that is helping to improve poor communities and shift the distribution of educational outcomes in middle and high schools. Initiatives are needed throughout the lifecycle.

    • Yes, if we are not educating minorities in good/fair schools from grade school on through to high school, they will be behind more affluent (often whiter) populations, so how can they compete in college and beyond? we need fair equitable funding for schools instead of segregating minority populations in terrible underfunded schools.

  8. More minority K award programs. However, these K awards for post-docs need to be more flexible in terms of timeline for application. 3 years is often not enough time for starting post-docs to put in applications. Especially for women minorities that might be starting a family around that time. Also, more minority faculty development programs like the NINDS minority KO1s.

  9. I would like to see more dedicated programs focused on PhD to faculty transitions, like the above mentioned K awards. Perhaps they could involve multiple institutions-that is pair up research intensive with those serving larger populations of URMs. They should include best practices (like those researched by Claude Steele) for supporting and mentoring these individuals.

  10. I served as a PI on several diversity training grants as a professor at a R1 university. While some of the faculty mentors of students really took the extra time to work with undergraduate students the majority just did not have the time and wound up tossing them in the lab to work with and be mentored graduate students and postdocs. Many of these students were first generation college students and without a great deal of mentoring wound up entering health professional schools for the higher pay and the prestige of these as seen through the eyes of family and community rather that pursuing biomedical and clinical research careers. I believe that there are many state PUIs that are attractive to students from diverse backgrounds (due to lower tuition rates and more personal attention) that have been somewhat over looked by NIH. While the R25 mechanism is available, these grants can be difficult for PUIs to compete for with larger R1 type institutions, for all the obvious reasons. I would like to suggest that NIH consider the same approach for R25s that they recently instituted for R15s, that is to put the PUIs that serve a large number of students from diverse backgrounds. I am confident that the increased level of personal mentoring of these students both in the faculty member’s office and lab (focused on specific career paths prioritized by NIH) would result in increased interest and increased retention. I also believe that many of these PUI faculty can bring some ‘out-of-the-box’ type ideas to the table since their careers have a focus on undergraduate student education and mentoring rather than juggling the mentoring responsibilities of undergraduates, graduates, and postdocs. Thank you for this opportunity to provide input.

  11. Approaches, opinions, insights, and ideas all benefit from diversity. Research designs improve when considering diverse populations, and funders should encourage applications from diverse sources, making considerations of diversity issues criteria for funding.

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