NIH Advisory Council Discusses Diversity Policies Implementation and Next Generation Researchers

By | December 21, 2017

Earlier this month, the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) met to review progress on several agency-wide initiatives and to discuss opportunities and challenges facing the biomedical research community. As the meeting coincided with the one-year anniversary of the signing of the 21st Century Cures Act, much of the agenda emphasized NIH’s progress towards fulfilling the legislative mandates, specifically those intended to stabilize the biomedical research workforce.

Hannah Valantine, MD, Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity at NIH, updated ACD members on actions taken since the ACD Working Group on Diversity recommendations were adopted in June. While numerous programs have successfully recruited individuals from diverse backgrounds into biomedical research careers, the Working Group noted a significant gap in interventions at the institutional level to retain them.

To determine strategies to best address these gaps, NIH is testing and evaluating interventions in both the intramural and extramural programs. While intramural pilots emphasize faculty recruitment and retention, extramural efforts seek to provide resources to enhance mentoring and career development.

In her presentation, Dr. Valantine highlighted the significant gap between the number of underrepresented minorities completing PhDs versus those obtaining assistant professor positions – a gap that continues to increase at an alarming rate. To help close this gap, the NIH Intramural Research Program piloted a cohort model to identify and appoint of scientists to enhance diversity and create a culture of inclusion within NIH. The goal is to refine the model so it can be applied to other academic research settings.

Lawrence Tabak, DDS, PhD, NIH Principal Deputy Director, continued the scientific workforce emphasis by presenting an interim report on the Next Generation Researchers Initiative (NGRI). A component of the NIH Strategic Plan and the 21st Century Cures Act, NGRI seeks to recruit and retain an outstanding and diverse research workforce, with an emphasis on early career investigators.

In June, Dr. Collins established a new ACD Working Group composed of investigators at all career stages, from a variety of institutions, to refine and oversee this initiative’s implementation. FASEB Board Member Christine Curran is a member of the new panel. Although Working Group efforts are still in early stages, several key areas of interest have emerged, including the parameters for identifying investigators “at risk,” better understanding the capacity of the NIH-funded research workforce, and examining the utility of new business models for supporting research activities.

The Working Group will present more specific recommendations for ACD consideration during its next meeting in June 2018.

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