NIH to fund research workforce diversity program

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced new funding intended to encourage individuals from underrepresented backgrounds to start and continue in biomedical science research careers, including dentistry and dental research.

NIH is releasing three new funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) as part of the Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce program. The goal is to establish a national consortium to develop, implement, and evaluate approaches to better prepare individuals for NIH-funded research careers, according to a press release.

"There is a compelling need to promote diversity in the biomedical research workforce," said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, PhD. "A lack of diversity jeopardizes our ability to carry out the NIH mission because innovation and problem-solving require diverse perspectives."

While students from underrepresented backgrounds enter early biomedical research training in about the same numbers as the general population, these students are more likely to leave the training pathways, NIH said. Substantial research has been conducted to determine the reasons for this and to test interventions on a small scale. These new grants provide the opportunity to implement successful training and mentoring strategies (institution-wide and eventually nationally), which could transform the biomedical research workforce.

"Workforce diversity and inclusion are imperative to optimizing the strength of the NIH research enterprise," said Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, PhD, the acting NIH chief officer for scientific workforce diversity and director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. "Indeed, diversity is now well-understood to be fundamental to innovation. These initiatives will strengthen the NIH research enterprise through their efforts to establish more effective ways to engage and train a more diverse and inclusive body of researchers and future scientific leaders."

Awardees will collectively determine hallmarks of success, including core competencies, at each phase of the biomedical career pathway. Complementary training and mentoring approaches will then be developed to enable young scientists to meet these hallmarks.

The grants will establish the consortium of awardees from three integrated initiatives:

  • The National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) will be a nationwide network of mentors and mentees spanning all disciplines relevant to the NIH mission. NRMN will address the critical need for increased access to high-quality research mentorship and networking opportunities by establishing an interconnected set of skilled mentors linked to mentees across the country.
  • Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) will provide support for relatively underresourced institutions with high concentrations of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Awardee institutions will be encouraged to partner with research-intensive institutions to expand research opportunities for their students, to foster networking, and to enrich the training experiences available to students at both institutions.
  • The Coordination and Evaluation Center (CEC) will coordinate consortium-wide activities and assess efficacy of the training and mentoring approaches developed by the BUILD and NRMN awardees. CEC will also serve as the focal point for dissemination, sharing consortium progress and lessons learned with the broader biomedical research training and mentoring communities.

It is anticipated that the program will fund up to 10 BUILD primary institutions, one NRMN, and one CEC, contingent upon the availability of funds and receipt of a sufficient number of meritorious applications. Applications for the FOAs are due March 18, 2014, with awards to be announced in September 2014. Additional information, including important eligibility criteria for applicant institutions and organizations, can be found in each FOA; links are available on the diversity workforce website.

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