Training and career development are essential components of the NIH and NIAMS missions. This month’s letter focuses on two trans-NIH efforts that will be preparing the next generation of biomedical and behavioral researchers for productive careers improving the health of the American public.
The first activity, called Increasing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce, will unify and strengthen the recruitment and retention of scientists from underrepresented backgrounds. An NIH Common Fund program, it will consist of three coordinated initiatives:
- The NIH Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) effort, which will support training and promote faculty development at baccalaureate-granting colleges or universities that have less than $7.5 million in NIH research project grant funding, and where at least 25 percent of the undergraduate student body receive Pell grants.
- A National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) to augment BUILD and existing NIH activities for undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty members by creating a national group of scientific leaders to serve as mentors.
- A Coordinating and Evaluation Center to coordinate the BUILD and NRMN programs and facilitate data tracking and analysis.
As the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) Working Group on Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce noted in a recent report, a growing body of evidence shows that workforce diversity is associated with creativity and innovation—characteristics that are essential for tackling complicated research questions. The report also cites other anticipated benefits of having a workforce that better resembles the population that it serves. Advantages range from stronger ties with global research networks to improved engagement of underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities in community-based studies. These are especially important for NIAMS because many rare diseases and conditions within our mission cannot be investigated adequately without international research teams and patients cohorts, and because many forms of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases disproportionately affect Americans from minority racial or ethnic backgrounds.
The second program, Strengthening the Biomedical Research Workforce, emerged from another ACD working group report. Using data from a combination of internal NIH sources and information from the National Science Foundation, the ACD Working Group on the Biomedical Research Workforce found that more than half of newly trained doctorates are employed outside of academia (i.e., they are not conducting research or they are holding government- or industry-based research positions). However, U.S. graduate programs and postdoctoral training focus almost exclusively on preparing individuals for academic research careers.
In response, NIH is launching a new Common Fund activity to strengthen undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral training opportunities by preparing students and fellows for a wide range of careers that are available for people who have advanced degrees in the biomedical sciences. Under the new NIH Director’s Biomedical Research Workforce Innovation Award (called Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training or BEST), institutions with established pre-doctoral programs will develop approaches that complement their traditional training efforts. When applied more broadly, these new strategies are expected to play an important role in ensuring that the most talented students recognize the attractiveness of pursuing advanced education in the biomedical sciences.
Developing and maintaining a robust pipeline of investigators at all career stages has always been a high priority for NIAMS, and our support for these initiatives reflects our commitment to further diversifying our research workforce. We encourage you to share information about these programs to everyone interested, so we can continue to recruit the best and brightest into the field of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases research, and improve the health of the millions of Americans affected by these debilitating conditions.
Robert H. Carter, M.D.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
National Institutes of Health