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Focus on Faculty: The Time is Now

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2 years 6 months
07.26.17 By Hannah A. Valantine
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As NIH Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity, my main goal is to promote scientific workforce diversity as a means to institutional excellence as I have described in previous blogs. To accomplish this, I must maintain a pulse on what is happening at NIH, in our own labs, as well as at NIH-funded institutions around the country. For academia in particular, what do we see when we track the demographics across the career path from training to independent faculty positions?

What we see is promising, but only partial success. Indeed, we have enhanced the diversity among biomedical research trainees considerably (strengthened the STEM pipeline), but with little impact further up the career ladder. Diversifying academic faculty and leadership remains an unsolved challenge and a missed opportunity for bringing diverse thought and experience to biomedical research. Doing so will not only assure that our research priorities address the full range of biomedical research challenges facing our nation, but it will also catalyze excellence in research quality. It is essential that we establish a diverse population of faculty and leaders as role models for the next generation of scientists. 

Over the past 20 years, we have enhanced gender and race/ethnic diversity in the training phase of biomedical research as a consequence of NIH investments mainly at the pre-doctoral level (see graph below). Individuals from underrepresented groups now make up about 10% of biomedical Ph.D. recipients, but despite this increase in the trainee pools, URGs only comprise 4% of research faculty. 2017-18 data from the Association of American Medical Colleges show that women make up 48% of medical school enrollees, but they represent only 23% of full professors.

Building on this modest progress, the NIH-funded Diversity Program Consortium launched in 2014 is using clinical-trial design methods to study what types of interventions are most effective for recruitment and retention into the full range of biomedicine careers. They are determining in what contexts, settings, and populations do specific interventions have the greatest impact. This kind of information, not previously available, is critically important for successful dissemination and scaling of methods, and ultimately for sustainability of workforce diversity. The NIH-funded BUILD program will use its findings to enhance and sustain diversity at institutions of all types: research-intensive, minority-serving institutions, and community colleges. 

Having evidenced-based knowledge of effective strategies is necessary but not sufficient to drive institutional transformation toward diversity and inclusion. Indeed, a major outcome being evaluated in BUILD is institutional commitment and transformation. Strong institutional leadership commitment to cultural change is needed to complement evidence-based strategies.

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Estimate of Fiscal Year 2015 NIH training/career development participants by career state and diversity focus. An estimate of the percentage of trainees and early-career scientists in 2015 being supported by NIH through traditional training/career development programs (orange) and diversity-focused training/career development programs (blue). Source: From the NIH: A Systems Approach to Increasing the Diversity of the Biomedical Research Workforce.

Much of the work required for institutional transformation can begin immediately with the aid of effective tools. My office has piloted three evidence-based approaches to increase diversity in the NIH intramural research program. 

First, we are identifying outstanding candidates for academic positions across disciplines with an innovative recruitment tool (scroll to bottom of page), and second, we are conducting systematic outreach and recruitment strategies for matching diverse talent to NIH labs (the Future Research Leaders Conference). Third, behavioral scientists in my office are developing unique modules that offer evidence-based strategies to reduce influence of implicit bias. These interactive, face-to-face educational sessions are based on solid social-science research, and to date, my team has presented hundreds of sessions search committees, NIH leadership, and NIH staff. 

We are actively evaluating the impact of these approaches and have some preliminary results already, as shown in the data below and through pre- and post-test scores on the implicit association test (IAT). The most important data is yet to come: behavioral outcomes. These include sustained enhanced diversity of applicant pools, short lists, and hires to NIH scientific positions; and improvement in IAT scores for a range of comparators including gender, race/ethnicity, science, and leadership.

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We have developed and tested two implicit-bias education modules with the goal of reducing potential influence of implicit bias on the evaluation of job candidates during the annual trans-NIH Stadtman tenure-track investigators search. SWD observed that among those who received the implicit-bias education, the more strongly they were motivated to be egalitarian, the lower implicit bias in gender and science they demonstrated (r = .41, p <.05)

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Our FRLC program serves as a trans-NIH outreach model to enhance scientific workforce diversity within NIH’s intramural research program (IRP). To date, 57 early-career scientists have participated (63% women, 35% men); 44% are African-American/Black, and 30% are Hispanic. Eighteen percent of the FRLC participants applied to an NIH tenure-track or equivalent position, compared to 3% of those who applied to the conference but did not attend the conference (p = .005, Fisher’s exact test)

My office is now in the process of packaging our recruitment and retention toolkit for use in institutional settings so that academic leaders committed to enhancing faculty diversity can access these tools to diversify faculty and leadership at their home institutions. We will be releasing the toolkit in September 2017. In the meantime, feel free to contact us at SWDToolkit@od.nih.gov with specific questions about our current strategies for diversifying NIH.

 

Hannah Valantine, MD

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