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EARA: Dr. Marie Bernard Talks with NIGMS Director Dr. Jon Lorsch

June 06, 2024

The COSWD team embraces the idea that great minds think differently. I believe the same can be said for colleges and universities.

This is one reason why I am excited about the Engagement and Access for Research-Active Institutions (EARA) initiative.

Through this new initiative, NIH seeks to broaden the participation of Research-Active Institutions (RAIs) in the NIH funding ecosystem. These institutions have been variously labeled in the past, including being considered resource limited. However, as we have begun deeply engaging with a subset of these institutions for the intensive pilot of EARA, all are rich in talent and other resources that can benefit the biomedical and behavioral research ecosystem. 

The notion that this approach would be embraced within and beyond NIH was not inevitable. 

As my colleague Jon Lorsch, Ph.D., Director of the NIH National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) and NIH UNITE Executive Committee member said: “Resource-limited institutions face challenges, ranging from not having sufficient sponsored programs administrative capacity to lacking key pieces of scientific equipment needed to support their research and teaching missions. Many of these institutions don't think they have a chance if they apply for NIH grants and funding, so they aren't applying.”

EARA aims to change this situation. The idea for an agencywide approach to reaching out to RAIs came from the NIH UNITE initiative, which acts as a think tank to promote equity, generate bold ideas, and catalyze new actions.

EARA has champions throughout NIH. Dr. Lorsch is one of them. He has been involved with UNITE since its inception, and he serves on the EARA Advisory Committee. Through his leadership at NIGMS, he supports training for the next generation of scientists and building research capacity by broadening participation in biomedical and behavioral research throughout the country.

Read on to learn what Dr. Lorsch has to say about EARA, some of NIGMS’ programs, and why he hears that NIGMS and NIH training is “life changing.” 

EARA: A Unique Way to Engage

“Through our involvement with EARA, NIGMS hopes to help academic institutions—particularly those that historically haven’t had substantial NIH funding,” said Dr. Lorsch. “Anything we can do to help RAIs navigate NIH processes could help increase the number of applications and success rates.”

He applauds the NIH-wide approach that EARA encompasses.

“Through centralized and coordinated outreach efforts, EARA can help RAIs find funding opportunities to meet their needs and their goals and encourage RAIs to make applications.”

Dr. Lorsch foresees the impact of EARA—based not only on how EARA is structured but because of the achievements he has been a part of at NIGMS.

NIGMS Research Training and Initiatives

“At NIGMS, we’ve seen great progress from our research training and capacity building initiatives, and participants in our programs often comment on how they were inspired seeing people from backgrounds like theirs doing—and succeeding in—science.”

Through Maximizing Opportunities for Scientific and Academic Independent Careers (MOSAIC), investigators from diverse backgrounds receive support to transition from postdoctoral scholars to independent, early-stage faculty at research institutions. 

“MOSAIC began at NIGMS, but I’m proud to say that many parts of NIH now participate,” he explains. “So far, 17 institutes and centers have funded a diverse pool of 137 MOSAIC scholars. Anecdotally, we’ve heard from scholars that before they received a MOSAIC award, they were on the verge of dropping out of academia. Now, they have academic positions as independent investigators.”

These accomplishments led NIGMS to start its Advancing Research Careers (ARC) Program, which will apply the cohort model to the earlier transition from late-stage Ph.D. training to postdoctoral research fellowship. 

In addition, NIGMS has seen progress through its Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program, which helps students at two-year colleges transition to four-year STEM degree programs. For more examples of NIGMS’ programs and participants, visit its Biomedical Beat blog.

Life-Changing Programs

Dr. Lorsch regularly hears from early career scientists who have benefited from NIH and NIGMS’ training. 

“I hear from people affected by these programs that it was ‘life changing,’ he said. “People say, ‘I didn’t know that becoming a scientist was a career that I could have. . . I knew about being a doctor maybe; I didn't know that being a scientist was something I could do.’”
Some of these future scientists may attend some of the academic institutions NIH is reaching out to through EARA. 

As Dr. Lorsch said, “It has been wonderful to see this idea which came out of UNITE getting launched and embraced. I predict EARA will be a very successful program.”

As the COSWD, I agree. To learn more about EARA and how we define RAIs, please visit the EARA webpage.