Office for Disparities Research and Workforce Diversity Webinar Series: NIH Scientific Workforce Diversity Initiatives: Promoting Inclusive Excellence in the Extramural Research Ecosystem
LAUREN HILL: Good afternoon everybody. Welcome to today’s webinar, which is the fourth and final webinar in the 2022 ODWD webinar series entitled NIH Scientific Workforce Diversity Initiatives: Promoting Inclusive Excellence in the Extramural Research Ecosystem.
And we’re very excited to have the webinar today. It will be recorded, and it will be available online, posted online in a few days, along with the other webinars from our series this year and from our series in previous years.
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We have wonderful news before we get started with today’s webinar. I would like to introduce the new Director of the NIMH Office for Disparities Research and Workforce Diversity, Dr. Christina Borba. Dr. Borba joins us most recently from the Department of Psychiatry at the Boston Medical Center where she was the Director of Research in the Department of Psychiatry.
And she comes to us with extensive experience in mixed methods research, teaching and training, and she has experience in both global and domestic health disparities research and randomized clinical trials, and she has a lot of experience in psychiatric disorders, women’s mental health, gender differences, and we’re really really excited to have her aboard. And Dr. Borba, did you want to say any words of greeting?
CHRISTINA BORBA: Yes. Thank you, Lauren, for that. I just wanted to say good afternoon to everyone. I’m very very excited to have started this new position, and really looking forward to getting to know everyone in the extramural world, and my colleagues here since I just recently started. So thank you for that introduction Lauren.
LAUREN HILL: Wonderful. And we are absolutely thrilled again to have you aboard. So as we get started with today’s webinar the format will be as follows. We will hear first from Dr. Marie Bernard, who will give us a presentation, and then we will hear from Dr. Ericka Boone who will give us her presentation.
Then we will be joined by Dr. Anna Ordonez, and Dr. Borba will join us again, and then we’ll sort of form a panel and we will take questions from, you, the audience members and just kind of have a coffee chat if you will with all of our panelists.
So let me first introduce our speakers, beginning with Dr. Bernard. So Dr. Marie Bernard is the National Institutes of Health’s Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity, or COSWD.
As COSWD she serves as a thought leader supporting scientific workforce diversity, ensuring that a full range of talent is represented to help promote scientific creativity and innovation, both intramurally and extramurally. Dr. Bernard also coleads NIH’s Unite Initiative, which you’ll hear more about today, to end structural racism.
Prior to being selected as the COSWD in May 2021 Dr. Bernard was Deputy Director of the National Institute on Aging, one of NIH’s institutes. As NIA’s Senior Geriatrician she served as the principal advisor to the NIA director. She also led a broad range of activities, including cochairing two Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2020-2030 objectives. Number one, older adults, and number two, dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease.
She co-led the NIH-wide inclusion governance committee that ensures appropriate inclusion of individuals in clinical studies, including by sex, gender, and race/ethnicity, and inclusion of children and older adults. She also led the Women of Color Committee of the NIH-wide Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers.
Her national leadership in geriatrics research, teaching, and clinical practice has been recognized with the Clark Tibbets Award from the Academy of Gerontology and Higher Education, and the Donald P Kent Award from the Gerontological Society of America.
Her work within NIH has been recognized with the NIH Director’s awards, including the NIH Director’s Award for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. She has lectured and published widely in her area of research, nutrition and function in older adults, with particular focus on underrepresented minority populations.
Until October 2008 she was the Endowed Professor and Founding Chairman of the Donald W Reynolds Department of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. Dr. Bernard completed her undergraduate education at Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania and received her MD From the University of Pennsylvania.
Our second speaker, Dr. Ericka Boone, was recently appointed a the Director of the Division of Biomedical Research Workforce, or DBRW at the NIH Office of Extramural Research.
Dr. Boone is tasked with providing leadership on the development, implementation, and evaluation of policies and programs to train, sustain, and enhance the diversity of the future of the biomedical research workforce. Prior to this position she served as the Director of the NIH Division of Loan Repayment.
While in that role Dr. Boone was responsible for administering and providing leadership for the NIH Loan Repayment Programs as well as representing NIH on matters related to the operations, policy development, and evaluation of the LRP.
Dr. Boone has also served as a health scientist administrator or program officer in the Office of Science Policy Communications at the National institute on Drug Abuse, where she developed targeted science-based publications, outreach initiatives, and other activities to educate a variety of audience about the science of drug use, abuse, and addiction.
Currently Dr. Boone also serves on UNITE, NIH’s initiative to identify and address structural racism. She cochairs Committee E along with Dr. Ordonez, which she is charged with evaluating and changing NIH policies, cultures, and structures to promote enhanced workforce diversity.
For her role in these efforts Dr. Boone has won several NIH awards of merit and NIH Director’s awards. Prior to coming to NIH Dr. Boone conducted research at the University of Illinois in Chicago and Emory University. She received her BA in biology from Talladega College and PhD in biobehavioral health from Penn State.
And our panelist Dr. Anna Ordonez, is the Director of the Office of Clinical Research right here at NIMH. She received her MD from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota Colombia, and her adult psychiatry and child adolescent psychiatry training at the University of California San Francisco. She is board certified both in adult and child adolescent psychiatry.
She also has completed postdoc research fellowships at NIMH and UCSF, and master’s degree in advanced sciences and clinical research at UCSF. Prior to returning to NIMH, she held faculty positions at UCSF, where among other duties she was the Medical Director of the Division of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Psychiatry.
She has also engaged in research studies in the United States, Costa Rica, and Colombia, of typical and atypical brain development and of evidence based psychosocial interventions to enhance psychological resilience.
So thank you very much for listening to the incredible credentials of our incredible panel. And with that I turn it over to Dr. Bernard.
MARIE A. BERNARD: Thank you very much. It’s really an honor to be able to serve on this panel, and I am going to bring up my slides, and probably have to switch to a different display setting. So hopefully you can now see my slides.
So I’m going to, over the course of the next 20 minutes or so, give you an overview of what’s going on here at NIH in the diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility area, from my perch as the Chief Office of Scientific Workforce Diversity.
So I’m going to talk to you about the DEIA strategic plan that we anticipate releasing hopefully next month, things that are being done through the COSWD Office. And then I’ll give you a high-level overview of NIH Unite that Drs. Boone and Ordonez will be able to elaborate upon, particularly with regards to the standpoint of the e-committee that looks at the extramural research community.
So, DEIA Strategic Plan, why do we have one? Well it was report language in the NIH budget for fiscal year ’21 that called for us to develop a strategic plan that includes short and long-term goals to address racial, ethnic, and gender disparities at NIH, and to identify and address barriers in access to NIH funding by investigators researching health disparities.
In addition, as the Biden Administration came into office, President Biden issued Executive Order 14035 that mandates that all federal agencies develop a diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility plan for the federal workforce.
So we’ve been working long and hard on this since last summer, we are in the final phases, going through review by the Office of General Council, by the Department of Health and Human Services. And hopefully this will be released sometime next month.
It will be a broad framework that captures everything NIH is doing in the DEIA space and gives you a sense of where we see ourselves going over the course of the next five years. It’s helpful when you’re an extramural researcher thinking about funding opportunities that may come forward.
The mission as enunciated in this plan is that NIH will embrace, integrate, and strengthen DEIA across all of our activities and serve as a foundation. Our vision is to be a people centered organization, representative of our nation’s diversity where all feel a sense of belonging.
We see ourselves accomplishing this through three large objectives: To grow and sustain DEIA through structural and cultural change, to implement organizational practices to center and prioritize DEIA in the workforce, and to advance DEIA through research.
And if you have any familiarity with NIH strategic plans, this is a little different from most, because usually research is the first thing that’s listed. But because this is such a people focused plan, we have the people as the first two objectives.
As I said, it’s very broad, it captures everything the institute’s centers are doing, it captures the Minority Health and Health Disparities Strategic Plan, the Tribal Health Research Plan, the Office of Research in Women’s Health Plan, the COSWD Plan, the Sex Gender Minority Research Office Plan, and gives you a roadmap for the future.
Some of the things that you will see highlighted in it are things like the Native American Research Centers for Health, an ARCH Initiative. Certainly, when I was in Oklahoma I was very aware of how helpful this initiative is in enhancing research and careers for individuals interested in and who happen to be American Indian Alaska Natives from tribes and tribally based organizations.
There’s the more recently Community Engaged Alliance Against Covid19 or CEAL Initiative that came out clearly because at the beginning of this pandemic we saw the differential morbidities and mortalities and didn’t have good engagement with ethnic and racial minority populations who were being disproportionately impacted.
So this was established to leverage relationships between NIH funded researchers and local community engaged leaders, and it's something that is very apparent we need to keep going, we can’t just helicopter in and helicopter out as the need arises because of a national emergency. So the plan is to sustain this initiative, and you’ll see a little bit of that in some subsequent slides.
And then we’ll also see highlighted something we call the Distinguished Scholars Program. This is a program to enhance the diversity of our intramural research program. This is the orientation for the Fiscal Year ’22 or calendar year ’22 group. Very excited, for the first time in three years they were able to get together in person, you see our mask in our hands, nonetheless.
And it’s basically a program that brings people in as a group, a cohort recruitment. Because the data shows that if you bring in cohorts of individuals or hire cohorts you’re more likely to get a variety of individuals than when you do one-offs in terms of hiring.
So they come in as a cohort in the Stadtman or Alaska programs, and they get to apply for this additional enhancement indicating what the interest is and their track record in diversity, and then the best of those individuals get involved. They get extra money for their labs, they get extra mentoring, they build a community as is shown by these very excited individuals here.
And then this is the artwork work for the NIH Unite Initiative. I’ll elaborate on it further shortly, but highlighted in the DEIA strategic plan is the fact that UNITE brought about for this fiscal year a performance plan expectation for institute and center directors, and that means everyone who reports to them, to be attentive to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility issues.
And in particular every institute and center has been required to develop a racial and ethnic equity plan where they step back and they evaluate their environment, see where there may be discrepancies or inequities, develop a plan for addressing it, and continuously learn from that and revise, resubmit, that sort of thing.
Also as a result of UNITE we step back to look at what we are doing in terms of recognizing people here at NIH. And we saw that there were inequities there, with the people who have professional degrees, MDs, PhDs, et cetera, getting many more awards than other staff who are just as important for running the business of NIH, so we’re looking at revising our Director’s Awards. So that’s in the DEIA Strategic Plan.
Transitioning to talking about what’s happening from a COSWD perspective, as noted I was given the opportunity to become the permanent for COSWD in May of ’21, I was acting from October through to May. We tried to hit the ground running, and we recently, as of last March, released our strategic plan for Fiscal Years ’22 to ’26.
Our vision is to enable NIH and NIH funded institutions to benefit from the nation’s full range of talent, because we have lots of data to demonstrate that we’re not doing that. It’s a justice issue, and it’s an issue of maintaining our leadership role in science, because there are good data that show that diverse perspectives lead to greater creativity and innovation.
Our mission is to be the NIH thought leader in the science of scientific workforce diversity using evidence-based approaches to catalyze cultures of inclusive excellence. So how are we doing that? By building the evidence using NIH as a test bed, by disseminating the evidence across the biomedical research workforce ecosystem, and by acting on the evidence, advancing integrated institution-wide systems.
Some examples. In terms of building the evidence, we have something that we call the 21st Century Scholars Program. The concept here is to bring in again cohorts of extramural program staff, program officers, scientific review authors, provide them extra mentoring, build a community, enhance their work skills to become an inclusive culture, let them become DEIA advocates. It’s built to model the successful Distinguished Scholars program.
It may well be associated with more diversity of our extramural program staff as it gets better known, but even more importantly we think it’s going to be a self-reinforcing culture of mentoring and support focusing on the evidence on scientific workforce diversity, and ultimately translating into differences in the way that funding opportunity announcements are configured and potentially who ends up being funded by NIH.
We just graduated our first cohort yesterday. We anticipate doing this on an annual basis for the next four to five years, groups of 13 to 15 program officers and scientific review officers, so that by the end of this, by our calculation about 10 percent of our staff will have gone through this program, and we’re hoping that it will have have a ripple effect that we’re anticipating of funding opportunity announcements and who is funded.
And then in terms of disseminating the evidence we have a webinar series, just like this, that we started last year, the 2021-2022 season ended, the ’22-’23 season just started with our first offering just last week, How Does Diversity Impact Pharma. Our next offering is going to be November 17th. This star-studded cast, Dr. Avila is from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, who will talk about how they go about tracking diversity supplement awardees and evaluating them.
Dr. Boatright has a lovely correspondence in JAMA Internal Medicine that has looked overall at NIH and what we’ve been doing with diversity supplements, and very importantly demonstrating that less than five percent of RO1s have diversity supplements associated with them, there’s an opportunity there.
Dr. Boone, who you will hear from shortly, who will give an overall view of how NIH is thinking about diversity supplements. Dr. Michelle Jones-London, who is from the National institute of Neurologic Disorders and Strokes, who will talk about how her IC has evaluated their diversity supplement awardees.
Unfortunately, not illustrated here, Dr. Jamelle Banks, who will talk about it from the National Institute on Aging perspective. I’m very excited, Dr. Luchsinger just yesterday agreed to participate. You can see he’s a very highly placed academic who started his career with a diversity supplement. He’ll talk about that.
And then acting on the evidence we have a lot of data that shows that mentoring is important in allowing people to have a successful career. And that particularly for people who are underrepresented groups, they’re not necessarily going to come at the field with a built-in network of mentors, and thus one has to be thoughtful and purposeful about that. We also know that mentoring is usually uncompensated.
So what we did this year, recognizing all those things, was to put out a Notice of Special Interest for Administrative Supplements to Recognize Excellence in DEIA Mentoring. It’s an administrative supplement, so the applications had to have either a mentoring component in the objective, so the originally reviewed grant, or an active diversity supplement.
We had an overwhelming response. And there will be about a 12 percent success rate. We’ve prioritized mentors who will enhance outreach to scientists in keeping with the NIH Notice of Special Interest and Diversity but given the robustness of the response to this we will do it again for FY ’23.
Then the NIH UNITE Initiative. The NIH Unite Initiative has this very audacious goal of ending structural racism. We know that there’s more to structural racism than is under our control in the biomedical research ecosystem, but we do have a bully pulpit in that ecosystem, being the largest funder of biomedical research.
So driven by the events of 2020, where we saw the disparate morbidity and mortality for people of color at the beginning of the pandemic, where we saw a videotaped murder of George Floyd and other racially based violence, and where we saw just a month after we publicly unveiled this initiative the killings of Asian women in Atlanta, it came into sharp relief, the ongoing reality of racial and ethnic injustice in our country.
And we at NIH felt that we could not be silent. So over the course of the summer of 2020 there were a series of intense institute and center director meetings where we developed a shared commitment to address structural racism in the biomedical research enterprise. We publicly unveiled this February 26, 2021, at a Special Meeting of the Advisory Committees to the NIH Director.
We call it UNITE because each of these letters represents five interacting workstreams: Understanding the landscape, new research in health disparities and minority health research, Internal workforce, being Transparent and communicating, and External workforce. You could look at the content areas that are focused as these three overlapping areas, in health disparities and minority health research, internal workforce, and external workforce as we’ve discussed in the nature medicine commentary from last fall.
Some highlights. From the health disparities perspective the month after we publicly unveiled UNITE we announced through the NIH Common Fund the opportunity for transformative research to address health disparities and advanced health equity, and by the end of FY ’21 we’ve committed up to $58 million through 11 awards, six of them looking in general at this topic, five of them looking very specifically at minority serving institutions, and there was an additional competition this fiscal year, the awardees will presumably soon be announced.
Looking to FY ’23, there is something now called the COMPASS Initiative. The concept for this came from UNITE it’s now being led by several ICs and offices with lots of representation on the working group. The intent here is to have community driven health equity structural interventions, working at the community level.
So there are going to be local health equity research assemblies that will be really important for defining what’s needed in the community, there’s going to be a national coordination center working very closely with a national health research assembly, because again people who on a national level are representing community who will be dictating what needs to be done, and a hub and spoke relationship with researchers in the local communities.
This is discussed in detail in a recently released announcement from the Common Fund. The intent is to commit $23 to $52 million per year over the next 10 years, and the first solicitation which has just come out for community sites for this initiative. So very different from the usual from NIH, as focusing on the community first, and then the academic institutions will be brought in subsequently.
From the internal workforce perspective, I shared a couple of things, but one other thing that we’re really proud of is something called a Power of an Inclusive Workforce Recognition Project. It is a brainchild of Dr. Sadhana Jackson, depicted here, bottom row, second from the left. She is a tenure track scientist in our intermural program, a distinguished scholar who speaks very eloquently in this stat op ed that’s referenced here about what it has felt like walking the halls of NIH and not seeing herself represented. And the intent of this project is to make sure the full spectrum of people who are important to the accomplishment of our science are recognized.
So the variety of races, ethnicities, career stage and job classifications, abilities, the variety of colors and textures that you see here are to represent that richness, as well as the pictures of individuals. So if you come to the NIH campus you’ll see it in the clinical center, you’ll see it in building one where the NIH Director’s Office is, you’ll see it in Building 31 where all the institute centers are headquartered, and it will be spreading.
And then there is the focus on the external workforce, and I’m not going to discuss that at all, because that’s what Dr. Boone will be talking about. So I will close by saying that we should be cognizant that great minds think differently, and if you’d like know more about what’s being done specifically through the COSWD office, please just look us up at Diversity.NIH.Gov. Thank you. Dr. Boone?
LAUREN HILL: Thank you very much Dr. Bernard.
ERICKA BOONE: Thank you so much and thank you all for joining us today. My name is Erica Boone, I’m Director for the Division of Biomedical Research Workforce Here at NIH, I am also a Cochair for the NIH UNITE Initiative Committee E, along with my colleague Dr. Anna Ordonez. We’re going to specifically discuss, for the next 20 minutes, and let me set my timer here so that I don’t speak over my time. We’re going to talk about some of our Committee E activities.
So first I’m going to give you a brief reminder of the charge of our committee, which is to identify policies and practices that contribute to a persistent lack of inclusion and funding inequities across the extramural research ecosystem, and to develop strategies to address those.
So the work of our committee is guided by a framework that is guided by these four pillars that you see here on the screen, enhancing URG career pathways, which is reviewing existing programs to identify gaps, successful initiatives that can be scaled up, as well as additional strategies and resources to help address ongoing barriers that are faced by individuals that are traditionally under-represented in the biomedical sciences.
Next, advancing equity at extramural institutions, with a focus on environment and culture. So this particular sub working group or sub committee is focused on identifying interventions to address cultures of discrimination and inequity across extramural institutions. Next, advancing equity in NIH policies and procedures, which is focusing on areas including NIH peer review and interactions of NIH staff with applicants from underrepresented groups of science.
Lastly, research capacity at minority serving institutions, including HBCUs and TCUs, which is focusing on identifying and providing proposals to strengthen workforce institutional and infrastructure capacity at HBCUs and other MSIs that don’t necessarily have a long history of funding from the NIH.
While we have four sub working groups that consist of our make up Committee E, we have been working alongside diligently with implementation teams that we have established to lead some of the efforts and kind of turn some of our ideas and proposals into actionable programs and policies that we are hopeful will advance equity within the biomedical research ecosystem. And for the next few moments I’m going to give you a high-level snapshot of our Unite E and implementation team activities.
Career Pathways. So over the last year or so the extramural community has heard a lot about this working group’s efforts to expand NIH institute and center participation in the Science Education Partnership Awards or SEPA Program.
So as a reminder, SEPA is an NIH research education program that supports pre-K through grade 12 informal science educational activities targeting teachers, students, and families, and outside the classroom in venues such as science centers, museums, et cetera, as a means to improve science and public health literacy.
As of April the 7th of this past year, NIH published a Notice of Participation for SEPA, 16 NIH institutes, centers, and offices as well as the BRAIN Initiative joined NIGMS or the National Institute on General Medical Sciences to fund SEPA awards. So our initial goal was to receive and fund more SEPA applications across the extramural community, and we’re well on our way to doing so.
So in addition to SEPA there are other initiatives that are focusing on the career pathways underway. So for example one initiative is focused on providing a framework for how NIH can better incorporate DEIA and mentoring language into our Funding Opportunity Announcements or FOAs, which support our research activities. So the roots of this particular working group started about five years ago as NIGMS was charged with piloting language within the parent T32, encouraging institutions to improve mentoring and training environments for its trainees.
So our current UNITE E DEIA and mentoring FOA language implementation team is hard at work with developing the framework to further revise and enhance DEIA and mentoring language into parent T32s, and potentially to develop language for inclusion within our fellowship funding opportunity announcements within IOM making these to be score driving criteria and improving mentoring expectations so as to ensure appropriate monitoring and accountability of mentors across the country.
Another implementation team is creating a diversity supplement matchmaking platform as a means to increase participation of underrepresented groups in the SBIR STTR product development entrepreneurship and research training opportunities.
So this platform in essence will enable companies to identify students or faculty, particularly those that are located at minority serving institutions, that are looking to explore opportunities with small business and vice versa.
Lastly, regarding the PEDP or Plan to Enhance Diverse Perspectives. So PEDP is a summary of strategies to advance the scientific and technical merit of proposed project through inclusivity. So this PEDP helps for an institution to broadly outline some of their policies and some of their programs to enhance diversity and participation, not only for the individuals that are participating in the research that is taking place, but also those individuals that are performing the research as well. So we’re looking to expand the use of PEDPs within FOAs across the NIH.
So now on to promoting equity at extramural institutions, environment, and culture. So why is institutional culture important? So institutional climate is defined as the perceptions and meanings that are attached to the processes, the policies as well as the practices that individuals experience within an institution.
So it’s important that because while ubiquitous and usually out of site and out of mind, institutional culture and institutional climate has a profound impact on the work environment and the ability of each person within that environment to succeed and prosper or not.
So while it is purported that inclusion, diversity, access, and equity is critical for harnessing the full range of human creativity as Dr. Bernard referred to earlier in her presentation, and to drive innovation within the biomedical research workforce, people of color, members of other minoritized groups continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields, and continue to face barriers to academic and career advancement that individuals from majority groups just don’t tend to encounter, or they encounter them at different rates.
So strong and positive institutional cultures are absolutely necessary to drive the change that’s needed to create sustained, to create positive institutional culture and climates that lay the basis for more equitable academic institutions.
So to address this issue, UNITE E has established the Institutional Culture Assessment Implementation Team to further develop a framework to provide funding to institutions to make use of currently available and validated instruments, such as the audit, to conduct organizational climate assessments and critical self-studies so that these institutions can better understand underlying issues that are contributing to their institution specific DEIA challenges, and to develop an action plan to address them, along with benchmarks and metrics, to inform their methods, to inform how they disseminate results, et cetera.
A pivotal influence behind the development of this particular award and the recognition and the development of the implementation team in and of itself is the AAAA SEA Change and NSF advanced institutional award programs.
So to help frame implementation team actions, members of our UNITE E implementation team have readily been consulting with our colleagues from AAAS SEA Change as well as NSF Advanced programs. Implementation of these teams’ efforts will help us to further refine our program structure. They’re going to focus on writing the FOA, et cetera.
The work of advancing DEIA efforts typically falls disproportionately on researchers from underrepresented groups, and we all know this. And while doing this work is purported to be critically important, it can definitely place these individuals at a disadvantage, because they are called on more often than others, while also having to produce at the same rate as those that don’t traditionally have these additional pressures. So this work is often unacknowledged as well as not adequately rewarded by institutions despite its critical importance.
So to address this, the Excellence in DEIA Investigators Award Implementation Team is working to establish a framework for the development of a five-year award that both provides recognition and acknowledgment of an investigator’s exemplary efforts regarding their DEIA efforts, as well as recognizing or providing support for their current research efforts as well.
So the concept of this grant follows a similar concept to the NINDS Landis Award, and the HHMI Professor’s Award, both of which recognize the synergy as well as the tension between teaching excellence as well as research achievement.
So moving from an individual DEIA recognition to recognizing DEIA advancements at an institutional level. So the UNITE E Institutional Excellence in DEIA Implementation Team is readily establishing a framework for an institutional prize that provides recognition as well as acknowledgment to institutions that are implementing particularly innovative programs and interventions that have led to advancements and enhanced culture change as well as increased success, retention, and advancement of students and faculty from underrepresented groups.
In April of 2022 this implementation team, which is led by the Office of Scientific Workforce Diversity, released an RFI inviting comments and suggestions from the extramural community about the prize structure, outreach efforts, judging criteria, identifying barriers to applying, et cetera.
So the RFI was open through July 28th of this year, and we hope that we heard from some of you that are participating on today’s call, because it just helps for us to better improve our prizes, our awards that we are looking to develop through UNITE if we hear from you. So please, the next time you hear about an RFI that’s coming out from UNITE E, please help us, or from UNITE in general, please help us by participating.
So, tenure track and tenure professors are nearly almost always assessed and promoted based on their work in their areas of teaching, their areas of research as well as service. So colleges and universities say they value great mentorship and that they value diversity, equity, and inclusion, but the faculty members doing this work are seldom compensated and rarely recognized in any career advancing way, including when it comes to promotion and tenure.
So in order to impact this the UNITE E Institutional Promotion and Tenure DEIA Recognition Policies Implementation Team, that’s a mouthful right there, is working with key professional societies including the AAMC FASEB and AAU to find ways to encourage and incentivize as well as provide a little pressure on academic institutions to update their promotion and tenure expectations and policies to meaningfully factor in work in efforts advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility conducted by their faculty, and making sure that they are highly regarded and rewarded within their extramural institution.
Advancing equity in NIH policies and procedures. So harassment in any form represents a clear and present danger to scientific progress. NIH supports safe and respectful work environments that are free from harassment, including sexual harassment, discrimination, and other forms of inappropriate conduct.
In support of this and to ensure that we make this explicitly evident to the extramural community, UNITE E has worked with the NIH Office of Extramural Research to update our NIH Harassment Portal and Web Form to explicitly inform or include discrimination and update the antiharassment privacy notice.
Further, as of May of this past year, NIH implemented a congressional provision to address harassment at NIH funded institutions. This provision mandates that NIH institutions report to NIH when principal investigators or PIs or other key personnel on an NIH funded grant are removed from their positions due to concerns about harassment, bullying, retaliation, or hostile working conditions.
Still focusing on advancing equity in NIH policies and procedures. In alignment with the Center for Scientific Review or CSR efforts to mitigate bias during review, UNITE E has established an implementation team to work in concert with the staff training officer within the Office of Extramural Research or OER to develop targeted Program Officer, PO, and Scientific Review Officer, SRO training modules, to promote more inclusive and equitable engagement, particularly with individuals from underrepresented groups in science, as well as those from lesser funded extramural institutions.
These trainings will address the recognition and mitigation of implicit and explicit racial ethnic bias, institutional and reputational bias, favoritism, fair and equitable access when considering interactions with these applicants, et cetera. So all of these were identified as key areas of improvement during UNITE E listening sessions. So we turned what we heard from you into actionable plans and trainings for our program officers and SROs here at the NIH.
We have an additional implementation team that is developing guidance for how NIH institutions and center leadership staff can incorporate strategies and/or criteria that will help to enhance diversity of their ICs or institute and centers’ funded extramural portfolios, including consideration of other factors such as PI support or their existing support, institution type, regions, research areas, approaches, et cetera.
So lastly, I’m still on schedule here, research capacity building, particularly at minority serving institutions. So the implementation team outlined here on this particular slide is currently developing a framework and funding opportunity announcement to support the development of a pilot program providing research to active MSIs,minority serving institutions, with grants to conduct structured, comprehensive institutional assessments, and then to obtain support to conduct these activities.
Development of structured assessments can offer actionable evaluation benchmarks and action plans to address areas such as institutional research culture and support sponsored programs, capacity, faculty resources and needs, infrastructure and endowment needs that are necessary to improve overall competitiveness for NIH and other federal funding opportunities.
So if I may I’d like to interject some comments that we heard about this particular working group’s activities from an NIH advisory council member. So this individual said that what is so exciting about this concept is that it represents a measured methodical and systematic approach to tapping the untapped potential of our nation’s minority serving institution community.
Also this concept recognizes the granularity of MSI institutions. As someone who spent their entire professional career at an HBCU, this concept is encouraging. It’s like when it comes down to the end of the game with the score tied with a minute and a half left to play, and the coach looks down the bench and calls on the kid with the mad skills that rarely gets a chance to play, he puts him in the game. This concept holds the promise of putting MSIs into the game when it really truly counts.
The MSI S10 Instrumentation Implementation Team has been working on addressing an important concern, identified again during listening sessions. And this is the need for access to and/or purchase of state-of-the-art equipment which ensures progression of research activities and appropriate educational opportunities for students at minority serving institutions.
The concept for this MSI S10 program or instrumentation program will provide from between $25,000 and $250,000 to purchase equipment, and also hopefully provision for maintenance cost, because you know that those maintenance costs can be a bummer sometimes, and you cannot operate equipment without maintaining it. The next step for this group is to further refine this framework and to release the FOA, hopefully late fall.
Our Sponsor Program’s Administration Development or SPAD implementation team is developing a framework for the reissuance of a SPAD Program, which I think it expires in two years. And the goal of this particular program is to expand the services and resources to aid institutions that are seeking to develop or enhance the services of their offices of sponsored programs.
So as I close, I’d like to thank our committee membership, including one of my committee cochairs, Dr. Anna Ordonez who will join us momentarily for Q&A. I would also like to express my sincere thank you to our more than 13 implementation teams for UNITE E. And if you remember I showed you a slide detailing our committees as well as the names of our participants. I would like to thank you all for your attention and your participation, and now I will turn over control back to Dr. Hill.
LAUREN HILL: Thank you so much, Dr. Boone. That is awesome. You all are doing a lot. It’s always very very impressive.
ERICKA BOONE: And I talked about it in under 20 minutes.
LAUREN HILL: You did. That was also very impressive. So if we could have Dr. Bernard, Dr. Ordonez, and Dr. Borba if you would please turn your cameras on that would be great. And we are taking questions from the Q&A box. I also have a few questions lined up, but we would love to hear questions from people who have joined us and heard all that fantastic information. And of course, Dr. Borba if you have questions, panelists if you have comments or thoughts for each other that’s fine as well. But I have questions too. Let’s see what we’ve got in the Q&A.
CHRISTINA BORBA: There are some questions already in the Q&A.
LAUREN HILL: Super. And please feel free to help me and read them if I look like I’m struggling. But I do see one from Dr. Steph Miller from Dr. Boone. Dr. Boone, this sounds so exciting. I have a question about how trainees should approach applications between now and when these initiatives are implemented. I will be applying for a K training grant soon. Can I include DEIA mentoring plans, both for myself and my mentees in my grant application, even if the FOAs do not yet include prompt for this information?
Is it too soon for me to expect my DEIA activities to count positively toward my grant application score? May I submit a request to the program officer for my DEIA experience and planned activities to count positively toward the Review Committee’s score of my application?
ERICKA BOONE: I think I will put it this way. I think within the Career Development Plan or your Career Development Application you should talk about all of the activities that you’re engaging in that are helping you to advance your career.
So it is very important, and I am getting some head nods from Dr. Borba, so I want to hear about what she has to say next as well. So I think that it is very important for us to hear about these activities and how it’s helping to develop you as well as the people around you to develop as investigators.
I think that oftentimes people think that here at NIH we are only interested in the science. Now, while we are, just let me tell you we are absolutely interested in the science, the culture in which the science is conducted is absolutely important, because it can help for it to proliferate, or it will help to really diminish the innovation that takes place.
The people are the important parts of the science, they’re the most important parts of the science. And helping to advance them and cultivate their research skills as well as their positioning within the institution and helping to provide them with the soft skills that are necessary in order to help advance their career I think is really important to highlight within your application. I want to hear what Dr. Borba has to say.
CHRISTINA BORBA: I couldn’t agree more. As someone who has mentored many, many, many K awardees in the past, we talked, it’s like the key advice is really about yes, the science is very important of course since this is a research institution, but at the end of the day it’s really about growing as an academic in a leadership position at your institution, and all of these activities, making the argument that these are activities that would help you to do that is also very important.
The other piece to that is also the environment gets rated in your application as well. And so it’s not just about you as an individual, but it’s also about your institution and your environment. Which it is also really important why we talked about cultivating that environment at the university and hospital level as well, because that also allows people to be very successful. So part of the environment is also these activities that are happening, and how you’re contributing to those as well is also something really important.
LAUREN HILL: Wonderful.
ERICKA BOONE: Dr. Ordonez, did you want to add something to those?
ANNA ORDONEZ: Thank you Dr. Boone. Actually, I think you both encapsulated it perfectly. The last thing I could say is it never hurts to talk to your program officer. We always encourage everybody to do that. So just chiming in to say go ahead and do that as well.
ERICKA BOONE: Lauren, you helped for us to moderate and present during the very recent 2022 virtual NIH grants conference and preconference events, the Division of Biomedical Research Workforce or DBRW presented a webinar for early career investigators. So we talked about the most important factors with applying for fellowships and other career development awards. So Dr. Miller, I think that it might be posted on the website, so I’m going to dig around to see if I can find the information, and I will place that information within, I think it’s the Q&A section, right?
LAUREN HILL: Yes. I think you can do that. Tech person?
MS. DUKE: You can drop things in the chat as well.
LAUREN HILL: Dr. Bernard, did you want to chime in, or shall we move on?
MARIE A. BERNARD: I think they’ve covered it, let’s move on.
LAUREN HILL: Wonderful. Michael Taffe asks will there be any follow up to all of the anti-bias training to determine whether it actually works, and how will that be done. I think that could be for any of the panelists because I think all of you have done evidence based anti-bias training work or help to develop or implement anti-bias training.
MARIE A. BERNARD: I’ll start. Our first Scientific Workforce Diversity Seminar last year was is implicit bias training effective. And we had a star-studded cast of experts in the topic. And one of the things that came through loud and clear to me, looking at literature prior to that, from having people participate in the seminar, is that it needs to be partnered with action items. The training just by itself is not enough.
And so in terms of evaluating the impact, if you have implicit bias training that’s associated with planned activities and looking at what difference those activities may have, I think that’s the way to go about doing that.
That said, I’m very proud to be able to say that our office on behalf of NIH has developed implicit bias training that has been mandatory for all 47,000 employees last year, as well as this year, it is now on the COSWD website for anyone to take advantage of, and it serves as a great baseline knowledge level, but as we all know when it comes to making change you need to be aware and you need to take action, and implicit bias training makes you aware and you have to take action after that. I don’t know what my colleagues have to say.
ERICKA BOONE: I think that it is also important to follow up with that with the understanding that the trainings cannot be one and done. So we cannot expect that there will be significant or enhanced or sustained behavioral change with just one or two trainings, that these trainings will have to be conducted on regular intervals.
And I think that it will be very helpful for us to better understand and to actually be provided with metrics that can help for us to improve these trainings over time so that they are as impactful as they possibly can be within, not only here at NIH because we are also engaging in these types of trainings as well here at the NIH, but as far as also within the extramural community in and of itself.
So I think that the idea for some is that, oh you take this training and things should be automatically better, but that’s just not what happens. And I think that as we continue to reinforce the idea that these trainings should be taking place at consistent intervals, I think that institutions across the country will definitely begin to see some real change begin to take place within their environments.
LAUREN HILL: I see in the Q&A that there are some questions that you can maybe take offline about an email, and then some complementary, some cheers and thanks. So I have a question, it’s kind of a broad question. Which we kind of get either explicitly or implicitly.
How will you know when you’re making a difference with all these many, many, many efforts? When you think about how long it took if you will to establish all of the structures that have been built deliberately that have resulted in all of the inequities that we are now trying to undo to promote equity and inclusion and diversity, how will we know when we get there?
MARIE A. BERNARD: I will be happy to begin my response, and then again let my colleagues respond. That’s where I’m really excited to be able to co-lead this initiative for NIH. And Dr. Alfred Johnson who is another of the cochairs, he’s the Deputy Director of Management and the Acting Principal Deputy Director also are involved. Dr. Johnson likes to talk about the fact that we eat an elephant a bite at a time, and what we’re trying to do here is eat an elephant.
So we have a lot of short term and medium-term measures, process measures, that help us to understand whether we’ve done what we’ve said we are going to do. And we report those out every six months at the Advisory Committee to the Director’s meetings.
However, we’ve also spent in the last six months a lot of time thinking very carefully about exactly what are the challenges we’re trying to address. We kind of all knew within our heart but we now have it clearly enunciated, and what are our goals.
And we have a group of really talented evaluation experts from across NIH who are coming together to help us to think through how do we measure those medium and long-term goals that we have. Because from my viewpoint we will know we’re successful when we get to the point that we can’t predict based upon demographic characteristics who has gotten funding from NIH. We will be successful when we get to the point that you can’t tell that a person is doing health disparities research because that grant application is just as successful as something that’s looking at very basic Alzheimer’s type research.
So those are ultimately the goals. Those are long term goals, and we have a lot of really bright people to help us think about how to measure those. And I will just put in a plug, we are going to have a comprehensive summary of what we’ve accomplished with UNITE thus far, and what we see ourselves doing going forward released next week.
So if you’ve gone to NIH Unite and signed up for our notices you will get automatically notified, or you can go there and look for it. We expect it to be posted by the 29th or the 30th. Erica, Anya, what would you add?
ANNA ORDONEZ: I think you pretty much covered it, Marie. We have this data that everybody is always looking at when we’re looking at who is submitting applications and who is getting funded, and that’s a very basic place to be tracking everything we do, but as Marie says it’s a much more robust effort, and there are many other things we need to be tracking. So I think if nothing else that data should be changing but all these other factors need to be changing as well.
ERICKA BOONE: I think I would just wrap that one up with thinking that we should always be looking at ways by which NIH can improve the way that it does its business. The fact that we say that diversity is one of our most important and core values, but we look at our funding rate and we look at or we hear about the research and training experiences of trainees.
And we hear the stories about individuals where they have experienced discrimination, they have experienced microaggression, they didn’t have a positive experience, and their mental health was challenged during their graduate and training experiences.
I think that there’s always ways that we can improve the way that we do our business, the way that we hold individuals accountable within the extramural community, as well as hold ourselves accountable as a beacon for the extramural community in and of itself.
So while success it one thing, what we think about as successful, I think that we should always be looking at how we can be a better example in how we do our own work, because that influences the extramural community extensively.
LAUREN HILL: I have more questions, but Dr. Borba –
ERICKA BOONE: But wait. But wait. But wait. Lauren what do you think as well. What do you and Dr. Borba think.
LAUREN HILL: I’m the asker today. But Dr. Borba, did you have thoughts or did you have questions? She can be asking or answering today because she’s our new director.
CHRISTINA BORBA: I wanted to piggyback a little bit about what Erica said as I think we are on day nine or day ten of my tenure here at the NIH but have had 20-something years of an academic career prior to arriving. We, I’m going to pretend I have my other hat on right now.
But we always looked to the NIH to set the example as the academic. So if the NIH is doing it then everyone else should be doing it. If the NIH is funding this, then every other foundation and other types of funding mechanisms are going to follow suit. If the NIH thinks it’s important –
And so I couldn’t agree with you more, is that we have to look in, so now I’m switching my hat to my current position, we have to do well internally, because the rest of the world will follow suit if we do it well. Because this is the hub that academics look to.
And I think about the deans and the chairs of these departments and these medical schools and these schools of public health, we have the ability to put them to task, to really make sure that these things get done. So it is a lot of responsibility, but I think we’re going to get there, and just this presentation alone today for me was so incredibly helpful, because there are so many initiatives happening, and if you think all of them coming together, we will start seeing some really great improvement.
LAUREN HILL: Absolutely, I agree. And that’s funny because one of my questions was going to be, and you all anticipated it, was what levers does the NIH have to change institutional culture or institutional practice? And I think those are kind of two different things. So let me use that to segue into culture, institutional culture.
That’s hard. Sometimes it’s like nailing jello to the wall. So you know what it is when you’re there, and you can feel it, it’s a vibe, or you start to see attrition or retention problems or something is going on. How do you assess culture? You mentioned that there are validated ways to assess culture. Could you just mention maybe a couple of examples of measurable factors that constitute climate or culture that pertain to DEIA?
ERICKA BOONE: I think before I get started, I would really love to hear what Dr. Borba’s perception of this would be from an academic perspective, before we come in with the NIH perspective.
CHRISTINA BORBA: Can I clarify my perspective from an academic lens, but on what exactly, just so I don’t start going off.
LAUREN HILL: Go ahead. Coffee talk.
CHRISTINA BORBA: Like in terms of culture?
ERICKA BOONE: An assessment of culture, how to identify those aspects of culture that you could readily assess, or maybe not so readily assess at an institutional level.
LAUREN HILL: Because we know it is real, and we know it has impact.
CHRISTINA BORBA: So as a mixed methods researcher, that I very much depend on both quant and qual data, I’m going to hit my qual hat now and really think about the environment of my trainees. So as a mid to senior level faculty member prior to coming here, thinking qualitatively what the experiences of my trainees were.
And I say year after year after year I was hearing the same narrative over and over and over again about why their work wasn’t valued, why the institution was not going to promote them to the assistant professor level. And that to me was an indication of culture.
The fact that if I’m hearing the same stories, and for those of you out there who are qualitative researchers, you know theoretical saturation, the data was saturated, that we were in a culture that was not cultivating not only career progression, but also wellness, and reducing job burnout.
And then what happened was the pandemic. And then we very clearly saw the burden on some of our junior folks disproportionately take on some of the kind of things around the pandemic. And more clinical burden, more, oh, you are research funded, but I need you to see patients.
And so for me it’s being really involved with the junior faculty, the trainees, the residents, the PhD students, the undergrads. They’re telling me what the culture is because they’re experiencing it on a regular basis, and then it’s my job to bring it up to the higher levels.
And my concern, and if there’s anyone on this webinar that knows me, I kept saying we’re losing the most brilliant people to academia and to research because our culture is not supporting them, and that was the one thing I kept driving over and over again, is I’m seeing people leave academia when they really would be able to contribute to this knowledge base that we have. And it’s not because they couldn’t do the work, the culture wasn’t there to support them.
ERICKA BOONE: So important aspects of any kind of audit would be assessment, it would be the analysis, and then you want to turn that around in order to be able to make recommendations, in order to improve a process, improve culture, improve whatever it might be that you’re seeking to answer questions on. And how do you do that? You do it by asking people what they think, how they feel, what their experiences are. And these audits can be used to assess the culture at various aspects within the organization or within the institution.
So for example from the leadership perspective, from the culture of a department, how an individual feels about their own workspace, about their own work responsibility, et cetera. So it can cross so many different sectors and environments within an institution, but really it starts with the basis of how do you feel about this, how do you rate institutional culture, or what has been your experience within that culture, so that you can gain additional perspective and understanding.
But the thing is this, any time you ask people questions they want to see that you’re going to do something with what they give you. So people will only be as honest as what they think you are as sincere in your efforts to create change within that environment.
So really paired with that you can provide the assessment, you can provide the recommendations, but people are only going to be honest with you and truthful with you and open themselves up if they really feel as if you are in a partnership with them to create sustained change within that environment. And I’m going to be quiet, I feel like I’m talking too much.
MARIE A. BERNARD: I would like to add that we have an initiative that’s ongoing at NIH through the Common Fund called the Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation or the FIRST Initiative as structured assessments of environment that are being used at each of the centers that are being funded to evaluate all of those levels that Dr. Boone just mentioned.
Because they’re being held responsible for assessing their environment, the bias, equity, work-life balance, and to make sure that they’ve addressed those things to make a supportive environment for cohorts of early career faculty, like with the distinguished scholars program, who have an interest and a track record in diversity, and who you’re going to be supporting through to tenure and hopefully RO1 funding from NIH. It is an experiment that NIH is involved with, that’s the rigorous evaluation.
But as Dr. Borba has mentioned what starts with NIH funding often disseminates out, and by the end of Fiscal Year ’23 we will have at least 15 different cohorts, 150 early career faculty at various sites who are being supported, and I think that that will have a ripple effect and impact, and particularly when the FOA that has been supported by the e-committee comes out that calls for institutional cultural assessments, I call it First Light, they’ll be looking likely to what’s happening in the first centers and seeing what they can replicate there. So I think that there will be dissemination and ripple effect as a result of all of that.
LAUREN HILL: Great. So I have – it looks like there are not that many more questions in the Q&A, so audience, if you have more, please put them forth. Because I have a couple more questions and then I think we can end for the day.
One is, are you getting pushback? Are you experiencing any pushback? Because this is a lot of effort, it’s important effort, it’s multi-level effort, it’s taking a lot of energy, a lot of resources. Do you ever get any pushback? You know, why is NIH doing all this instead of science? Erica is laughing but she is muted.
ERICKA BOONE: I promised I was going to be quiet.
LAUREN HILL: You can’t be quiet on that one Erica.
ERICKA BOONE: I think that that’s natural that you will have your folks that are naturally with you, let’s move forward. You’ll have those folks that are cautiously optimistic, and then you’ll have a couple of other groups that may be just waiting, crossing their arms. Either they’re hoping that you’re going to succeed or they’re hoping you’re going to fail, either way. But I think that there are different kinds of folks that are involved in any kind of effort.
And I think that even in the face, sometimes it’s really good to get that kind of pushback because it might highlight some areas, efforts, et cetera, things that you hadn’t really thought about. So you might need to go back and reassess and improve whatever it is that you’re doing, your approach, whatever it might be, because of what you’ve heard from someone who may be giving you some pushback. And that comes in various kinds of forms.
But I think that you need people that may not necessarily be for exactly what you’re doing to kind of help you push those things forward. But I think that you also have those other groups as well, and I think that those are the ones that really help for us to continue to have the wind underneath our wings and to push these efforts forward, because like you said it takes a lot of effort, it takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of galvanizing of community energy and effort over a sustained period of time. So I think that we need all of these folks to help us to move these things and to move our efforts forward.
LAUREN HILL: Anna or Marie want to take that one?
ANNA ORDONEZ: Erica, I think you covered most of what I was thinking. I’d say the last piece, the last group that’s maybe crossing their arms and waiting to see what happens is the group that’s a little bit cynical about all of these efforts.
Because this is not the first time we’re talking about this, and this is not the first time we’re hearing reports out about this, and I think it’s one of the questions that has just come in again in the chat, there have been publications on this, there have been committees and workforces that have been developed to try to address this many times over, and we’re still seeing ongoing issues.
And I would say that Eric is right. In this instance, and maybe helping to address this question that just came in, I think in this instance NIH is really trying to take a very multi-pronged approach that is really trying to make a difference in the structure of the entire operation and how things are going to happen now and will continue to happen, but it requires trying to address this from many, many, many different angles, and Dr. Bernard just talked about we have 47,000 plus staff at the NIH that are a part of this, how the NIH operates, and then the entire extramural community.
So many, many people are involved in this effort and in trying to move this forward, and there are lots of pieces, and we are trying to work really hard to get them all to come together so that the way that the NIH is structured and built is different for our next generations than it has been in the past when these things were known and not addressed.
MARIE A. BERNARD: I will just add to that that I’ve been here since 2008, that sounds like a long time, but there are people who have been here 30 and 40 years, and they say they’ve never seen such a coalesced effort here at NIH to address these issues.
The thing that is unique is all of the institutes and centers are involved, the upper-level leadership is involved, we have staff at all levels who are involved, and then we have also these executive orders that are kind of compelling us in the same direction. So it’s a really unique coalescence of interest.
The other part of it that is really interesting as we’ve been moving forward with these racial and ethnic equity plans for each of the institutes and centers, one of our consultants who is a real expert in culture change and doing things within governments points out it doesn’t have to be 100 percent of the people who are onboard. Twenty to twenty-five percent of the people can make for significant change.
So I think we’re on our way, but I will say sometimes some of the emails I’ve seen that have gone to the NIH director, I think oh my gosh, there’s a lot of work to be done with some people. But we don’t have to have 100 percent, we need to have some influencers, we have to have a significant minority who are ready to move things forward, and I think that momentum is there.
LAUREN HILL: Fantastic points. So I see a question here that you all have touched on, but let me read it from Dr. Taffe. Dr. Bernard talks about culture and early career faculty. Well, one of those culture factors is the requirement for RO1 for tenure, and the NIH’s continued failure to address the Ginther gap in a systemic, broad based, effective way. What are you doing to fix this problem for junior faculty successes? So I think this may get at the issue about sort of how is NIH maybe addressing that from our vantage point, how are we addressing that at the institutional level.
MARIE A. BERNARD: I guess I should start because I would not exist as a Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity were it not for NIH being serious about this. After the Ginther Report Francis Collins turned to his advisory committee for recommendations as to what should be done to address it, and one of the recommendations was to establish a position of a Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity.
Dr. Hanna Valentine, inaugural COSWD came in 2014. She has done a beautiful job of laying the foundation that allows me as the new COSWD working with this wonderful team to work in an accelerated fashion to try to do even more things. The concept of the first initiative came out of the COSWD office.
There was also the recommendation for the development of what’s called the Diversity Program Consortium that makes outreach to minority serving institutions to help increase their capacity, to help bring along individuals from college level onward into the scientific pathways.
This is established going on a decade now, and we’re able to see with that, with the BUILD initiative, with the National mentoring Research Network, that it’s proving to be productive. People are going on to graduate school, they’re getting their degrees, they’re becoming successful at getting grants, but it takes a while to see the impact of all of that.
And we do see data. Mike Lauer, Director of the Office of Extramural Research and I blogged about this in March. It shows promising trends that things are narrowing. It’s not happening nearly as quickly as we would like, and the numbers are still abysmally low, but it’s not that we’re not paying attention, we’re working in a lot of different ways to try to facilitate things.
It doesn’t help someone right now who may be facing tenure and facing barriers, but we are working in much more cohesive and collaborative fashion, particularly with the NIH Unite Initiative, than ever before to try to accelerate things. Again, Anna, Erica, what would you want to add to that?
ERICKA BOONE: I think that we can highlight a couple of the efforts from the UNITE E Committee as well that are specifically looking at ways to help to address specifically that gap, and to improve funding opportunities for individuals from underrepresented groups.
In particular we’re looking at review, what’s going on in review, how can we improve the review experience and review of applications from individuals that come from institutions that receive lesser funding from NIH, or those from underrepresented groups, so that I think that Dr. Bernard alluded to this before, so that there’s not that predictive factor that could go into whether an application is going to get reviewed successfully or not, is going to get funded successfully or not.
Also, opportunities for us to engage with our program officers. So we’ve got equitable access, we receive equitable information that as I always say for early career investigators, your program officers are your research best friends. For some people that’s not so.
So how do we improve these experiences so that individuals can really go to the right people and as I say get the secret sauce that they need in order to be able to improve their applications or to write applications that really address the specific areas that we consider to be important here within the NIH, how do you write these applications, how do you write to the priorities of an institution, et cetera.
But also, I think the one last working group that I wanted to refer to is the one that’s working with professional societies taking a look at promotion and tenure practices. How do we improve that at the institutional level so all of those things that we talked about in our presentation, about the DEIA efforts, about their research efforts, et cetera, are viewed equally?
Also so individuals have an equal chance, a real chance of obtaining tenure, we’re not seeing those same disparity levels in tenure across the board even 20 years from now, even five years from now. That’s just unacceptable, and that’s why we’re working so hard to address some of these issues. Anna?
ANNA ORDONEZ: I think you captured it. We just talked about some of the efforts around institutional culture as well, so I think that we just mentioned it, but that’s also trying to add to this effort of what’s the culture of the institution, what does the institution value as Dr. Borba was saying, and that includes how it then supports people in different research areas and how it promotes them within their institution.
ERICKA BOONE: Also the development of our targeted RO1s for early career investigators as well could help to improve the opportunity to receive that RO1 to help really launch an individual’s research career.
LAUREN HILL: There are more and more ICs that are participating, the name keeps getting longer and longer.
ERICKA BOONE: And we’ve got more and more that are going to be coming out as well.
LAUREN HILL: Absolutely. So we’re very close to the end. And I just want to say thank you so much again to our panelists. This is just such a privilege to be with you all who are change makers and thought leaders and a privilege to work at NIH. We’re working hard, and sometimes it's quite humbling to step back and take a breath and really think about what an honor it is to work here and work with folks like you all, and to be part of the team. And I can’t thank you enough for taking the time.
So I have hopefully what will be a fun lightning round question for you. It might be tough. Of all the things that you all are doing in the DEI space, in COSWD and UNITE, what’s your favorite initiative? What’s your favorite one? Your favorite FOA, your favorite intervention?
ERICKA BOONE: I will tell you this. I received my education, my bachelors from Talladega College in Talladega Alabama. And a lot of people think that it’s in Mississippi, they think it’s in Georgia, they have no idea of where this historically black college is, but it’s the oldest historically black college in the State of Alabama. It has 1200 students when it’s a good year. But it has a reputation for training some of the brightest minds that move on to receive their doctoral level degrees from what people call the most prestigious institutions in the world.
I went there, I got a bachelor’s degree, had no idea of what I was going to do. I went on to graduate school because that’s what I thought I was supposed to be doing. I thought I was going to be a researcher, I thought that I was going to be pursuing the path that my mentors told me that I needed to pursue in order to be successful.
I’m not doing any of that stuff right now. I’m not at the bench. I don’t have a lab at my house. I’m doing something completely different than what I imagined that I would be doing. I’m helping to set the framework for researchers across the country.
And I think that my favorite group is the one where I’m one of the leads for the sub working group that’s focusing on capacity building at minority serving institutions, that’s where my heart is all the time.
I loved my experience at my HBCU, I want to see those students succeed, I want to see those institutions grow, I want to see them, I want for other people to see them through the same framework that I see them, the promise, the excellence, the innovation, the commitment that they’ve had for hundreds of years.
So that’s my favorite one because that’s where my heart resounds, at that level of the HBCU so that everyone else can see the glory that I see when I look at them every day. Long answer, I’m sorry.
LAUREN HILL: Does anybody else want to answer that question?
ANNA ORDONEZ: Not really, Ericka did an amazing job,but I will make a pitch for the career pathways for the underrepresented group career pathways. So like Erica, I studied at a university most people can’t pronounce.
LAUREN HILL: I mangled it.
ANNA ORDONEZ: No it was beautiful. But my experience was something similar in that it certainly didn’t sound reputable to many, and it wasn’t on the list of top ten places you should go to to get into a career in research.
And to see all of these opportunities, all these people, just to say that we work with an incredible and ginormous team of amazing people who have a lot more expertise in all of these different things than certainly I do, and to be a part of all of these initiatives that are really trying to think about what are the barriers within these career pathways, how do we really make access equitable to everybody, how do we get everyone to have opportunities at different stages, from pre-kindergarten all the way through high school and college, before they’re even thinking about writing grants and K awards. That for me has been really exciting, and I love being a part of that.
ERICKA BOONE: I love that answer, Anna. I love that.
LAUREN HILL: Dr. Bernard, do you have one?
MARIE A. BERNARD: I know we’re at time, but I do not have a favorite child. I am just very privileged to work with this NIH UNITE Initiative. It is incredible how much energy and thought and creativity is being brought to it by the 85 plus NIH volunteers who are working on it. And when you look at all that has been planted in terms of seeds and all the things that are growing out of it, I’m just so privileged to be here at this time. So thank you, Erica, Anna, everybody else in UNITE, it’s going to make a difference.
LAUREN HILL: Wonderful. And with that, thanks everybody, we are done.