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NIDDK efforts to promote scientific workforce diversity

A door next to a sign identifying the NIDDK Pacific STEP-UP Program training laboratory in American Samoa.While NIDDK researchers from every race and ethnicity are striving to help achieve health equity, the Institute believes that these vital efforts would be strengthened by having a scientific workforce that better reflects the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the U.S. population. While scientific talent is surely well represented across all groups, opportunity is not. The NIDDK is therefore committed to overcoming the dearth of minority scientists across its mission areas. The NIDDK’s Office of Minority Health Research Coordination (OMHRC) works with the NIDDK extramural and intramural research divisions to lead these efforts.

One example of these efforts includes a collaboration, which began in 2003, between the NIDDK and the National Center for Research Resources to support the development and implementation of curriculum-based programs to train diverse doctoral and post-doctoral candidates in clinical research. In 2006, the collaboration ended, but the NIDDK continued the effort through several iterations, culminating in the current program, the Small Grants for New Investigators To Promote Diversity in Health-related Research, in collaboration with the National Human Genome Research Institute. From fiscal years 2010 through 2020, the program provided more than 60 such grants to mostly early career investigators from underrepresented minority groups, several of whom went on to compete successfully for traditional NIH research grants.

The NIDDK also provides support for diverse young investigators through partnerships with professional societies, which are uniquely positioned to work toward enhancing diversity in the biomedical research workforce. These organizations sponsor awards for promising young investigators and have a history of supporting the career development of their members—mechanisms they can harness to diversify the biomedical research workforce. Accordingly, the OMHRC created the Partnerships with Professional Societies to Enhance Scientific Workforce Diversity and Promote Scientific Leadership Program. This initiative supports grants to societies with a focus on NIDDK mission areas to establish or expand training and career development programs for junior investigators from underrepresented backgrounds.

For example, one such grant enabled the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) to establish a program called Fostering Opportunities Resulting in Workforce and Research Diversity (FORWARD) that supports underrepresented physician scientists to develop leadership skills, strengthen their research and management skills, and receive mentorship and training from top gastrointestinal investigators. FORWARD scholars participate in the AGA Leadership Development Conference, attend trainings for writing grant proposals and scientific manuscripts, and attend an academic skills workshop. Similarly, a grant to the Endocrine Society supports its Future Leaders Advancing Research in Endocrinology (FLARE) program for basic and clinical research trainees and junior faculty from underrepresented communities who have demonstrated achievement in endocrine research. The program provides structured leadership development and in-depth and practical training in topics ranging from grant writing to lab management. FLARE participants attend an annual workshop where they can network and develop skills such as: identifying and applying for funding, time and lab management, communication, and career development.

These initiatives reinforce other OMHRC programs that support research training for underrepresented minority students in high school and college and are part of the NIDDK’s efforts to bring more and more talented individuals from an array of backgrounds into research.

For example, the STEP-UP program provides high school and undergraduate students with biomedical research opportunities for the summer. At the graduate school level, the NIDDK provides scholarship support to students from underrepresented and underserved communities to complete their Ph.D. or M.D./Ph.D. degrees. For individuals at various stages of their research careers post-doctoral and higher, the NIDDK established the Network of Minority Health Research Investigators to provide mentoring and other information and support for scientists from underrepresented groups and others interested in minority health. The NIDDK’s Diversity Supplement Program provides support for promising researchers from backgrounds underrepresented in biomedical research as they gather preliminary data to apply for their own independent research awards.

The NIDDK firmly believes that the overall biomedical research enterprise will be greatly strengthened by the scientific ideas and talent of people currently underrepresented in research and will help lead us toward health equity for all Americans.

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