National Institutes of Health Diversity Program Consortium Meets to Celebrate Completion of Initiative’s Phase I, Launches Phase II

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Hansook Oh (ehoh@mednet.ucla.edu)

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National Institutes of Health Diversity Program Consortium Celebrates Completion of Initiative’s Phase I, Launches Phase II

Collage of photos taken at the 2019 DPC Annual Conference

For photos, please visit the DPC Flickr page

LOS ANGELES, Calif., Sep. 11, 2019—The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Diversity Program Consortium (DPC) held its fifth annual conference from July 29-30, 2019, in Bethesda, Maryland. Members of this groundbreaking initiative traveled from all over the country to celebrate the completion of their first five-year phase, and to kick off the beginning of the second five years of the project.

Established by the NIH in 2014, the DPC is a multi-million-dollar experimental diversity initiative involving over a dozen higher education institutions spanning from Alaska to Maryland. The ten Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) sites, the Coordination and Evaluation Center and the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) have spent the last five years developing and implementing innovative interventions at the student, faculty and institutional levels, to advance the DPC goal of finding more effective approaches to research training and mentoring.

The conference, titled “Launching DPC Phase II: The DPC Experiment Continues – Expanding on Collective Accomplishments of the Consortium,” began with a keynote speech by Dr. Hannah Valantine, NIH Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity. Informed by her insights from a high-level view of diversity initiatives in biomedical research, Valantine framed the consortium in context of general trends in diversity.

Hannah Valentine addresses the audience as the keynote speaker“A lot of our previous work has focused on the individual, and although much necessary and important to continue, we need to be thinking about how we create these institutional systems for change,” Valantine said. “As a model, we need to have programs or systems that promote transparency and accountability with systematic review, transparency in hiring and promotion policies of institutions, transparency in collecting the data—and not having it just sit on a shelf but publishing it.”

Publishing, and disseminating best practices, will be an important focus for the DPC during Phase II. This dissemination work will be informed by the data that the DPC awardees have been collecting during Phase I and will continue to collect through Phase II.

Some of the data that Valantine shared indicated small, but encouraging improvements in workforce diversity. She compared numbers from 2013—right before the DPC was launched—and 2018, at the tail end of the consortium’s Phase I. Valantine pointed out that there has been a notable  increase in the number of R01 research grant applications and award rates for principal investigators from underrepresented groups, namely African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders (see Figures 1&2).

NIH R01 Applicant dataValantine also highlighted significant progress for underrepresented groups in applications and awards for NIH-funded Mentored Career Development Awards, or “K” awards. Current data show that the racial and ethnicity funding gap for K awards has been eliminated. Comparing 2013 and 2018, the number of African Americans on K-award applications and awards increased by 55.5 percent and 142 percent, respectively. Among scientists from underrepresented ethnicity groups, primarily Latino scientists, the number of K-award applications and awards also rose over this period by 45.3 percent and 37 percent, respectively. Although Valantine acknowledged that more work needs to be done—namely, the applicant pools remain very small—she said that these increases gave her “great excitement.”

Consortium members spent the two-day conference in collaboration, working on consortium-wide manuscripts, and sharing best practices and lessons learned in areas such as student recruitment, engagement and peer support, faculty development, and strategies for measurement, data analysis, dissemination and institutional transformation.

The DPC also welcomed new partners for Phase II, including 11 NRMN “Science of Mentoring, Networking and Navigating Career Transition Points” U01 awardees. The investigators leading these unique research projects each gave an overview of their projects and introduced their experimental designs exploring different aspects of mentoring. In Phase II, the NRMN will also include a Resource Center and a Coordination Center, and conference attendees learned about how these different elements will work together.

Phase II brings a renewed enthusiasm and commitment to the work of supporting students, faculty and staff through collaborative efforts to reach measured impacts and success.

Alison Gammie, Director of the NIGMS Division of Training, Workforce Development and Diversity, highlighted the breadth of what success in biomedical research careers means, while speaking on a panel with other NIGMS officials.

“When we say careers in the biomedical research workforce we mean the broad range of careers that support the biomedical research enterprise,” Gammie said. “All of us [in the room], academic scientists, educators, communications people, policy people, people who work in industry — are part of the biomedical research enterprise. The focus is to train individuals to be researcher scientists, but then those researchers can go on to a range of exciting, important careers that advance biomedical research.”

Mike SesmaMike Sesma, NIGMS Chief of Postdoctoral Training with a long career with diversity programs at the institute, shared his vision for the DPC’s impact on representation in the sciences.

“Ultimately the long-term goal is to take ‘URM’ [underrepresented minorities] and change ‘U’ to ‘W,’ so that people who look like me and my colleagues, and many of you [partners and attendees], are going to be well-represented faculty of the future and be the change,” Sesma said. “That’s not going to happen before I finish my career at NIH, but I hope it happens in my lifetime.”

The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.
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