NIH Advisory Committee Reviews Progress of Initiatives to Improve Diversity of the Scientific Workforce
Created by lgreen on 12/19/2013

By Yvette Seger

Earlier this month, the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) met to review several agency-wide initiatives. The Committee is charged with providing recommendations regarding program development, resource allocation, and NIH administrative regulations and policies to NIH leadership. During the day and a half meeting, ACD members were briefed on the negative impact of sequestration on NIH’s ability to support research as well as the effects the 16-day government shutdown in October has had on the review of research proposals under consideration for funding in fiscal year (FY) 2014.

NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, noted that FY 2013 presented numerous challenges to the NIH community.  However, he also highlighted several key areas of progress in the implementation of recommendations of the ACD Working Groups, such as enhancing scientific training, encouraging a diverse scientific workforce, and supporting an infrastructure to promote the exchange of research data.

A large portion of the meeting agenda was devoted to reviewing updates on initiatives intended to enhance the diversity of the biomedical workforce. Director of the NIH Center for Scientific Review, Richard Nakamura, PhD,
presented the ongoing efforts of NIH to identify factors within the peer review process potentially contributing to the observed lower award rate of NIH grants submitted by Black applicants (Ginther et al., 2011).  These efforts include a baseline assessment of bias in peer review, interventions such as awareness workshops, and anonymization experiments. Co-chairs of the ACD Working Group on Diversity, Reed Tuckson, MD, and Roderic Pettigrew, MD, PhD, updated ACD members on the implementation of Common Fund initiatives intended to improve retention of researchers from diverse backgrounds within the NIH-funded workforce, as well as other NIH-wide initiatives intended to enhance the dialog on diversity.

The ACD also received an
update on the status on the Physician Scientist Workforce Working Group from panel member David Ginsburg. This Working Group is charged with analyzing the current composition and size of the physician scientist workforce and assessing present and future needs and career opportunities to support physician scientist trainees to ensure engagement of individuals with clinical training in the biomedical research enterprise. FASEB has supported this effort by providing data and findings from its analysis of the physician scientist workforce to the Working Group.

Additional topics discussed by the ACD during this meeting included
NIH’s efforts to improve the reproducibility of research findings, recommendations for implementation of the NIH Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, and a review of the policy and procedures for researchers to request access to the HeLa cell genomic data. The next meeting of the ACD is scheduled for June 5-6, 2014.

Photo courtesy of the NIH Record