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  • Washington Highlights

    AAMC Responds to NIH NIGMS RFI on Faculty Diversity

    Amanda Field, Specialist, Science Policy

    The AAMC July 20 submitted a letter to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of General Medicine Sciences (NIGMS) in response to its Request for Information (RFI) on Strategies for Enhancing Postdoctoral Career Transitions to Promote Faculty Diversity.

    Recent studies have shown that while students from demographic groups underrepresented in biomedical research workforce are almost as likely as those from well-represented groups to matriculate into a doctoral program, receive a doctoral degree, and acquire a postdoctoral position, proportionally fewer transition to tenure-track faculty. In its letter, the AAMC commends the NIGMS and NIH for recognizing the need for additional strategies to foster faculty diversity in academic research positions and discusses the four topics requested in the RFI:

    • Barriers scientists from underrepresented groups face in progressing from postdoctoral training into faculty positions;
    • Qualities and perspectives that individuals from underrepresented groups bring to the research enterprise;
    • Approaches that key stakeholders have employed; and
    • Current successful strategies in promoting the transition of underrepresented postdocs into faculty positions.

    The AAMC points to several barriers that scientists from underrepresented groups face, including several types of discrimination and other disadvantages. Also, diverse individuals pursue diverse areas of research, and the research community is concerned that some areas of research may not be as well valued or funded as others and therefore may create disincentives for individuals attracted to academic research in those fields. And because of an admirable desire to promote diversity on various academic committees and working groups, at many institutions the small pool of underrepresented trainees and scientists are asked to serve more frequently with little-to-no compensation or recognition, creating further disincentive for academic careers.

    The AAMC letter also discusses the benefits that underrepresented scientists bring to the research enterprise. Not only are diversity and inclusion ethical goals to achieve, they promote creativity, problem solving, and innovation and are measures of excellence for research programs. A diverse group of researchers will lead to both pursuing more diverse research questions and connecting with diverse communities.

    The AAMC made multiple recommendations toward increasing diversity and inclusion in the research workforce:

    • The NIH should lead an effort to determine why there is such a substantial drop in diversity in the transition from postdoctoral programs to faculty positions;
    • High-quality mentoring tailored to the needs of individual underrepresented scientists should be provided to encourage success in research-track careers;
    • The research-track career should be made more attractive and inclusive for underrepresented scientists by promoting community, networking opportunities, and transparency;
    • The NIH should consider specific funding and programs to maintain diversity from the postdoctoral research position into faculty;
    • Faculty and administration should be trained against all types of biases to create an inclusive environment;
    • Funding agencies and institutions should provide resources to help institutions create an attractive and inclusive environment to increase the diversity of the applicant pool;
    • Leaders should ask underrepresented researchers what needs to be improved at their own institutions to find and make local improvements; and
    • The NIH should consider curating or supporting a centralized location for online resources, including a data dashboard.

    Finally, the AAMC presented ongoing and successful strategies that promote the transition of postdocs from underrepresented groups into faculty positions. Along with efforts similar to several of the diversity and inclusion recommendations above, the letter discusses three strategies at three different institutions.