The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced three new funding opportunities to encourage creative approaches to broadening diversity in the biomedical-research workforce.  

The funding through the Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-funded Workforce programme will be used to set up a national consortium that will develop, implement and evaluate approaches to helping students start and stay in biomedical research careers

The diversity programme is backed by the NIH Common Fund, which supports programmes with the potential dramatically to affect biomedical research by achieving high-impact goals within a defined time frame.  

Integrated in initiatives

The new funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) will establish a consortium of awardees from three integrated initiatives: the National Research Mentoring Network; Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity; and the Coordination and Evaluation Center.

Awardees will collectively determine the hallmarks of success for the programme, including core competencies, at each phase of the biomedical career pathway. They will also develop complementary training and mentoring approaches to enable young scientists to meet the established hallmarks.

In addition, award recipients will test the efficacy of these approaches, with the flexibility to adjust approaches during the course of the programme so as to maximise impact.  The consortium will disseminate lessons learned, so that effective approaches can be adopted by other institutions across the US.

More likely to exit

Students from underrepresented backgrounds enter early biomedical research training in numbers that reflect the general population, the NIH noted. However, these students are more likely to exit training pathways.

 “There is a compelling need to promote diversity in the biomedical research workforce,” commented NIH director Dr Francis S. Collins. “A lack of diversity jeopardises our ability to carry out the NIH mission because innovation and problem solving require diverse perspectives.”

The initiatives in more detail are:

  • The National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN). This will be a US-wide network of mentors and mentees spanning all disciplines relevant to the NIH mission. NRMN will also develop best practices for mentoring as well as providing training opportunities for mentors and professional opportunities for mentees.                                                                                                                                  
  • Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) will provide support for relatively under-resourced institutions with high concentrations of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in implementing transformative approaches to training students for biomedical and behavioral research. Successful applicants will be encouraged to partner with research-intensive institutions so as to expand research opportunities for their students, foster networking, and enrich training experiences on both sides.  

  • The Coordination and Evaluation Center (CEC) will coordinate consortium-wide activities and assess the efficacy of the training and mentoring approaches developed by the BUILD and NRMN awardees.

The diversity programme is expected to fund up to 10 BUILD primary institutions, one NRMN and one CEC, contingent on the availability of funds and the quality of applications.

Applications for the FOAs must be submitted by 18 March 2014, with awards to be announced in September 2014.    

The NIH issued six-month planning grant awards for the BUILD and NRMN initiatives last autumn. More than US$2.7 million was allocated to 15 BUILD planning grant awardees and over US$1.3 million to seven NRMN planning grant awardees.