Guest Blog Post: Improving Diversity in Basic Biomedical Research

By Jon R. Lorsch, Ph.D.
Director, National Institute of General Medical Sciences

This is the first in a series of guest NIMHD Insights blog posts where NIH Institute and Center (IC) Directors highlight initiatives, resources and funding opportunities relevant to minority health and health disparities research and training at their Institutes. The goal of this guest blog series is to link NIMHD stakeholders to minority health and health disparities-related information and opportunities across NIH.

The inaugural post is from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). With a $2.6 billion budget, NIGMS supports basic research that increases understanding of biological processes and lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention.  

Improving Diversity in Basic Biomedical Research

Photo of Director, National Institute of General Medical Sciences

Dr. Jon R. Lorsch  Director, NIGMS

Fostering a diverse and inclusive future workforce has long been a key priority for NIGMS. The Institute strongly believes that incorporating a full range of perspectives, skills, and experiences will benefit the biomedical research enterprise—and our society as a whole. This standpoint is one of the factors that attracted me to the NIGMS Director’s position.

During my tenure at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, one of my proudest achievements was launching a summer research program for Baltimore-area high school students. Many of the students came from groups underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. Most had never been exposed to a career in science.

At NIGMS, I help impact the careers of students and researchers nationwide. Two of the Institute’s five divisions are dedicated to developing a robust, highly skilled, geographically widespread, and inclusive biomedical research workforce.

The Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity offers a suite of programs to science students and scientists already in the workforce. These include:

  • Maximizing Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (MARC U-STAR) awards, which provide support for undergraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds to gain skills and prepare for high-caliber, doctoral-level training. The program supports the final 2 years of undergraduate training for honors students majoring in biomedical sciences with an interest in pursuing a postgraduate degree.
  • The Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program, which aims to help reduce the existing gap between underrepresented and well-represented students in completing doctoral degrees. The program provides grants to institutions with a commitment and history of developing students from underrepresented populations so they can strengthen academic preparation, research training, and professional skills development.
  • Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) grant awards, which help undergraduate institutions engage and retain biomedical research students from diverse backgrounds. (NIGMS manages this NIH Common Fund program.)

The Division for Research Capacity Building focuses on states that historically haven’t received significant levels of NIH research funding. Its programs include:

  • Institutional Development Award (IDeA), which supports faculty development and research infrastructure enhancement.
  • Native American Research Centers for Health (NARCH) program, which supports partnerships between American Indian/Alaska Native organizations and biomedical research-intensive institutions.
  • Science Education Partnership Awards (SEPA), which use innovative education programs to engage students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
  • Support of Competitive Research (SCORE) awards, which increase the competitiveness of faculty at institutions with a mission to serve underrepresented students.

NIGMS also participates in NIH-wide programs to enhance the diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce and to provide research supplements to promote diversity in health-related research.

Through the efforts listed above, NIGMS aims to train and retain an inclusive and diverse workforce. This will in turn maximize opportunities to advance biomedical science, improve our nation’s health, and maintain its global competitiveness.

If you have questions or comments, feel free to reach out to me or the NIGMS staff listed as contacts for our various programs.

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