Speaking of enhancing diversity in biomedical research

August 14, 2009

Hot on the heels of our discussions of enhancing diversity in white institutions, Comrade PhysioProf brought a fascinating RFA notice to my attention. RFA-GM-10-008 Research to Understand and Inform Interventions that Promote the Research Careers of Students in Biomedical and Behavioral Sciences (R01) seeks research projects which will be:

designed to test assumptions and hypotheses regarding social and behavioral factors with the aim of advising and guiding the design of potential interventions intended to increase interest, motivation and preparedness for careers in biomedical and behavioral research.


NIGMS is particularly interested in those interventions that are specifically designed to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups entering careers in these disciplines.

Our whutaboutehpoorwhites? anti-affirmative action commenters need not be too alarmed.

The proposed research need not be restricted to underrepresented minority students. Comparative research that analyzes the experience of all groups in order to place that of underrepresented students in context and to learn whether and how interventions should be tailored to make more underrepresented students successful in biomedical careers may well be particularly illuminating and is, therefore, encouraged.

I think this is fantastic. Why? Well they are hitting all the right notes in the RFA as far as I am concerned. I tend to agree with this:

To date, few interventions are based on theoretically grounded research. Similarly, the ideas underlying these interventions have generally not been synthesized or analyzed systematically. Neither have the interventions been subjected to rigorous research study.

And I certainly endorse a rigorous approach to the questions:

The purpose of this funding opportunity is to support research that will test assumptions and hypotheses regarding social and behavioral factors that might inform and guide potential interventions intended to increase interest, motivation and preparedness for careers in biomedical and behavioral research, with a particular interest in those interventions specifically designed to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups entering careers in these disciplines…
Applicants must state their specific aims, objectives, goals and, in particular, the expected generalizable lessons to be learned by their proposed research. … Applicants must explicitly identify the assumptions underlying the research question(s) to be studied and/or hypothesis to be tested.

And in case certain applicants are still not listening, this says it all:

Applicants should note that this funding opportunity is not designed to support evaluation of (an) existing program(s). The purpose is to stimulate research on the underlying assumptions or hypotheses upon which they are built.

Everyone thinks they know how to get ‘er done. Or has a firm idea of what the “real” problem is. Let’s actually go out and test hypotheses, says the NIH.
I like.

No Responses Yet to “Speaking of enhancing diversity in biomedical research”

  1. Pascale Says:

    w00t! It’s about time someone studied our assumptions. Now we just need this sort of study in, well, damn near everything!


  2. I like the idea though the putative results have a bit of an Onion-esque ring: “Study shows scientists best recruited to science by good science.”


  3. Alex Says:

    I like this. I’ve sat in events on the topic of diversity and seen heads nod approvingly for completely contradictory (but well-intended) statements. “Students from under-represented backgrounds respond really well to this program because we do A, which many of them value,” says the first speaker. Later, a speaker says “We try to emphasize [opposite of A] to widen their horizons, and students from under-represented backgrounds really like that.” For all I know, both speakers may be doing great work, and there’s probably more than one way to achieve the goal, but when a problem is sadly persistent and all too many people are going off in completely different directions while acting like their direction is The Answer, maybe we’re missing the opportunity to learn something from the big picture.
    Also, I like the fact that they refer to the goal of getting students into “careers” rather than “Ph.D. programs.” Ph.D. programs are important, but they are not the sole destination that we should be sending our students to. NSF has moved away from the “STEM pipeline” to the “STEM workforce.”


  4. Odyssey Says:

    Very cool! And long overdue.


  5. hiphop Says:

    McCulloch accuses Steig et al. of appropriating his ‘finding’ that Steig et al. did not account for autocorrelation when calculating the significance of trends. While the published version of the paper didn’t include such a correction, it is obvious that the authors were aware of the need to do so, since in the text of the paper it is stated that this correction was made. The corrected calculations were done using well-known methods, the details of which are available in myriad statistics textbooks and journal articles. There can therefore be no claim on Dr. McCulloch’s part of any originality either for the idea of making such a correction, nor for the methods for doing so, all of which were discussed in the original paper. Had Dr. McCulloch been the first person to make Steig et al. aware of the error in the paper, or had he written directly to Nature at any time prior to the submission of the Corrigendum, it would have been appropriate to acknowledge him and the authors would have been happy to do so. Lest there be any confusion about this, we note that, as discussed in the Corrigendum, the error has no impact on the main conclusions in the paper.


  6. Jeremy Berg Says:

    I was pleased to see the interest in our “Understanding Interventions” program. Note that this program has been in existence since 2003 (see http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/RFA-GM-03-011.html ), and the currently funded grants are listed at http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Minority/interventions_partinst.htm . Presentations made by some of these investigators to the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council are available (see http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Minority/LessonsInterventions.htm ) as are additional reports about progress to date (see http://www.understandinginterventions.org/ ).
    This program has also served as a model for an NIH-wide program directed toward developing evidence for factors and programs that promote careers of women in biomedical and behavioral science and engineering (see http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/RFA-GM-09-012.html and https://loop.nigms.nih.gov/index.php/2009/06/17/getting-more-women-into-science/ ).
    Jeremy Berg
    Director, National Institute of General Medical Sciences


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