Underrepresented PI Groups: A question

Commenter AREfromSW asked a couple of probing questions about whether and how the NIH deals with the question of increasing ethnic diversity in the funded PI population. Before this gets away from me I thought I would hit a couple of conceptual highlights (read, lazy posting ahead).

DM, I wonder how many were male minorities at your meeting?


Not many. This was a meeting that is pretty dang far out on the OldBoyz scale and that means pretty white. Very few visibly black, latino(a) or even asian scientists at this one. Nevertheless, it is no secret that individuals who are defined under the familiar underrepresented/minority, etc language are not well represented in the PI ranks. [N.b. Before this degenerates into more bashing of trainees from particular non-US countries let's just act like rational adults for this discussion. We're talking US scientists, the usual ethnic minorities and no, for some reason most Asian-Americans aren't part of the federal language on diversity.] Part of the reason I didn't bring this up is that the underrepresentation of many ethnic minorities goes all up and down the academic ranks. In contrast, women are relatively well represented even up into postdoctoral training...at which point there is a clear drop-off. This makes it easier to pinpoint specific bottle necks. The comprehensive problem with ethnic representation makes it hard to discuss. Point out problems at the faculty ranks and people start banging on about not having enough candidates in the pipeline as if this is the only issue (failing to draw the obvious analogies to the women-in-science pipeline). Talk about getting people into the training pipeline early and the issue of "yeah but nobody in that career looks like me" comes up. Everything is magnified and has to be discussed on many fronts.
Never fear, however, YHN is concerned with minority scientist representation issues as well.
On to the real question:

do they have any opportunities like ADVANCE at the fac levels (I mean programs, not "broader impacts"?) or any programs to help male minorities make the transition from postdoc-to-fac and in fac retention? I'm not up on NIH stuff.

I'm not as up on this as I should be. However, the NIH does quite a bit on the training side of the equation, not so much (formally) on the transition and faculty-success side. The closest thing I am familiar with is the use of K mechanisms in a manner targeted at enhancing diversity (example). The K mechanism class is a faculty award but is a training mechanism and not a pure research mechanism- basically it is mostly for salary support with little research funds provided. Various pre- and post-doctoral fellowship programs have been directed at diversity as well.
One of the less obvious type of program for this purpose is announced as the Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research. (This program effort used to be called RESEARCH SUPPLEMENTS FOR UNDERREPRESENTED MINORITIES. ) From the current PA-08-190:

The NIH recognizes a unique and compelling need to promote diversity in the biomedical, behavioral, clinical and social sciences workforce. The NIH expects efforts to diversify the workforce to lead to the recruitment of the most talented researchers from all groups; to improve the quality of the educational and training environment; to balance and broaden the perspective in setting research priorities; to improve the ability to recruit subjects from diverse backgrounds into clinical research protocols; and to improve the Nation's capacity to address and eliminate health disparities.
Accordingly the NIH continues to encourage institutions to diversify their student and faculty populations and thus to increase the participation of individuals currently underrepresented in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral, and social sciences

Who might that be?

African Americans, Hispanic Americas, Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, Hawaiian Natives, and natives of the US Pacific Islands.... under-representation can vary from setting to setting and individuals from racial or ethnic groups that can be convincingly demonstrated to be underrepresented by the grantee institution should be included in the recruitment and retention plan....Individuals with disabilities, who are defined as those with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.... Individuals who come from a family with an annual income below established low-income thresholds. ... Individuals who come from a social, cultural, or educational environment such as that found in certain rural or inner-city environments that have demonstrably and recently directly inhibited the individual from obtaining the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to develop and participate in a research career.

The supplement program is a bit unusual so we should get a little into the details.

Principal Investigators at domestic institutions who hold an active R00, R01 (or RL1), R10, R18, R22, R24, R35, R37, R43, R44, R41, R42, DP1, DP2, P01 (or PL1), P20, P30, P40, P41, P50, P51, P60, U01 (or UL1), U10, U19, U41, U42, U54 grant may be eligible to submit a request for an administrative supplement to the awarding component of the parent grant.
...
Applications may be submitted to support high school students, undergraduate students, post-baccalaureate students, post-master's degree students, graduate students, individuals in postdoctoral training, or faculty members who will participate in the ongoing research project.

So if you hold one of the many research grant types and have a minority candidate in mind, you can get additional monies by asking. The administrative supplement means that it does not go through peer review, the Program staff decide. And relatively quickly, supposedly. I've heard that at least in flush times, Program gets very few requests and they are all essentially funded. Not sure how things are going now but if you have a relevant candidate and a qualifying grant, might as well apply.
Now this is glass-eighth-full stuff. Supposing there was an underrepresented new faculty member who did not yet have a grant, s/he could get some additional funding support. But it would be for supporting work under another PI's main award and that PI would be listed in CRISP for the supplemental award (I'm pretty sure). Monetary support is always helpful, make no mistake. But if the NIH wanted to get serious about this, there are better ways. For all we know, they are already using they freedom they have to address this goal, see below.
Next, there are various initiatives to direct funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities which I've mentioned briefly in a comment to a post on HBCU's at Terra Sigillata. I noted NIDA's page for their Special Populations Office which reviews some of their relevant efforts. These are due at least in part to Congressional interest. It is hard to search this stuff out on the NIH grants page in part because they keep changing language around to avoid looking quota-like or some such but the programs do exist. Elsewhere in related biomedical funding like under the DoD health-research programs as well.
Finally it should be obvious that the entirety of NIH funding always includes some sort of federal boilerplate about encouraging groups underrepresented in the sciences. This is a big honking window for program to use their flexible pickup selections to enhance diversity in their pool of investigators if they choose to do so. Do they ever use this as a criterion? I have no idea. I draw at least one analogy to the usual comments about grant review. At some point one might have a grant that one really wants the panel to get behind. As I think I've mentioned, part of the job of the reviewer is to be an advocate for the proposal. Meaning that it is the reviewer's job to not just provide a detached analysis but to convince the other people to see the greatness within the application. This sometimes requires one to speak the language that one thinks will persuade, irrespective if one thinks it is pertinent to the more objective merits. So if I had one of these apps and I thought it had the extra benefit of enhancing diversity in our scientist pool would I bring it up? Heck yeah. Presented as "extra bonus" (as opposed to the primary motivating factor) I just don't see how this would go over badly with anyone. I would think that if a Program official had a grant they really wanted to argue into a pickup with their higher-ups, drawing on the general diversity boilerplate language to provide an extra boost would be a no-brainer.
In terms of helping new underrepresented faculty members? Well any of the NI/ESI and K99/R00 programs would qualify, again assuming a given IC wanted to use the diversity angle to influence their choices around the margins. Looking at the apparent gender balance of K99s, making some wild assumptions about name/gender relationships it does look as though some gender parity may be being actively managed but we really have no idea without knowing the rates of submission...

13 responses so far

  • ArefromSW says:

    WOW - geez, I need to pull up a chair, grab some snacks, and kick up my monkeys! Thanks ELEVENTY for that - will read slowly:)

  • juniorprof says:

    Juniorprof just finished preparing a supplement this morning (but for the other major supplement program, re-entry to biomedical and behavioral research careers). Let's hope they're funding these as if times were "flush"!
    Just a quick addition too. While all ICs appear to support the minority supplements, some of them have additional or different rules than what is posted for the program announcement. If you are going to go for one be sure to check with the appropriate officer at whichever IC to make sure you're doing everything correctly. For instance, the NINDS procedure varies quite a bit from the NIDA procedures.

  • Becca says:

    "But it would be for supporting work under another PI's main award and that PI would be listed in CRISP for the supplemental award (I'm pretty sure)."
    I know someone who's supported via this mechanism and it's not under his name, although he's only a grad student, so that could also be the reason.
    Interestingly, his PI does not have a specific, easily-identifiable CRISP entry for the supplement. His R01 comes up twice (with a -02 and a -03 at the end of the grant number) but there's no obvious way to tell why this is if you didn't know.
    "for some reason most Asian-Americans aren't part of the federal language on diversity"... at least not in science. That "some reason" becomes pretty clear if you run the numbers. With med school faculty (using the same dataset as cited in the recent Science article- http://www.aamc.org/data/facultyroster/usmsf07/07Table8.pdf ), Asians are at ~13% (for reference, in the general US population, I believe they're at more like ~4.2%, though that's from 2004 data at http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/censr-17.pdf ).
    So lack of Asians at your meeting might imply that you're meeting is pretty darn flawed (although, I suppose theoretically this could also be explained by you being really bad at identifying Asians).
    "Looking at the apparent gender balance of K99s, making some wild assumptions about name/gender relationships it does look as though some gender parity may be being actively managed but we really have no idea without knowing the rates of submission..."
    I think women probably submit awards at about the same rate men do. I don't have any data here though!
    (this is not the first iteration of "where's the bottleneck" story I've seen, so I may be dimly remembering something about equivilent submission rates for prestigious postdoc level awards, or I may be extrapolating totally unscientifically from my anecdotal data).

  • DrdrA had a summary of an article that described submission rates. I believe it published in Science, but am not 100% sure on that. No time to search her archives. sorry!

  • Alex says:

    DrugMonkey,
    Do you have any comments on the SCORE program? I know it isn't for minority PIs per se, but it is for minority-serving institutions. Any points to note for people applying for these? For those at primarily-undergraduate minority-serving institutions, do you think SCORE or R15 is the better way to go?
    In regards to diversity, one thing to note about SCORE is that the PI doesn't have to be a minority and doesn't have to specifically commit to hiring minority students. The PI just has to be at a minority-serving institution.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Sorry but no, I have no experience with the SCORE (PA-08-026)programs. I do note that the SC1 program permits up to 5 yrs of support with direct costs of up to $250K. The AREA grant is limited to 3 yrs and $150. That should be an easy call if you qualify for either....

  • neurolover says:

    "So lack of Asians at your meeting might imply that you're meeting is pretty darn flawed (although, I suppose theoretically this could also be explained by you being really bad at identifying Asians)."
    Though Asians are usually pretty well represented as worker bees, they aren't as well represented in higher ranks (for example, department chairs, keynote speakers, etc.). And, the 13% for medical faculty might still be underrepresentation, if, for example, 30% of bioscience majors are Asian.
    It's a different minority problem, but still a minority problem.

  • gene says:

    Can someone define what a post-bacc student is? Is someone who has received their BA and is working as a research assistant in order to gain experience to apply to graduate programs considered a post-baccalaureate student?

  • Becca says:

    neurolover- my point was that Asians aren't necessarily an "underrepresented PI group", not that they face no obstacles as a minority group.
    As far as Bachelor's degrees, it looks like Biological Sciences undergrads are about 9.0% Asian ( http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf07308/pdf/tab1.pdf ).
    In med school faculty, Asian full professors are 8.6% of all full profs (http://www.aamc.org/data/facultyroster/usmsf07/07Table15.pdf )
    It's kinda hard to see that as a huge leaky pipeline problem (particularly since it appears the % of Asian undergrads may have actually been lower back in the day when the current full-professor cohort were undergrads).
    I can't find data on department heads/keynote speakers, but I suspect you're right on those issues.

  • Brother Drug, thank you for bringing this issue to light. The supplements to existing grants are fabulous ideas. I've been part of two projects (a U01 and P01) where they've been used to support the MS thesis work of an African American woman (now working in a research institute) and the postdoctoral training of a Latina who is now a tenure-track assistant professor. Yes, just an admin review with a decision in six to twelve weeks. Still, these efforts are not comprehensive enough and require that the underrepresented individual already be associated with a funded researcher.
    We've talked with Alex in another thread about the SCORE program, part of the NIGMS Minority-Based Research Scholar (MBRS) program (FAQ here). I believe that Alex was put off a bit by the fact that the SC1/2/3 mechanisms require that one identify a senior faculty "mentor." While the SC1 is about R01-sized, most candidates (esp new asst profs) apply for one of the smaller ones first (usually the SC2 - up to $100K/yr for 3 yrs), then work their way up to a SC1.
    One note about these programs is that they only apply to trainees and faculty at institutions with >50% of students who are from underrepresented groups. Where I am not so well-versed is where NIH support can be found for underrepresented researchers at PWIs.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Can someone define what a post-bacc student is? Is someone who has received their BA and is working as a research assistant in order to gain experience to apply to graduate programs considered a post-baccalaureate student?
    Depends on the context I suppose. Yes, by definition, anyone who is a student with an undergraduate degree, is not enrolled in a graduate program leading to Masters or Doctorate and is furthering his/her education is a post-bacc student.
    There are, however, more or less formal post-bacc programs in which one can enroll in some way. Google it and you'll see many University websites on the topic. I'm most familiar with the NIH Intramural post-bacc program just because I've met a few people who went through it.
    If you are asking is it kosher to list that research technician/assistant position on your CV as a "post-bacc" program instead of "tech"? I'd think not. If you and the PI are treating it that way (and I have some experience there, this can be a good thing and indeed function as a post-bacc) the PI's letter should say something to this effect on your behalf. I.e. "While Jane Doh was hired as a research technician, she functioned at a level on par with early stage graduate students, for example blahdeblah blah wookie"

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I noticed that the Dec 2008 OER Nexus leads with a discussion of diversity efforts.

    Increased diversity brings with it a more diverse array of perspectives and modes of thinking

  • Stephanie Z says:

    I've been hearing that kind of language for a year or two in the corporate communications world. I'm glad to see it's bleeding over. It's such a refreshing change to see "pull" language instead of "push" language around diversity. It's still just language, of course, but it beats no change.

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