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Building a diverse scientific workforce, a new NIH data sharing policy, and an update on the NIDCD’s May advisory council meeting

June 24, 2022

A group of scientists conversing in a lab.

NIH has had a longstanding commitment to recruiting talent from diverse groups and to removing barriers to professional advancement for underrepresented minorities. In keeping with this goal, I have made expanding diversity, equity, and inclusion within the NIDCD intramural and extramural workforces one of my chief aims since taking on the directorship of the institute in 2019. In this message, I update you on our ongoing efforts in this area. I also share details regarding an important new NIH policy: Effective in early 2023, grant applicants will be required to include a data management plan in their applications, and in most cases to make their data publicly available. Finally, I provide a brief summary of topics discussed at our latest National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NDCD) Advisory Council Meeting in May.

Building a diverse scientific workforce

When scientists and trainees from differing backgrounds work together, their unique perspectives and experiences stimulate creativity and innovation, contributing to the excellence of the biomedical research enterprise. Diverse teams are also more likely to ensure that members of underserved populations participate in clinical studies and that the research addresses questions that are meaningful to these communities. The NIDCD has long worked to increase the diversity of the research pipeline across our mission areas, and in 2020, amid nationwide calls to address racial injustice and inequality, we reinvigorated the effort, along with NIH as a whole. Below are examples of recent and ongoing initiatives we have undertaken to diversify the workforce in our scientific research areas. For more details on the initiatives, see our Building a Diverse Scientific Workforce webpage.

  • My staff and I rely on the NDCD Advisory Council for advice on the institute’s plans and policies, and I am grateful for the thoughtful and substantive work of the council’s Working Group on Diversity and Inclusiveness, led by council members Lisa A. Goffman, Ph.D., and Fan-Gang Zeng, Ph.D. The working group presented its final report in summer 2021. The institute has begun to act upon the recommendations, and below is a sampling of the steps that we have taken so far.
    • In March, NIDCD staff presented at the National Black Association for Speech-Language and Hearing convention in an effort to reach out to the group’s membership and familiarize it with the NIDCD.
    • We are piloting a summer program that will enable high school and undergraduate students of diverse backgrounds to conduct research in the lab of an R01-funded investigator. We have reviewed the applications and made seven awards, which cover all of the institute’s mission areas.
    • We have devoted a section of our website to information on building a diverse scientific workforce and are continually updating it. We have also updated our How to Apply for a Grant, Research Training, or Career Development Funding webpage with new sample grant applications from across our scientific areas. This information may be especially useful for junior investigators or those at low-resourced institutions.
    • Judith A. Cooper, Ph.D., deputy director of the NIDCD, provided an update on the report at our January council meeting. To view the segment, start at the 49 minute mark of the videocast. We are currently working with NIDCD colleagues and the research community to specify the next steps in the process.
  • Providing fair and objective grant application review is critical to identifying the most promising research and to achieving NIH’s mission. In response to calls to reduce potential bias in the peer review process, the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR), where most NIDCD Research Project Grants, or R01s, are reviewed (R01s are the largest single category of NIDCD/NIH funding), is piloting several new approaches. These include web-based training on bias awareness for reviewers, chairs, and scientific review officers; anonymizing early steps in the review process; and diversifying review panels by allowing potential reviewers to self-nominate. The CSR has convened several working groups to evaluate review criteria, with an eye toward ensuring the most fair, objective, and rigorous assessments.

    We at the NIDCD are also committed to ensuring a fair and unbiased grant application review through expanded reviewer recruitment and training. We have broadened our outreach efforts in reviewer recruitment and encourage individuals interested in serving on an NIDCD review panel to self-nominate. We will also closely follow the recommendations made by the CSR working groups and use them to inform our own review practices.

  • The NIDCD’s Diversity Working Group, co-led by Mark Lucano, M.S., NIDCD ethics coordinator, and Elyssa Monzack, Ph.D., NIDCD deputy scientific director, has been working to identify ways to increase diversity within the on-campus workforce. Based on the group’s recommendations, the NIDCD has now:
    • Widely disseminated our new recruiting guide, which provides concrete strategies and tools to mitigate bias when recruiting, interviewing, and selecting candidates for positions at the NIDCD. The guide was created by the NIDCD Intramural Committee for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
    • Offered training on structural racism to interested NIDCD staff.
    • Launched an NIDCD-wide survey to provide context and understanding of perceptions of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility across the NIDCD. The survey results have set a baseline to help identify shifts in employee perspectives over time and will further inform the next steps in the NIDCD’s diversity strategy.
  • The NIDCD Intramural Committee for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, led by Dr. Monzack, also put forth a set of recommendations specific to the NIDCD intramural program. Based on the group’s recommendations, the NIDCD scientific director has now:
    • Adopted a minimum relocation allowance for NIDCD trainees at all levels.
    • Provided central funding for all summer interns in 2022.
    • Encouraged increased participation in diversity-focused fellowship programs offered by the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education.

Dr. Monzack reported on advances made by the committee, as well as by the NIDCD Diversity Working Group, at our January council meeting. To view the segment, start at the 1 hour 8 minute mark of the January 28 videocast.

  • The NIDCD Diversity Scholars Program is supported through an administrative supplements program, Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research. The program aims to increase the diversity of the research workforce by funding students, postdoctoral researchers, and eligible faculty from diverse backgrounds through supplements to existing grants. The NIH’s Interest in Diversity describes the categories of eligible candidates. These categories are: individuals from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in biomedical research per National Science Foundation reports; individuals with a disability, including hearing loss, and those who become disabled and who need additional support to continue their research; individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds; and women in these categories as well as women at the faculty level. We commend the 2021 cohort of NIDCD Diversity Scholars for their accomplishments, and their mentors for their efforts in fostering scholars’ progress toward independent research careers. The 2021 scholars will have the opportunity to learn more about the NIDCD at a virtual boot camp the institute is hosting in June. Contact Alberto L. Rivera-Rentas, Ph.D., the research training officer in charge of the program, with any questions.
  • In 2021, the NIDCD launched new R25 training programs aimed at fostering extramural workforce diversity through the creation of mentoring networks and research opportunities. The programs are open to a range of experience levels, from undergraduate to early-to-mid career faculty. There are multiple upcoming submission deadlines through January 2024. For more information, see NIDCD Diversity Mentoring Networks and Research Experiences R25 Programs: Frequently Asked Questions and the recording of a webinar we hosted in February about the programs.
  • In April 2022, we issued a funding opportunity announcement, NIDCD Research Opportunities for New Investigators to Promote Workforce Diversity. The program, which uses the R01 mechanism, is open to early stage and new investigators of diverse backgrounds conducting extramural research in any NIDCD scientific area. The first submission due date is August 5, 2022, with three additional due dates over the next year. We encourage you to apply and to share the announcement with your colleagues. Please contact Kelly King, Au.D., Ph.D., the lead NIDCD program officer for the program, with any questions.

I’m pleased with our progress so far, and am happy to report that we are also in the final stages of recruiting a chief diversity officer to help lead ongoing and future efforts and to participate in NIH-wide diversity initiatives. Our ultimate goal is to create and maintain a culture of inclusiveness in our intramural and extramural communities.

New NIH data sharing policy

Sharing research data stimulates collaboration, speeds the pace of research, and enhances the transparency and reproducibility of scientific results. However, data sharing has not yet been widely adopted throughout the biomedical research community. In a step toward creating a culture change where data sharing becomes the new norm—integral to the conduct of biomedical research—NIH has issued a new NIH Policy for Data Management and Sharing, which becomes effective January 25, 2023.

Under the new policy, investigators must submit a data sharing and management plan in their extramural grant applications. The plan must outline how scientific data and any accompanying metadata will be managed and shared, taking into account any potential restrictions or limitations. The NIH institutes and centers will verify compliance, and non-compliance may affect future funding decisions. This policy also applies to research conducted by investigators at NIH.

I urge NIDCD-funded investigators to familiarize themselves with the policy in preparation for this important transition. Your efforts to make research data publicly available will help increase the returns on our investments in biomedical research and advance the NIH mission of translating knowledge into better health. For more information, see FAQs for the NIH Policy for Data Management and Sharing.

National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Advisory Council Meeting, May 19-20

On May 19-20, the institute’s advisory council convened virtually. Portions of our council meetings are open to the public, and I invite you to watch the archived videocasts of the open sessions (May 19 and May 20) and to join us online for our next meeting, to be held September 8-9, 2022. A few highlights from May’s meeting are summarized below.

  • Judith A. Cooper, Ph.D., deputy director of the NIDCD, reported on activities of the NIDCD Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Implementation Committee. Dr. Cooper shared a sampling of the activities the institute has undertaken in response to recommendations listed in 2021 report produced by the council’s Working Group on Diversity and Inclusiveness. To view this segment, start at the 35 minute mark of the May 19 videocast.
  • Tilak Ratnanather, D.Phil., associate research professor of biomedical engineering, Johns Hopkins University, and Poorna Kushalnagar, Ph.D., professor and director of the Center for Deaf Health Equity, Gallaudet University, provided their insights on involving deaf and hard of hearing individuals in science and research. They spoke about the challenges deaf and hearing-impaired people face in advancing their biomedical careers, and offered some potential solutions. To view these segments, start at the 48 minute mark of the May 19 videocast for Dr. Ratnanather’s presentation, and the 1 hour 9 minute mark of the May 19 videocast for Dr. Kushalnagar’s presentation.
  • As mentioned in the message above, a new policy for data management and sharing will become effective January 25, 2023, and will apply to nearly all NIH-funded research. Michael Lauer, M.D., the NIH’s deputy director for extramural research, shared the background and development of the policy and described its requirements. He urged grant applicants to visit the newly launched NIH website on scientific data sharing and invited feedback on the site. Additional guidance on the new sharing policy will appear there in the coming months. To view this segment, start at the 1 hour 48 minute mark of the May 19 videocast.
  • Bruce Reed, Ph.D., deputy director of the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR) spoke about approaches the center is exploring for reducing bias and increasing fairness in the peer review process. Roughly 70% of NIDCD grants are reviewed by the CSR. To view this segment, start at the beginning of the May 20 videocast.
  • Rebecca A. Wagenaar-Miller, Ph.D., director of the NIDCD Division of Extramural Activities, gave a brief overview of the NIDCD peer review process and the institute’s work to reduce bias. To view this segment, start at the 50 minute mark of the May 20 videocast.
  • John J. Ngai, Ph.D., director of the NIH BRAIN Initiative, described the initiative and highlighted some of its accomplishments. The initiative launched in 2013 and aims to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain by catalyzing the development of innovative technologies. NIDCD program staff then spoke about BRAIN Initiative research at the NIDCD, including the institute’s outreach and training efforts, and gave examples of research advances at the intersection of NIDCD and BRAIN Initiative mission areas. Finally, Andrea C. Beckel-Mitchener, Ph.D., deputy director of the NIH Brain Initiative, discussed the initiative’s efforts to enhance diverse perspectives. To view these segments, start at the 1 hour 3 minute mark, the 1 hour 48 minute mark, and the 2 hour 18 minute mark, respectively, of the May 20 videocast.
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