New grant promotes professional development of underrepresented minorities in biomedical research

Friday, October 24, 2014

The University of Minnesota  Program in Health Disparities Research will share an award of $19.2 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to lead professional development activities of underrepresented communities in health science research.

The funding will provide intensive grant writing workshops and professional development activities, especially for junior investigators and post-doctoral fellows pursuing biomedical, biobehavioral, clinical and social science research careers.

Research has shown that when controlling for all variables, investigators from diverse backgrounds underrepresented in biomedical research are not funded by the NIH at the same rate as their white counterparts. Investigators, particularly young researchers and post-doctoral students, need to obtain grants to be successful in academia. Investigators at the U of M will focus on transformative, high impact career development experiences to enhance research and career success.

“Increasing the diversity of the biomedical science workforce is necessary to bring new talent, creativity and intellect to the challenging health issues in society today,” said Kolawole Okuyemi, M.D., M.P.H., director of the U of M Program in Health Disparities Research and professor of Family Medicine and Community Health in the U of M Medical School. “There is also a need for more diverse perspectives in research to give everyone a chance to live a healthy life. We will have a lead role in this national effort.” 

The U of M is part of the NIH’s National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN), a nationwide network of mentors and mentees spanning all disciplines relevant to the NIH mission. Partners in NRMN include the U of MN, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center, Morehouse School of Medicine and Boston College.

Okuyemi will head the professional development core for this national network, which is part of a larger series of NIH grants announced Wednesday. The U of M’s Anne Marie Weber-Main, Ph.D., John Grabowski, Ph.D., and Clifford Steer, M.D., will lead a grant writing seminar series while Eileen Harwood, Ph.D. will oversee evaluation. Other leaders of the core hail from the University of Colorado, Northwestern University, and University of North Texas Health Sciences Center.

Previous grant writing workshops have tended to be one-day. The NIH grant will support development of intensive grant writing workshops that will take place over weeks or months. In addition, professional development activities will be held for young researchers from underserved communities to provide them with opportunities to engage with each other, connect and network. For young researchers who might work in a mostly or all-white research institution, the professional development activities will provide them with a place to discuss issues that might be unique to them. 

“The biomedical research enterprise must engage all sectors of the population in order to solve the most complex biological problems and discover innovative new ways to improve human health,” said NIH director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “While past efforts to diversify our workforce have had significant impact on individuals, we have not made substantial progress in supporting diversity. This program will test new models of training and mentoring so that we can ultimately attract the best minds from all groups to biomedical research.”