Enhancing the Diversity of the NIDCR Research Workforce Pipeline

Research Training and Career Development Branch, Division of Extramural Activities


The goal is to provide a continuum of competitive funding opportunities and ensure a career pathway of mentored research training for individuals who have a research doctoral degree (PhD or equivalent), are junior investigators at the postdoctoral or junior faculty level, and are currently underrepresented in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral, and social sciences or are seeking to re-enter their research careers after a hiatus, e.g., due to family circumstances. An intensive supervised research career development experience is expected to develop their research independence and enhance the probability of success in obtaining independent NIH or other independent research support. The expected outcomes of this initiative will be the increased recruitment of researchers from underrepresented groups, and the enhanced diversification of the pool of independent investigators in the dental, oral, and craniofacial research workforce.


Enhancing Diversity in the NIH Biomedical Research Workforce
NIH recognizes that achieving diversity in the biomedical research workforce is critical to the full realization of our national research goals and is in the best interest of our country. Although the NIH currently provides multiple opportunities to develop research careers and improve participation for individuals from groups underrepresented in the biomedical, behavioral, clinical, and social sciences, a recent report from the NIH Director’s Working Group on Diversity of the Biomedical Research Workforce (WGDBRW) provides strong evidence that achieving diversity in the biomedical research workforce remains an important problem that must be actively addressed (see http://acd.od.nih.gov/dbr.htm). The WGDBRW report includes data from the National Science Foundation (NSF) (see http://acd.od.nih.gov/dbr.htm), and others, along with a number of studies the NIH commissioned and supported in recent years to examine the many factors that may contribute to the lack of diversity of the biomedical and behavioral research workforce. The data provide evidence, for example, that while Blacks or African Americans comprised 12.6 percent of the U.S. population in 2010, they only accounted for 1.1 percent of NIH PIs receiving research project grants (compared to 72.4 percent and 71 percent, respectively, for Whites). One study in particular, Race, Ethnicity, and NIH Research Awards (Ginther, et. al., 2011) found a discrepancy in success rates between White and Black R01 grant applicants, after controlling for many potentially confounding variables including publication records, prior grant success, etc.

The NIH Director had charged the WGDBRW with examining five key transition points in the biomedical research career pipeline: (i) entry into graduate degree programs; (ii) the transition from graduate degree to postdoctoral fellowship; (iii) the appointment from a postdoctoral position to the first independent scientific position; (iv) the award of the first independent research grant from NIH or equivalent in a non-academic setting; and (v) award of tenure in an academic position or equivalent in a non-academic setting. The committee’s full recommendations and comprehensive strategy to increase the diversity of the biomedical research workforce are included in the report (http://acd.od.nih.gov/dbr.htm).

This NIDCR research career development initiative addresses transition point (iii), and is intended to provide a mentored research training and career development experience that will prepare individuals with an academic doctoral degree for an independent biomedical research career, and the research training that would support successful competition for an NIH research project grant (such as an R01) or other independent research support.

The NIH also recognizes the need to increase the number of individuals in the biomedical and behavioral workforce who face challenges that uniquely impact only some members of this workforce, such as interruptions in research careers because of family responsibilities (e.g., child care or parental care), medical issues or other circumstances. To address these challenges, a re-entry component of this program is designed to offer opportunities for these individuals to update their existing research skills and knowledge.

NIH Research Career Development Awards Program
The NIH Individual Mentored Career Development Awards are a key component of the NIH strategy to build the biomedical research workforce by providing protected research time to promising investigators following the completion of their formal doctoral and postdoctoral training. Three key programs include the Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01), the Mentored Clinical Scientist Development Award (K08), and the Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (K23), which provide doctoral-level researchers and health professionals with three to five years of support for a career development experience at critical stages in their research careers. These awards are typically granted to individuals who have recently finished their doctoral and post-doctoral training and are transitioning to faculty positions; they provide salary support and limited research funds for a combination of intensive research and mentored training to advance participant careers to independent status.

In 2010, NIH published an NIH-wide evaluation of the individual mentored K awards (K01, K08, K23) from 1990-2005 (see http://grants.nih.gov/training/K_Awards_Evaluation_FinalReport_20110901.pdf). The report documents characteristics of recent applicants and awardees, and examines the impact of program participation on research careers; including publications, grant applications and awards, and faculty appointments. A summary of the evaluation includes:

  • The K applicants differed in race/ethnicity from PhD and medical school graduating classes from comparable years, with disproportionately fewer Hispanics, Blacks, and Native Americans and more Asians applying for these awards. 
  • There were no significant differences in NIH K award rate by race/ethnicity (the study excluded K01s that are exclusively for diversity Initiatives).
  • K awardees were significantly more likely to have subsequent research publications than unsuccessful applicants.
  • Compared to new investigators who did not have mentored career development awards, those with K01, K08 or K23 support had significantly higher success rates when applying for R01s.

In general, the study concludes that NIH’s program of individual mentored career development awards is reaching its intended audience of early career doctorates and improving their potential to launch and sustain independent research careers.

Characteristics of an NIDCR program to promote diversity and/or re-entry in the biomedical workforce
This program will provide support for mentored research career development awards to individuals from underrepresented groups who have a PhD or equivalent degree, and are at the postdoctoral or junior faculty level. The award will also support a pathway for individuals who have a PhD or equivalent degree, and are at the postdoctoral or junior faculty level, to re-enter their academic research careers after an interruption, for example, because of family circumstances.

Similar to the NIDCR-supported K08 and K23 career development awards, which support individuals who have clinical degrees (e.g., DDS, DMD, MD with or without a PhD, or PhD in clinical psychology, clinical genetics, etc.), this award would provide 3-5 years of support, require 75% protected time for research (9 person months based on a 12 month academic calendar), and provide $75,000 in salary support and $25,000 in research development support per year. Individuals will be encouraged to apply for independent research support during the project period, to continue support for their research career pathway.

Intended outcomes
The expected outcome of this initiative will be the recruitment of talented researchers from groups underrepresented in the biomedical workforce who will bring their unique perspectives on problem solving, skills sets and life experience to bear on problems in dental, oral, and craniofacial research, and achieve diversity within the NIDCR community of independent investigators dedicated to improving the oral health of the Nation.

NIDCR individual awards supporting research career training of PhDs (or equivalent degrees)
NIDCR currently offers research training and career development support at the individual and the institutional level for a broad range of career stages. The following NIDCR funding opportunities are available for individuals who are earning or have a PhD or equivalent degree. Individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups as well as individuals with disabilities are always encouraged to apply for NIH/NIDCR support.

The Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards (NRSA) for Individual Predoctoral Fellows (Parent F31) award requires 100% effort, provides a stipend, a portion of tuition and fees, an institutional allowance, and up to five years of support.

The NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards (NRSA) for Individual Postdoctoral Fellows (Parent F32) award requires 100% effort, provides a stipend based on the number of years of postdoctoral experience, a portion of tuition and fees, an institutional allowance, and up to three years of support.

The NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00) is a career transition award that provides up to two years of mentored postdoctoral experience (75% effort, NIDCR provides $75,000 salary support) and up to three years of independent research support. The R00 phase also requires 75% effort. The total cost for the R00 phase, including salary, fringe, research support and indirect costs is $249.00.

NIDCR currently does not offer an individual research career development award (K) for individuals with a PhD who are at the postdoctoral or junior faculty level.

NIDCR programs that promote diversity in the research career pipeline
NIDCR participates in two NIH-wide funding opportunities with the goal to promote and improve the diversity of the health-related research workforce: (1) The NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral Fellowships to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (Parent F31- Diversity PA-11-112) (distinct from the NIH Parent F31, noted above) and (2) Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (Admin Supp) (PA-12-149).

Since 2000, NIDCR has supported 18 Diversity F31 predoctoral awards. Of the 15 individuals who have completed their PhD training program, one individual subsequently applied for, and was awarded, an individual K award. Among those who completed their training, 83% transitioned to research or science-related activities: 53% transitioned to postdoctoral positions, 13% have positions in industry, 13% are academic Assistant Professors, one individual is in full time teaching, one individual is in a non-science related field, and one individual’s status is unknown.

By comparison, since 2008 (when NIDCR began to participate in the NIH Parent F31), NIDCR has supported 79 (NIH parent) F31 fellowships. Of the 36 individuals who have completed their PhD training program, none have applied for subsequent NIH grant support. Of those who have completed their training, all but one (97%) have transitioned to research or science-related activities: 67% have transitioned to postdoctoral positions, 14% are in full time teaching positions, 11% are in clinical training, 6% have positions in industry, 3% are academic Assistant Professors, and one individual’s status is unknown.

Success rates in competing for these F31 awards are similar: 53% of individuals who apply for Diversity F31s compete successfully for the award, compared with 42% of non-diversity F31 applicants. Although the numbers of Diversity F31 individuals is low, like the non-diversity F31 graduates, the majority of trainees transition to the next career stage and remain in research or science-related fields.

In general, these F31 predoctoral research training experiences support promising individuals who complete their PhD training, most of whom continue with postdoctoral research training and transition to independent scientific careers. It is anticipated that individual awards, targeted to enhance diversity in subsequent career stages, would should similar patterns of success in the oral health research pipeline community.

The administrative research supplements to promote diversity are available to PD(s)/PI(s) holding specific types of NIH research grants, for supporting and recruiting high school students, undergraduate students, Baccalaureate and Master's Degree Holders, Graduate (Predoctoral) and Health Professional Students, postdoctorates, and eligible investigators. This supplement opportunity is also available to PD(s)/PI(s) of research grants who become disabled and need additional support to accommodate their disability in order to continue to work on the research project. Administrative supplements support work within the scope of the original project. NIDCR supports administrative supplements from PD(s)/PI(s) who hold active research grant funding from the NIDCR in one of the allowable types of grants.

Between 2004 and 2013, NIDCR has supported 74 individuals, from the undergraduate to investigator career level, on administrative supplements to support diversity or re-entry in the dental, oral and craniofacial research workforce. Although overall outcomes of these individuals currently are not tracked by the NIH, there is a gap in the continuum of funding opportunities available for those who could potentially benefit from a subsequent individual award supporting an intensive, mentored research career development experience.

1 See Appendix I for the NIH definition of individuals underrepresented in the biomedical research workforce.
2 Use of “biomedical” and “biomedical and behavioral” is meant to be inclusive of biomedical, behavioral, clinical, and social sciences.
3 “Across all of the K activities, Hispanics accounted for 3.4 percent of applicants, Blacks 2.6 percent, Asians 14.8 percent, Native Americans 0.3 percent, Whites 68.1 percent, others 1.0 percent, and unknown 9.8 percent. By comparison, during the years 1985 - 2000, Hispanics represented 4.9 percent of MD and PhD degree recipients, Blacks 4.9 percent, Asians 13.5 percent, Native Americans 0.4 percent, Whites 73.2 percent, and other/unknown 2.6 percent. When compared to this national pool of MD and PhD graduates during a similar time period, the mentored K applicant pool exhibited small but significant differences in its racial and ethnic composition (p<0.05) suggesting that these programs may have recruited fewer underrepresented minority applicants than available.13” Page 23.

Appendix I

NIH definition of individuals underrepresented in the biomedical research workforce from PA-12-149 Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (Admin Supp)

Individuals currently underrepresented in the biomedical, behavioral, clinical and social sciences such as: individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, individuals with disabilities, and individuals from socially, culturally, economically, or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds that have inhibited their ability to pursue a career in health-related research. Institutions are encouraged to identify candidates who will increase diversity on a national or institutional basis. The NIH is particularly interested in encouraging the recruitment and retention of the following classes of candidates:

A. Individuals from racial and ethnic groups that have been shown by the National Science Foundation to be underrepresented in health-related sciences on a national basis (see data at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/showpub.cfm?TopID=2&SubID=27 and the most recent report on Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering). The following racial and ethnic groups have been shown to be underrepresented in biomedical research: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. In addition, it is recognized that underrepresentation can vary from setting to setting; individuals from racial or ethnic groups that can be convincingly demonstrated to be underrepresented by the grantee institution should be encouraged to participate in this program.

B. Individuals with disabilities, who are defined as those with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

C. Individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds who are defined as:

1. Individuals who come from a family with an annual income below established low-income thresholds. These thresholds are based on family size; published by the U.S. Bureau of the Census; adjusted annually for changes in the Consumer Price Index; and adjusted by the Secretary for use in all health professions programs. The Secretary periodically publishes these income levels at HHS - Poverty Guidelines, Research, and Measurement. For individuals from low income backgrounds, the institution must be able to demonstrate that such participants have qualified for Federal disadvantaged assistance or they have received any of the following student loans: Health Professions Student Loans (HPSL), Loans for Disadvantaged Student Program, or they have received scholarships from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the Scholarship for Individuals with Exceptional Financial Need.

2. 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.

Last Reviewed
July 2018