Finding and Funding Black Science
4 months ago
National research agency looks to bolster minority ranks in the science field
He continued: “The issue is how they’re trained, and the peer network developed. The peers who help them take the best decisions... It’s not what sort of fellowships or schools scientists are coming from, but scientists of color are steered toward a differential outcome even when attending the best research institutions. It points to mentoring, and informal networks scientists have. Who’s available to read your applications before they’re submitted? Who’s available to give advice about career decisions? It’s the informal networks which are the more profound problem.”
Somewhere around 500 doctoral degrees are awarded annually to minorities in the biological sciences, and within the medical education environment specifically, approximately three percent of full-time medical school faculty members are black, even though African Americans are more than 13 percent of the general population.
Lawrence Tabak, the principal deputy director of the N.I.H., embraces the findings of the “Science” study and is optimistic for long term solutions.
“In our current finding climate, many investigators fail to secure grants,” Tabak said. “The real challenge we faced, was given the evidence, how do we address this? The group who authored the paper, pointed to a cumulative benefit that majority investigators enjoy, which unfortunately many minority investigators do not. It’s the type of papers you publish, where you publish, and where you go to school. Our intervention is at the college level, where we hope to entice young people of color, people who must get one-on-one intensive mentorship. This is important in any walk of life, but it’s particularly important in science when you’re trying to advance. There’s a need to get more people inn the pipeline and maintain them. We’ve laid out a decade long plan, encompassing many elements.”
N.I.H. assembled a task force following the publication of the “Science” study and, among other recommendations it is looking to implement, will examine the review process for grant applications. It will also seek out young researchers from underserved populations to be application reviewers.
Tabak outlined a decade-long effort in response to the findings of racial disparity in research grant awards by his agency. He looks to recruit six hundred minority students within that time through post-doctoral fellowships, and intervention at the undergraduate level to keep young people, and students of color in the sciences.
Many tend to drop out of it in their sophomore year and the new N.I.H. initiative will include scholarships, loan repayment, faculty mentorship and enticement into Ph.D. programs.
“They’ve come forth with a set of programs which I think are a good start,” Kington said. “But, we have to be realistic. There will be no magic bullet. We’ve done the easy stuff and it hasn’t worked. The communities that study disparities in health is very diverse, not just scientists of color. Any time we have a group of people who have the potential to become great scientists, and there’s a risk of not carrying those great minds forward, then the entire country needs to address it.”