Enhancing Diversity in Training Programs

Organizational training programs are expected to engage in outreach and recruitment activities to encourage individuals from underrepresented groups to participate in the program (for examples of groups underrepresented in the biomedical research workforce, see the Notice of NIH's Interest in Diversity). 

In addition, the training programs must describe efforts to sustain the scientific interests of trainees from all backgrounds within the program (retention). These efforts support the development of a biomedical research workforce that will benefit from the full range of perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds needed to advance discovery. Additional information can be found on the NIH Extramural Diversity website. 

Consistent with existing NIGMS practice and applicable law:​​

  • Funded programs may not use the race, ethnicity, or sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, or transgender status) of a trainee or faculty candidate as an eligibility or selection criteria.
  • NIGMS does not use the race, ethnicity, or sex of trainee candidates, trainees, or faculty in the application review process or funding decisions.

At the same time, there are many permissible activities to promote broad participation in the biomedical research workforce, and to encourage the participation of individuals from underrepresented groups. For example:

  • Outreach activities to foster awareness of research training opportunities for potential trainees from all backgrounds.
  • Targeted recruitment activities to diversify program applicant pools.
  • Program admissions processes that consider factors beyond grade point average and standardized test scores – such as how a trainee candidate’s lived experiences and perspectives further their commitment to program goals and a biomedical research career.
  • Efforts to create and sustain inclusive research training environments for trainees from diverse backgrounds, for example strengthening faculty skills to work effectively with trainees from various cultural and neurodiverse groups.
  • Updating curricula, pedagogy, and academic supports to enhance student success and engagement.
  • Expanding mentoring, networking, and skills development opportunities, and financial support for trainees.
  • Utilizing data to identify, and as appropriate, feasibly address biases and barriers in the research training environment that impede trainee success.

Applicants and award recipients are encouraged to consult with their General Counsel to ensure all applicable laws and regulations are being followed in program design and implementation.

Strategies and Resources for Outreach and Recruitment of Trainee Candidates ​from Underrepresented Racial and Ethnic Groups

NIGMS places continued emphasis on the outreach and recruitment activities, including to individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, to diversify program applicant pools. Successful recruitment of individuals from underrepresented groups requires active involvement of the program director, the training grant faculty, and organizational officials. Thus, centralized institutional outreach and recruitment efforts alone will not satisfy the requirement to recruit individuals from underrepresented groups. Some approaches that have been used by NIGMS training grant programs are presented below.

From the Outset

  • Design outreach and ​recruitment activities uniquely appropriate for the program. Consider the scientific area of the training program, the size and location of the campus, the diversity of the current application pool, and the outreach and recruitment system of the parent organization when designing the training program's outreach and recruitment plan. Develop a system to track the success of each outreach and recruitment strategy to facilitate iterative improvements.
  • Evaluate the admissions process. Examine admissions data and determine whether the current criteria or practices are inadvertently screening out potential trainees, who with proper training and support, could succeed in the program. Examine whether the metrics go beyond the perceived prestige of the prior institution, grade point average, and standardized test scores - such as how a trainee candidate's lived experiences and perspectives further their commitment to program goals and a biomedical research career. Determine whether the application process considers a variety of metrics, including but not limited to whether the candidate took advantage of available research opportunities, the ability to communicate within the discipline, and letters of recommendations. Educate admissions committees on the potential for bias and implement admissions practices that mitigate biases. Examples of articles on graduate admissions in the biomedical sciences include the following:
  • Consider organizational assets. Leverage relevant campus student offices, interest and affinity groups, local chapters of professional organizations, faculty and trainee role models, or other organizational strengths when publicizing the program.

Targeted Outreach and Recruitment Activities (if appropriate)

  • Consider outreach and recruitment at organizations with research-oriented students from underrepresented groups. Reach out to schools with NIGMS funded programs to promote broad participation or other institutions with research-oriented students from underrepresented groups to publicize graduate training opportunities (see Dashboard of Funding NIGMS Training Programs). Visits by training grant Program Directors, faculty, and students prove to be highly successful approaches to encourage potential trainees from diverse backgrounds to apply. Faculty invited to give seminars at institutions with NIGMS funded programs that promote broad participation should consider asking their hosts to set up discussions with the trainees of the program.
  • Sponsor a summer research program for undergraduates. Consider applying for organizational or external funds to support a summer undergraduate research program. For example, NIH-funded individuals can take advantage of the Diversity Supplement Program to support student research. Introducing a cohort of students to the campus, research environment, and the graduate application process can be a successful recruitment strategy.
  • Invite prospective candidates to visit the campus and meet with faculty and students. Invite prospective or admitted students for a visit and use part of that time to highlight the groups and resources available that will allow them to develop the community needed to feel that they belong within the institution.
  • Ask training faculty and current students to engage in program outreach and recruitment activities at meetings and poster sessions at national conferences with a high attendance of students from underrepresented groups. Consider sending program representatives to meetings with participants from underrepresented groups. Examples include: the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), the Emerging Researchers National Conference in STEM, and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) annual meeting. Maintain communication with interested students and Program Directors of programs that promote broad participation (see below).
  • Communicate directly (e.g., emails, phone calls) with prospective candidates or Program Directors of programs that promote broad participation. Potential candidates from underrepresented groups, or their faculty mentors may be identified through many sources, including:
    • National meetings designed to cultivate diverse voices and perspectives in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and the scientific workforce.
    • Program Directors of programs, such as​ NIGMS' undergraduate and predoctoral cross-disciplinary training and INBRE programs. 
    • Professional society committees to support the success of scientists from underrepresented groups.
  • Communicate with organizational leaders. Consider sending emails, letters, brochures, and posters to deans and department chairs at schools that have substantial enrollment of students from underrepresented groups. (See "Establish Partnerships, Contacts and Credibility and Long-Term Commitment" below.)

Publicize the Program

  • Present outreach and recruitment sessions, flyers, posters, and videos at meetings of appropriate scientific societies (presentations by training faculty, current students, and alumni are emphasized).
  • Design the training program's website, brochures, and social media to welcome candidates from all backgrounds. Link to campus groups and to statements from current students or faculty from underrepresented groups. Consider employing social media to strategically engage with the communities of students and scientists from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Design websites so that they are accessible to all, including potential candidates with disabilities.

Establish Partnerships, Contacts and Credibility and Long-Term Commitment

  • Provide summer courses in special biomedical topics and techniques for undergraduate students and faculty from colleges and universities with significant numbers of underrepresented students.
  • Develop partnerships with organizations with master's degree students from underrepresented groups. Consider applying for a Bridges to the Doctorate program or providing enriching training and mentoring activities for master's degree students from underrepresented groups at a partner organization.
  • Teach or participate in courses at nearby institutions with substantial enrollment of students from underrepresented groups.
  • Establish scientific collaborations with faculty at institutions with substantial enrollment of students from underrepresented groups.
  • Develop agreements that allow for the exchange of graduate or undergraduate students.
  • Demonstrate a comprehensive commitment to fostering broad participation.
    • Bring in high school students and teachers for summer research experiences.
    • Sustain the interest of undergraduate students in biomedical fields through active learning, building learning cohorts, providing support systems, and giving students access to authentic research experiences.
    • Work with local and national industries that could provide support as well as internships and employment opportunities.

Strategies and Resources for Recruitment of Trainee Candidates with Disabilities

Applicants are expected to establish outrach and recruitment practices tailored to their organizational and program environment. Training programs are expected to go beyond describing university efforts to provide accommodations in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when describing the outreach and recruitment of a pool of potential trainee candidates with disabilities. In addition to the efforts described above, the following represent examples of strategies and resources that have been used in the outreach and recruitment of persons with disabilities.

  • Work with the Disability Coordinator or Dean of Student Services to develop plans for the recruitment of students with disabilities.
  • Work with organizations within the university that are knowledgeable about disability issues. Consider inviting a representative from an ADA office or disability support office to address faculty members about disabilities and inform them about resources and options related to addressing disabilities.
  • Provide a welcoming and accommodating environment that focuses on student’s potential and accomplishments. It is essential for the organizations to create an environment where disabilities of various kinds are recognized and addressed in a variety of ways, thereby leading students, faculty, and staff to feel comfortable in declaring the need for accommodations related to disabilities. Consider the implementation of universal design practices (the design of products and environments usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design).
  • Conduct outreach efforts by linking to programs designed to increase the participation of people with disabilities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Examples include:
    • The University of Washington-led AccessSTEM Project, which is one of the Regional Alliances for Students with Disabilities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics funded by the National Science Foundation;
    • Entry Point!​​, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)-sponsored program that identifies and recruits students with apparent and non-apparent disabilities studying in science, engineering, mathematics, and computer science;
    • Advertising in online and print outlets that are targeted to individuals with disabilities.
    • Participating in, or developing, webinar/virtual career fairs targeted to individuals with disabilities.
  • Work with the disability representatives at local universities. Consider establishing a partnership with local colleges and universities and request that they distribute materials about your training program to students with disabilities who are interested in pursuing careers in the biomedical sciences.
  • Partner with institutions known for their efforts to provide educational opportunities to individuals with disabilities. Examples include but are not limited to:
  • ​​ Develop a statement on your program website that publicizes your commitment to broad participation, including students with disabilities. Provide links to institutional information, individuals, and resources of interest to disabled students and applicants such as Office of Student Services or disability coordinator.
  • Strategically employ social media and engage with the communities of students and scientists with disabilities.
  • Explore opportunities and resources including, but not limited to:

Trainee Retention Activities

Retention efforts are activities designed to sustain the scientific interests and participation of trainees from all backgrounds. Retention and oversight activities might include monitoring academic and research progress, building strong trainee cohorts, as well as increasing science identity, self-efficacy, and a sense of belonging within research training environments. Programs are expected to make efforts to identify individuals who may need additional academic and social supports to successfully complete the program, and ensure they receive the needed support. Applicants are encouraged to use data to identify, and as appropriate, feasibly address biases and barriers in the research training environment that impeded trainee success. 

Applicants are encouraged to consult the NIH extramural diversity website to identify promising retention practices and use evidence-informed practices for retention with the recognition that the variety of trainee backgrounds and experiences may necessitate the need to tailor retention approaches. The specific efforts to be undertaken by the training program may coordinate with trainee retention efforts of applicant organization(s); however, centralized institutional efforts alone will not satisfy the requirement to retain trainees. Below are some activities used to sustain the interest of trainees from various backgrounds.

  • Collect data on trainee persistence and identify any differences in retention, achievement, and progression rates. 
  • Determine the potential causes for differential outcomes (e.g., through surveys or exit interviews).
  • Determine whether the counseling, tutoring, and financial support services as well as the climate on campus are meeting the needs of the trainees.
  • Actively promote inclusive research environments through trainings for all members of the community, including peers, scientific staff, faculty, and administrators.
  • Ensure that relevant members of the research training program, including research advisors, post-doctoral scientists, senior graduate students, and staff scientists, participate in mentor training, such as the culturally aware mentoring training, to promote the development of trainees from all backgrounds.
  • Provide oversight throughout the trainees' career through frequent meetings and assessment of achieving milestones.
  • Connect students early on with campus resources (for example, resource centers), staff (for example, role models and faculty mentors), or organizations that (for example, affinity groups) that support the success of trainees from diverse backgrounds.
  • Emphasize the assets that trainees from various backgrounds bring to the research enterprise.
  • Design cohort-building activities to create a community of research scholars.
  • Implement activities to enhance science identity, self-efficacy, and a sense of belonging in the research enterprise.
  • Design a curriculum that emphasizes skill development and aids the transition into the training program (e.g., courses that employ evidence-based teaching practices to support a diverse student pool).
  • For graduate programs, assess potential gaps in experiences and use a pre-entrance summer semester to assist trainees who may need additional coursework or to develop research skills.