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Approaches to Recruitment and Retention to Enhance Diversity on Kirschstein NRSA T32 Institutional Research Training Grants

The current Institutional Training Grant (T32) announcement calls for a "Recruitment and Retention Plan to Enhance Diversity" and specifies groups currently underrepresented in the biomedical sciences to include: (A) individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, defined as African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans/Alaska Natives who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment, Hawaiian Natives and natives of the U.S. Pacific Islands. In addition, it is recognized that underrepresentation can vary from setting to setting and individuals from racial or ethnic groups that can be convincingly demonstrated to be underrepresented by the grantee institution may be included in the recruitment and retention plan and (B) individuals with disabilities, defined as those with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Institutions are encouraged to identify candidates who will increase diversity on a national or institutional basis. Following are suggested approaches for the recruitment and retention of students and fellows in Category A and B.

(A) Strategies and Resources for Recruitment and Retention of Students and Fellows from Underrepresented Racial and Ethnic Groups

NIGMS places great emphasis on the recruitment, retention and graduation of individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Successful recruitment of underrepresented students and fellows requires active involvement of the program director, the training grant faculty and institutional officials. Some approaches that have been used by NIGMS training grant programs are presented below.

From the Outset

  • Design recruitment activities uniquely appropriate for the program. Consider the scientific area of the training program, the size and location of the campus, the mentoring style of the program's faculty and the student recruitment system of your parent institution as you design your recruitment plan.
  • Consider schools in addition to traditionally minority-serving institutions. Large institutions often have a considerable number of minority students with appropriate undergraduate training.
  • Evaluate the admissions process, especially its early phases. Consider whether criteria or practices are unnecessarily screening out candidates. Increase the use and weight of the interview, letters of recommendation and research experience versus numerical credentials.

Targeted Recruitment Activities

  • Visit schools with substantial minority enrollments to publicize graduate training opportunities. Visits by training grant program directors, faculty and students are key. Faculty invited to give seminars at other schools have asked their hosts to set up discussions with underrepresented undergraduate students.
  • Communicate directly (e.g., letters, phone calls) with selected groups of prospective applicants. Potential minority group applicants or their faculty mentors may be identified through many sources, including:
    • Minority Student Locator Service of the Educational Testing Service (can be searched by specific criteria).
    • Students supported by NIGMS MARCRISEPREPIMSD and Bridges to the Doctorate programs.
    • Howard Hughes Medical Institute and National Science Foundation (NSF) predoctoral minority fellows and programs for undergraduate students.
    • Professional society subgroups for members from underrepresented groups.
    • Topic-specific programs, such as industrial internship programs for chemistry or biotech programs.
  • Communicate (e.g., letters, phone calls, brochures, posters) with deans and department chairs at historically black colleges and universities and at other schools having substantial minority enrollments. (See "Establishing Contacts and Credibility" below.)
  • Recruitment by training faculty and current students at meetings and poster sessions  at national conferences with a high attendance of underrepresented students, such as the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) Link to external Web site and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Link to external Web site.
  • Sponsor summer research programs for undergraduates.
  • Invite prospective applicants (individually or in groups) to visit the campus and meet with faculty and students.

Publicize the Program

  • Present recruitment sessions, flyers, posters and videos at meetings of appropriate scientific societies (presentations by training faculty, current students and alumni are emphasized).
  • Advertise in journals that the program is actively recruiting underrepresented students.
    • In predominantly minority educational and professional journals (e.g., National Society for Black Engineers Magazine, The Black Collegian).
    • In science or science-oriented journals appropriate to the scientific area.
    • In campus publications of colleges and universities with substantial minority enrollments.
  • Highlight diversity in recruiting brochures and address issues and concerns of interest to potential minority candidates.
  • Design the training program's Web site to highlight diversity recruitment. Link to other campus groups and to statements from current minority students or from minority faculty. Include minority students and faculty in graphics.
  • Provide laboratory rotations for minority master's students. Have a more flexible attitude toward the master's degree as an entry into Ph.D. training.

Establishing 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.
  • Teach or participate in courses at minority-serving institutions.
  • Establish scientific collaborations with faculty at minority-serving institutions. Exchange graduate or undergraduate students.
  • Pipeline Activities: While these activities will not directly translate into recruitment of Ph.D. students, they are important. Send minority graduate students to local high schools to talk about their research and how they decided on a career in science.
    • Increase retention of undergraduate minority students through special student study groups that are part of the undergraduate course curriculum.
    • Bring in high school students and teachers for summer research experiences.
    • Work with nearby military base education officers to introduce children of military families to science careers; have get-togethers for families with minority faculty and students; follow-up as students go on to college.
    • Work with local and national industries, which could provide support, internships and employment opportunities.

Retention Activities

  • Design a curriculum that aids the transition from undergraduate to graduate school (e.g., reduced courseloads in the first year; basic courses in chemistry, math and cellular/molecular biology).
  • Use a pre-entrance summer semester to assist students who may need additional coursework or lab experience.
  • Establish minority student support groups to assist in retention.
  • Assign to entering minority students a faculty advisor who is supportive of and sensitive to issues surrounding minority students.
  • Ensure close and careful mentoring by a faculty advisor and possibly other faculty members.
  • Provide a directory of minority graduate students at the university to facilitate networking.
  • Connect students early on to the organizations of minority scientists in the field of study.

(B) Strategies and Resources for Recruitment and Retention of Students and Fellows with Disabilities

NIH recognizes that the training community needs to gain experience in developing plans for the recruitment and retention of individuals with disabilities. NIGMS offers the following strategies and resources as a starting point for consideration. These suggestions are not meant to be all-inclusive, and applicants will be expected to establish practices tailored to their institutional and program environment.

  1. Provide an open and accommodating environment that focuses on productivity and accomplishment. It is essential for the institution 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 disability. The implementation of universal design practices (the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design) will create that environment and, thereby, enhance productivity.
  2. Work with the disability coordinator/dean of student services at your institution to develop plans for the recruitment and retention of students with disabilities.
  3. Work with organizations within the university that are knowledgeable about disability issues. For example, invite a representative from an ADA office or faculty/staff support office to address faculty members about disabilities and inform them about resources and options related to addressing disabilities.
  4. Conduct outreach efforts by linking to programs designed to increase the participation of people with disabilities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Examples include 1) the University of Washington-led AccessSTEM program Link to external Web site, which is one of the Regional Alliances for Students with Disabilities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics funded by the NSF; and 2) the Institute for Accessible Science (IAS), an on-line site supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health, for developing and sharing knowledge and tools for accessible science. The site includes links (via "Get Connected") to programs that promote STEM training and careers for individuals with disabilities. 
  5. Develop a statement on your program Web site that publicizes your commitment to diversity, including disabled students. Provide links to institutional information, individuals and resources of interest to disabled students and applicants, such as Office of Student Services or disability coordinator.
  6. Identify local undergraduate schools with disabled students for your outreach efforts. Your institution may have an office that is able to provide this information.
  7. Explore opportunities/resources available through the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) Link to external Web site.
  8. Find information from a presentation on the NIGMS Web site: "Promoting Diversity in Research: Championing an Inclusive Scientific Workforce".
  9. Find information from the report of the 2009 NSF/NIH joint meeting on "Chemists, Chemical Engineers, and Materials Scientists with Disabilities" [PDF, 3.5MB].

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This page last reviewed on November 21, 2014