Final Report of the NAGMS Council MORE Division Working Group

I. Introduction
II. General Principles Supported by the Working Group
III. Recommendations of the Working Group to NIGMS and NIH

Message from the NIGMS Director

NIGMS is deeply committed to developing and maintaining a strong, vital scientific workforce whose diversity reflects that of our nation. We approach this essential goal in many ways, including through the programs of our Division of Minority Opportunities in Research (MORE). This division focuses on increasing the representation of groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in the biomedical research workforce, offering a range of programs targeted to various stages of the research career pathway.

On August 18-19, 2005, a working group of the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council convened to review the original mandates of the MORE division, explore the rationales and objectives of existing programs, and make recommendations to the advisory council about existing and future activities. The meeting, the first step in an ongoing process, featured lively discussions centered on the urgency of increasing diversity in the scientific workforce, particularly in academic positions. I was pleased to attend almost all of this workshop, and I thank the members of the working group as well as members of the NIGMS and NIH staff who participated for their creative efforts. I look forward to continued discussions on these important issues with the working group, other members of the council, and NIH and NIGMS staff.

The working group’s initial report was presented to the advisory council at its January 26, 2006 meeting. The group's final report appears below. I welcome your feedback on this report or related topics.

Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D.

I. Introduction

A. Charge to the Group

The National Advisory General Medical Sciences (NAGMS) Council MORE Division Working Group was formed to provide guidance to the NAGMS Council with regard to the programs of the MORE (Minority Opportunities in Research) Division. The group met in Bethesda on Aug 18-19th 2005 and May 17, 2006, and via teleconference on April 26, 2006 (see Appendix A for names of participants). The Working Group was asked to review the original mandates, the current rationales, and the objectives of the existing MORE programs. They were also asked to make recommendations to the NAGMS Council in terms of existing programs and future initiatives.

B. Resources for the Committee Deliberations

The committee was asked to focus on four current MORE programs:

  • SCORE (Support of Continuous Research Excellence)
  • BRIDGES (to the Baccalaureate Degree and to PhD)
  • RISE (Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement)
  • IMSD (Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity)

Appendix B has short descriptions and 2005 expenditures for each program. To aid in this evaluation, the co-organizers requested specific information about each of the four MORE programs. These requests included: the number of funded institutions/individuals; number of applicants per round of funding; the amount of funding awarded per grant; assessment criteria (both for awarding funds and evaluation of program success); and, total funding allocated per program per year. This information was not made available to the working group although the committee was provided with summary analyses and information in the form of presentations by the NIGMS and MORE staff who attended the public portions of the meeting. Thus, it was not possible for the committee to do even a superficial assessment of the efficacy of these MORE programs and indeed institute staff requested that the committee evaluate general aspects of these programs, but not the details of the programs themselves. As a result, the committee focused on global assessments based on individual committee member knowledge and the summary information available to us. We also brainstormed about new programs to help MORE meet its mandate.

II. General Principles Supported by the Working Group

A. Mission of the MORE programs

  1. Strong support for mission of MORE programs. The committee was unanimous in its strong support for MORE’s mission, to increase the representation of under-represented minorities (URM) in biomedical research. This goal is critical for multiple reasons.
    • In a democratic society training for, participation in, and benefiting from biomedical research is an appropriate allocation of public resources and should impact all members of society.
    • Minorities are a large and increasing fraction of the US population. To fill the future workforce needs of the US scientific community and to maintain US preeminence in biomedical research, it will be necessary to attract increasing numbers of URM into scientific research.
  2. There is a sense of urgency to improve the MORE programs and their outcomes. All committee members expressed a sense of urgency regarding the issue of increasing minority participation in biomedical research. Although the MORE programs can document that a sizeable number of the minority PhDs in the US were supported by MORE programs at one point in their career, the percentage of URM among biomedical research scientists has not changed appreciably over this time period. After three decades of this type of support, this lack of progress emphasizes the need to re-examine the efficacy of existing MORE programs and to develop new initiatives, especially in light of changing social and legal context and reduced funding support for the research enterprise.

B. Clarify Goals of the MORE Program

  1. The emphasis of the MORE program should be to increase the number of URM Ph.D.’s with a high priority being to promote an increase in the number of URM faculty in colleges and universities. Traditionally, the primary goal of MORE programs has been to increase the number of URM with PhD degrees. However, this goal falls short of the real need to increase the number of URM faculty researchers. Therefore, it is our unanimous opinion that a high priority of the MORE programs should be to promote an increase in the number of URM faculty at colleges and universities across this country, especially at Doctoral/Research Universities-Extensive (hereafter called Research-1 universities) 1 . Increasing the representation of URM faculty who can serve as role models is vital because faculty are largely responsible for training the next generation of biomedical researchers. The purpose and mission of MORE programs should be defined and evaluated in terms of their record and ability to contribute to this goal.
  2. The primary focus of MORE programs should be the training of students and post-doctoral fellows. With the priority of increasing the number of URM scientists in faculty positions, we propose that the primary focus of MORE programs should be the training of students and post-doctoral fellows. Currently, a large fraction of MORE funds goes to supporting research at Minority Serving Institutions (MSI). While this is also a laudable goal, perhaps this should be supported by other branches of NIH.) 2 .
  3. MORE programs at non-research minority serving institutions should be used primarily to support teaching and developing student research competence at these schools. Like many majority serving institutions, most MSI are unlikely to develop into Research-1 universities. While NIGMS should continue to support MSI with strong research programs, MORE funds should not be used to try to make non-research MSI into research intensive institutions. Rather, MORE programs at non-research MSI should be used primarily to support teaching research skills and developing student research competence.
  4. To increase awareness that MORE program funding for student training is available to all institutions. It is difficult to overstate the critical role of MSI in the history of educating and training minority students. However, most minority students currently receive their undergraduate educations at majority colleges and universities. For example, in 2001, 74% of the baccalaureate degrees in the sciences that were awarded to African American were awarded by majority institutions. 3 Moreover, many majority institutions typically admit very high achieving minority students. Also, graduates of MSI are no longer over-represented among minority PhD recipients as they were 30 years ago. 3 To increase the fraction of URM that go onto faculty positions at universities and colleges across the country, MORE must focus on minority students at both minority and majority institutions. Majority institutions that demonstrate strong commitment to URM education should also be eligible for MORE funds.

C. Evaluation

  1. NIGMS must do a better job of documenting outcomes and evaluating the success of its individual programs. One of the realities of an experimental program is that all experiments do not succeed. Thus, MORE is to be commended for inaugurating the “Efficacy of Interventions to Promote Research Careers” grants to begin to look at assumptions and outcomes of various programs. MORE needs to make appropriate and timely decisions to end programs that have not succeeded in accomplishing their goals. It is this committee’s judgment that a substantial barrier to the improvement or modification of the MORE programs, and other programs across the NIH for improving minority participation in biomedical research, has been the failure of NIH and the participating universities to collect, store, and analyze data on the outcomes of these minority programs. Indeed, this was a scathing criticism of the Phase 3 assessment of the NIH minority training programs conducted by the National Research Council (ISBN: 0-309-09575-1, 2005), and it made it impossible for this working group – or any working group – to assess the efficacy of existing programs. There must be a complete tracking system that monitors participating students in their journey through the educational system and into the workforce. This information is essential to the critical evaluation of the NIH programs and the funded institutions. Only in this way can the weaknesses in these programs be identified and improvements made. In the current climate of increased accountability, the NIH risks substantial cuts in these vital programs if their effectiveness cannot be documented in the face of congressional scrutiny. Although there is an NIH wide discussion about the legality of tracking students, MORE should investigate a method that can be implemented now rather than waiting for the NIH wide initiative on tracking to be implemented which may take years. A practical method maybe to monitor nationwide the new faculty hires.
    1. It is with utmost urgency that NIGMS collect information on all training programs involving URM that can inform expected and projected outcomes and to guide assessment in the review process. Information should include some form of student tracking that is placed in a MORE database.
    2. The recommendation is made to establish a standing advisory committee of NAGMS for URM training across all NIGMS programs. This advisory committee should meet annually.

D. Incorporate MORE Program Goals into NIGMS Research Divisions

  1. All NIGMS programs should identify ways to incorporate the goals of the MORE division into their own programs. The current system sequesters and limits the responsibility and efforts for increasing minority participation in biomedical research almost exclusively to the MORE division of NIGMS. The NIGMS has failed to set an example for the rest of the NIH on how to effectively integrate the successful MORE strategies into its own research programs. There is little hope that the rest of the NIH will adopt these strategies if MORE’s home institute does not. All NIGMS programs should identify ways to incorporate and implement the goals of the MORE division into their own programs. A laudable example of a non-MORE NIGMS program that promotes minority access to research careers is the minority supplements to research grants. In this report, we suggest expansion of this program as well as additional suggestions of ways to incorporate MORE goals into NIGMS supported research.

III. Recommendations of the Working Group to NIGMS and NIH

The working group did not have the time or resources to do in-depth analyses of either the existing MORE programs or for development of ideas for new programs. Here we present a non-exhaustive list of programs and initiatives that we believe would help NIGMS meet the general principles set out in the first part of this report. These ideas, as well as additional approaches, should be discussed and developed by NIGMS staff with the input of appropriate individuals such as those who served on this working group. Further, some of the ideas address issues that go beyond the scope of the NIGMS, and therefore should be addressed by all institutes and/or the NIH Director’s office.

A. Undergraduate research opportunities for minority students

There is insufficient capacity to meet the demand for undergraduate research placements among qualified minority students, even at Research-1 universities. Thus, NIGMS must do more to promote undergraduate research opportunities for students. It is the opinion of the working group that NIGMS action to promote increased undergraduate access to research opportunities can be and should be done immediately.

  1. Establish formal partnerships between MSI and Teaching and Research-Intensive universities to promote research opportunities for URM students at non research MSI. A key part of this partnership, for example, between all MORE programs and institutions that have T32 training grants, would be summer research internships for both students and faculty from the non-research minority institution at a partner Research-1 university. In addition to summer salary, faculty and student interns should have a supply allowance to decrease the financial burden on the host lab. Student internships should occur as early as possible (freshman or sophomore year) in the student’s education. Individual students and faculty should be eligible for multiple summer internships. Rather than random interactions between MORE programs and T32 programs, we suggest regional networks to facilitate student and faculty exchange.
  2. Expand programs supporting research opportunities for minority students at majority institutions. Many of the URM students who receive their undergraduate education at majority colleges and universities are not connected to research networks on their own campuses, nor do they participate in research opportunities on other campuses. Accordingly, MORE should expand its programs supporting research opportunities for minority students at majority institutions. This expansion could be achieved both by expanding the existing IMSD program and by developing new programs. These programs should provide research opportunities for minority students as early as possible in their academic careers.
  3. Development of a Faculty Career award to support faculty efforts to promote diversity. Many of the faculty at both minority and majority educational institutions who are the most dedicated to increasing diversity at their institutions are neither funded nor rewarded for doing so. Since activities that promote minority access to research take considerable effort and resources, we propose development of a Faculty Career award that would be used to support the work load of faculty at minority and majority institutions who are active in activities to promote diversity. These awards should support faculty research and training activities, not university administration. These awards would serve to recognize the importance of this type of work to the long-term health of the biomedical research establishment.
  4. It is the obligation of all research grants to provide research opportunities for a diverse student pool. Every grantee of the NIGMS should share in the responsibility to achieve a diverse biomedical research workforce. Specifically, service to the biomedical research community, including the training of future biomedical research scientists, should be a criterion for receiving NIH funding. NIGMS should adopt a policy where one of the obligations of all research grant awards is to provide research opportunities for undergraduates. Applications for all NIGMS research grants could include a section where the applicant describes his or her service to the scientific community, including efforts to increase minority representation in science. Study sections should be instructed to consider as part of their evaluation concrete, substantial actions taken by the applicant that contribute to the long term health of the bio-medical research community. Alternatively, NIGMS staff should assess training potential of research grants post study section and use this assessment to influence funding decisions. Since sponsoring undergraduate laboratory research takes time and considerable research funds, NIGMS should encourage and reward individuals who do so. This recommendation would increase research opportunities for both minority and majority undergraduates in NIH funded labs. It is an example of the kind of action that NIGMS can take to incorporate the goals of the MORE division into non-MORE programs.
  5. Broadly publicize to investigators that it is now possible to have multiple undergraduate minority supplements per research grant. NIGMS fosters minority access to biomedical research by providing supplements to NIH research grants to support the research of URM students in a principal investigator’s lab. Principal investigators who are able to demonstrate previous success in mentoring URM are now allowed to have multiple minority supplements per research grant. Previous success would include graduation of URM as PhDs, letters of support from former mentees, etc.

B. Graduate and post-doctoral research opportunities for minority students:

  1. NIGMS should do more to increase the number of URM in top ranked graduate programs. URM are more likely to become faculty at a Research-1 institution if they have done their doctoral research at a highly ranked institution. Such institutions are also more likely to have funded training grants to support their students. We recommend that NIH explore ways to improve URM participation (student recruitment and retention) in training grants as a key condition for renewal of these grants. Training grants should be required to track the career paths of both PhD and MD/PhD graduates.
  2. Increased placement of URM graduate students in highly competitive and well mentored post-doctoral positions. A large fraction of the faculty hired by colleges and universities undertake their post-doctoral training in select laboratories. Thus, it is imperative that URM graduate students be encouraged to apply for post-doctoral positions in highly selective labs. The working group did not discuss in detail mechanisms to achieve this goal, but any such initiative requires both (1) mentoring of late stage URM graduate students to help them choose the kinds of post-doctoral positions that are most likely to lead to a successful career in biomedical research, and (2) incentives to principal investigators to increase the number of URM investigators that do post-doctoral training in the most competitive labs.
  3. Analysis of faculty hiring patterns at colleges and universities. It is the experience of this working group that the faculty candidates successfully hired at colleges and universities were likely to have done their graduate and post-doctoral training at highly ranked institutions. NIH should perform an analysis of the training backgrounds of faculty hired across all colleges and universities, with attention to Research-1 compared to non-research institutions, with the goal of using this information to direct URM to training programs that are the most likely to result in their becoming successful faculty.
  4. Multiple graduate and post-doctoral minority supplements per research grant. To publicize that investigators can now support more than one minority supplement per research grant to support URM undergraduate students, graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows working in their labs. Awards will be based on past performance of URM students and a mentoring and training plan.

C. Promote Gateways to Faculty Positions

  1. Support the transition of URM scientists from post-doctoral fellow to faculty member by establishing a parallel K22 path for URM faculty at majority or minority institutions. With the goal of encouraging minority post-doctoral fellows to seek faculty positions at Research-1 universities and to increase the attractiveness of URM to these institutions, we suggest a grant mechanism to support the transition of URM scientists from post-doctoral fellow to faculty member. These grants would be awarded to URM post-doctoral fellows near the end of their post-doctoral training but before they have accepted a faculty position. They would provide support for one year of post-doctoral work as well as three years of RO1-level research support and summer salary for the first three years as an assistant professor at a Research-1 university or at other institutions with strong research programs. These grants should require the hiring institution to have a specific mentoring plan to support the newly hired URM faculty member. These awards should be competitive and high prestige. 4 While this report was being prepared, the NIH Director’s Advisory Council recommended at their December 2, 2005 meeting that the K22 Awards be expanded to all of the NIH. 5 The grant that we are proposing is similar to the K22 but would be targeted specifically for URM Post-doctoral fellows.

D. Evaluation of programs

  1. To increase the number of URM involvement in NIGMS programs by 10% per year with a goal to achieve a doubling of URM Ph.D.’s in 8 years. We recommend that NIGMS adopt a assessment plan across their training portfolio to achieve an average 10% increase in the number of URM Ph.D’s per year.
  2. Create an NIH-wide office of training statistics to include minority data. In the absence of systematic collection and analysis of data on the outcome of MORE programs, it is impossible to determine which programs are succeeding and which are not. Therefore, we recommend that a NIH-wide office of training statistics be established to monitor minority participants in MORE and non-MORE sponsored training programs. This office would be tasked with collecting, storing, and analyzing all relevant qualitative and quantitative data related to the NIH minority programs, the funded institutions, and the participating students, including tracking the trainees to their eventual career choices. All trainees, including MD-PhD trainees, should be tracked.


Appendix A: Roster of MORE Working Group (*member of NAGMS council)

Virginia Zakian, Ph.D. (co-chair) *
Professor of Molecular Biology
Department of Molecular Biology
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544-1014

Valerie Wilson, Ph.D. (co-chair)
Executive Director, Leadership Alliance
Clinical Professor of Community Health
Brown University Medical School
15 Sayles Hall, Box 1963
Providence, RI 02912

Carlos G. Gutierrez, Ph.D. (not present at meeting; contributed thoughts in writing)
Professor of Chemistry
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
California State University, Los Angeles
5151 State University Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90032

Julius H. Jackson, Ph.D.
Professor of Microbiology
Department of Microbiology
Michigan State University
6178 BPS
East Lansing, MI 48824

Sandra Harris-Hooker, Ph.D.
Associate Dean, Research Development
Office of Research Development
Morehouse School of Medicine
720 Westview Drive, SW
Atlanta, GA 30310-1495

Jeffrey T. Mason, Ph.D. *
Chairman, Department of Biophysics
Armed Forces Institute of Pathology
Rockville, MD 20850

Richard Morimoto, Ph.D. *
Dean, Graduate School
Professor of Molecular Biology
Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Cell Biology
Northwestern University
2153 Sheridan Rd
Evanston, IL 60208

Reba N. Page, Ph.D.
Professor of Education
Graduate School of Education
University of California at Riverside
Sproul Hall 2128
Riverside, CA 92521

Robert S. Pozos, Ph.D.
Department of Biology
San Diego State University
5500 Campanille Drive, Room 130 North Life Sciences
San Diego, CA 92182-4616

Margaret C. Werner-Washburne, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology
Department of Biology
University of New Mexico
Castetter Hall 200
Albuquerque, NM 87131

James H. Wyche, Ph.D.
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center
1000 Statton Young Blvd, #221
Oklahoma City, OK 73117

Appendix B: brief descriptions of NIGMS programs for minorities mentioned in this report

MORE budget, FY2005 $157.691 million

  1. SCORE (support of continuous research excellence) was begun in 1997. SCORE grants support faculty research in biomedical sciences at minority serving institutions. The goal is to increase the number of faculty at minority serving institutions that are engaged in biomedical research and to improve the research environment at these institutions. Up to 20 RO1 level funded research projects and up to eight pilot research projects can be supported by a given SCORE grant. Salaries (faculty, technician), research supplies, equipment, travel, etc are funded by these grants. In FY 2005, $60.3 million was spent on SCORE (~38% MORE budget).
  2. BRIDGES. There are two BRIDGES programs. Bridges to the Baccalaureate (first awarded in 1993) are grants to minority serving institutions to help students interested in biomedical research make the transition from a 2-year college to a 4-year baccalaureate program. These programs involve at least two educational institutions. BRIDGES to the doctoral degree provides institutional support to promote students moving from a masters program at a minority serving institution to a PhD program. These grants are partnerships between institutions awarding terminal master’s degrees and PhD granting institutions. In FY 2005, $14.1 million was spent on BRIDGES programs (9% of the MORE budget).
  3. RISE (Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement) grants, which were started in 1997, provide institutional grants to undergraduate minority serving institutions to support student development programs that will make it more likely that participating students will enter graduate programs in biomedical sciences (e.g., support is used for on- or off-campus workshops, specialty courses, travel to scientific meetings, and research experiences at on- or off-campus laboratories). In FY 2005, $20.1 million was spent on RISE (12.7% of MORE budget).
  4. IMSD (Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity) grants were started in 1996. These grants are made to research institutions where a significant fraction of the faculty has NIH funding. Funds are for institutional support to develop new programs for undergraduate or graduate student development that encourage URM students to pursue careers in bio-medical research. In FY 2005, $15.8 million was spent on IMSD (10% of MORE budget).
  5. U*STAR Institutional grants (T34) to support URM juniors/seniors honor students who are interested in biomedical research to help prepare them for graduate studies. Programs must include summer research opportunities away from home institution and opportunities for research during the academic year. FY2005, $19.8 million spent on U*STAR (13% of MORE budget).
  6. Minority supplements to RO1 grants. Principal investigators can request supplements to support the salary of URM doing research in their lab. One undergraduate, graduate student or post-doctoral fellow can be supported per RO1 grant per year. A modest supply budget is also allowed. These funds do not come from the MORE budget (FY2005, $9.3 million was spent on minority supplements to RO1 grants).

  1. Throughout this document, the term Research-1 University refers to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching definition of Research-1 Universities as those institutions that offer a wide range of baccalaureate programs and that are committed to graduate education through the doctorate, awarding 50 or more doctoral degrees per year in at least 15 disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation changed this definition in December 2005, but this term was used during the Working Group meeting and is retained in this document.
  2. One member of the working group, while agreeing that the primary focus of MORE programs should be the training of students and post doctoral fellows, was concerned that infrastructure building at MSI is not addressed adequately by other branches of the NIH.
  3. From NSF’s Women, Minorities, and Persons With Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2004 [NSF 04-317], courtesy of J. Onken, NIGMS.
  4. One member of the working group raised the possibility that support at the time of the first competitive renewal might be more helpful to foster careers of minority faculty.
  5. K22 grants have been in place at the NHGRI since 1998 and at the NIDCR since 2000. They provide five years of funds to applicants who have completed graduate training (two years of post doctoral support and three years of support as an independent investigator, with up to $250,000 per year in direct costs).