Enhancing Diversity in Training Programs

Institutional training programs are required to demonstrate successful efforts to recruit an outstanding and diverse trainee pool. Applicants are strongly encouraged to read the Institutional Training Grant Notice of Funding Opportunities​ and the latest Guide Notice on NIH's Interest in Diversity for details about the groups that are currently considered underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. In addition, the training programs must describe efforts to sustain the scientific interests of trainees from all backgrounds within the program (i.e. retention). Additional information can be found on the NIH Extramural Diversity Recruitment and Retention​ website. 

Strategies and Resources for Recruitment of Trainees and Fellows from Underrepresented Racial and Ethnic Groups

NIGMS places continued emphasis on the recruitment of a pool of individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Successful recruitment of individuals from underrepresented groups requires active involvement of the program director, the training grant faculty, and institutional officials. Thus, centralized institutional efforts alone will not satisfy the requirement to recruit individuals from underrepresented groups to the training program. 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 diversity of the current application pool, and the recruitment system of the parent institution when designing the recruitment plan. Develop a system to track the success of each 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 and enhance its diversity. Examine whether the metrics go beyond the perceived prestige of the undergraduate institution, grade point average, and standardized test scores. 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 implicit bias and implement admissions practices that mitigate biases. Recent examples of articles on graduate admissions include the following:
  • Consider institutional assets. Leverage campus student diversity offices, interest and affinity groups, local chapters of professional organizations, faculty and trainee role models, champions, peers, mentoring resources, or other institutional strengths when publicizing the program.

Targeted Recruitment Activities

  • Consider recruiting at institutions with research-oriented students from underrepresented groups. Reach out to schools with NIGMS funded programs to enhance diversity or other institutions with research-oriented students from underrepresented groups to publicize graduate training opportunities. Visits by training grant Program Directors, faculty, and students prove to be highly successful approaches to encouraging potential trainees to apply. Faculty invited to give seminars at institutions with NIGMS funded diversity enhancing programs 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 institutional 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 applicants to visit the campus and meet with faculty and students. Invite prospective or admitted students from underrepresented groups for a visit together 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 recruit at meetings and poster sessions at national conferences with a high attendance of underrepresented students. Consider sending program representatives to meetings with participants from underrepresented groups. Examples include, but are not limited to the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). Maintain communication with interested students and Program Directors of diversity enhancing programs (see below).
  • Communicate directly (e.g., emails, phone calls) with prospective applicants or Program Directors of diversity enhancing training programs. Potential applicants from underrepresented groups, or their faculty mentors may be identified through many sources, including:
  • Communicate with institutional 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 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 educational and professional journals such as National Society for Black Engineers Magazine, etc.
    • In science or science-oriented journals appropriate to the scientific area.
    • In campus publications of colleges and universities with substantial enrollment of students from underrepresented groups.
  • 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 including students and faculty from underrepresented groups in videos and images. Consider employing social media to strategically engage with the communities of students and scientists from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups (e.g. @BLACKandSTEM, @SACNAS, @CienciaPR, etc.).

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 institutions 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 institution.
  • 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 enhancing diversity.
    • Encourage graduate students from underrepresented groups to speak at local high schools to talk about their research and how they decided on a career in science.
    • Bring in high school students and teachers for summer research experiences.
    • Sustain the interest of undergraduate underrepresented 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 Trainees and Fellows with Disabilities

As for all diversity-enhancing recruitment, applicants are expected to establish practices tailored to their institutional 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 recruitment of a pool of potential trainees with disabilities. In addition to the efforts described above, the following represent examples of strategies and resources that have been used in the recruitment of persons with disabilities.

  • Provide a welcoming and accommodating environment that focuses on student’s potential and accomplishments. 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 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).
  • 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.
  • 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 Project, which is one of the Regional Alliances for Students with Disabilities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics funded by the National Science Foundation; 2) advertising in online and print outlets that are targeted to individuals with disabilities; 3) 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; 4) participate in, or develop, webinar/virtual career fairs targeted to individuals with disabilities; and 5) the Institute for Accessible Science (IAS), an online 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.
  • 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 diversity, 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

The training program must include activities designed to sustain the scientific interests of trainees from all backgrounds within a program (i.e., retention). Applicants are encouraged to consult the extramural diversity website to identify promising retention practices and use evidence-based 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 the medical school(s), graduate school(s), and/or the institution(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 by demographic groups. 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.
  • Assign entering underrepresented students, and students with disabilities a faculty advisor who is supportive of and sensitive to issues surrounding these students (e.g., work with the disability coordinator/dean of student services to develop plans for the retention of students with disabilities).
  • Provide oversight throughout the trainees' career through frequent meetings and assessment of achieving milestones.
  • Connect students early on to the organizations of underrepresented scientists in the field of study, role models, and affinity groups.
  • 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 from undergraduate to graduate school (e.g., courses that employ evidence-based teaching practiced to support a diverse student pool).
  • 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.