Increasing Diversity In The NIH Scientific Staff
One of the great pleasures of a scientific career is interacting with creative and productive scientists from many different countries, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds. We take for granted that scientists who are not open to new ideas, who are intellectually biased, and who cannot accept change are doomed to failure in their pursuit of knowledge. Yet a recent report on the role of underrepresented minority scientists at NIH (summarized in this issue of The Catalyst) and concerns raised by an advisory group of women scientists suggest that NIH has not done a good job of ensuring equal opportunity for all scientists to work in the intramural program, as reflected in the lack of diversity of its scientific staff and in discrepancies in pay. What can we do to improve the situation?
The major concerns, among many, raised by the Report on Underrepresented Scientists at the NIH is that NIH lags behind the average for medical schools with respect to minority representation in tenured positions (2.18% African American, Hispanic, and Native American vs. 3.37% for medical schools on average) and that minority scientists do not feel fully accepted into the "culture" of NIH. Although explanations based on historical hiring patterns, appropriate comparison populations, and the small "pool" size of minority candidates with Ph.D.s in the biological sciences have been proferred, the fact is that we need to do much more to improve minority representation in tenure-track and tenured positions on the NIH campus. Although our goal is to give every qualified minority candidate the opportunity to work at NIH, one widespread perception is that NIH is not willing to open its doors to minority scientists, and that once here, minority scientists are excluded from full participation in the culture of science.
How do we go about improving minority representation on the campus? One approach is for each of us to make an effort to identify minority colleagues at all levels of seniority who might be interested in doing research here. This involves more than sending out general letters of invitation and expressions of good intentions; we must search out and encourage candidates to apply to NIH. The numerous new tenure-track positions, which we hope will become available as soon as the hiring freeze is lifted, should encourage these applications. Senior-level hiring is also possible; nothing will convince a prospective minority job candidate that we are serious about hiring minorities more than actually improving minority representation on campus.
Where do we find underrepresented minority scientists? A major effort to interest such people in scientific careers is already under way at NIH; our 1992 summer student program minority population was 31.82% for high-school students, 21.84% undergraduate students, and 24.81% medical students. However, summer jobs do not translate immediately into M.D.s and Ph.D.s pursuing research careers; witness the fact that only 3.9% of our postdoctoral fellows belong to groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. The reality is that very few minority Ph.D.s are being trained in the United States, resulting in a small pool of candidates, and we need to look to the larger pool of M.D.s who might be interested in research as a source for our next generation of scientists. NIH has done this in the past; witness the large number of M.D.s attracted to NIH during the Vietnam War who now occupy leadership positions in our Laboratories and Branches. We need to find individuals with an interest in research careers and encourage them to come to NIH for appropriate training.
One program with the goal of encouraging minorities to come to NIH is the recently launched Clinical Research Loan Repayment Program (CR-LRP). Modeled on the successful AIDS Research Loan Repayment Program, this program seeks physicians from disadvantaged backgrounds (for our purposes, underrepresented minorities, women, and disabled people may qualify as disadvantaged) whose medical school loans will be repaid over a period of several years while they receive training in clinical research at NIH. Such a program helps us solve several problems: it improves representation of minorities, women, and the disabled at NIH, it creates a talented cadre of clinical researchers at a time when clinical research is under siege, and it provides minority physicians to help us attract minority patients to the Clinical Center's research protocols. The program will have only four participants this year, but we hope funding next year will allow us to support up to 20 new clinical researchers.
Some of you may be aware of analyses by women scientists showing pay inequities at NIH and other problems related to underrepresentation of women in the most prestigious and highest-paying jobs at NIH. I have been working with the Women Scientist Advisors and the Scientific Directors of each of the Institutes to identify all inequities and to try to correct these as they are identified. We do have significant problems in this area, and we will be working to find ways to correct salary discrepancies and to improve representation of women among Laboratory and Branch Chiefs and other high-level positions.
Dr. Varmus, the Institute Directors, the Scientific Directors, and I are committed to improving the representation and career opportunities for minority and women scientists at NIH. We need your ideas and help to improve the current situation. Much more than cosmetic changes will be needed; we must institute substantive changes in the way we recruit scientists, mentor scientists of all colors and cultures when they arrive at NIH, and encourage people to stay once they are successful. I will be working with the Scientific Directors to develop new ways to deal with this issue, and I hope to hear from you with names of candidates for positions at NIH and with ideas for attracting minority candidates.
by Michael Gottesman
Acting Deputy Director for