August 2011

Giving minority investigators a hand

The NIDDK Network of Minority Research provides minority faculty with mentorship and advice.  

Navigating the demands of an academic position can be stressful and overwhelming. Between teaching, serving on committees, managing laboratory personnel, developing a strong research program and securing funding, a lot of new assistant professors may find successfully balancing the many responsibilities of academia to be an isolating and daunting task. Moreover, studies have shown that scientists from populations that are underrepresented in the sciences are less likely to seek advice or support from senior colleagues. Minority faculty also are more likely to be recruited to serve on multiple institutional and society committees, adding to their already numerous duties.

For more information about the Network of Minority Research Investigators or to apply for membership, contact Winnie Martinez ( at the Office of Minority Health Research.


To provide minority faculty with mentorship and advice on areas such as grantsmanship, laboratory management and balancing the demands of career and family, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases created the Network of Minority Research Investigators almost a decade ago. NMRI's mission is to support biomedical research investigators and technical personnel from traditionally under-served communities. The network facilitates the participation of members of underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups in the conduct of biomedical research in the fields supported by NIDDK, such as diabetes research, endocrinology and nutrition. NMRI also provides a platform for the exchange of ideas between network members and the NIDDK.

Of the 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health, NIDDK is the only one that has a formal program to foster the development of minority junior faculty. Since its inception, the network has had more than 120 members from 109 colleges, universities and institutions across the country. Currently, NMRI boasts approximately 90 members. The network was the brainchild of Lawrence Agodoa, who is the director of the Office of Minority Health Research Coordination at NIDDK. Agodoa has been instrumental in ensuring the sustained success of NMRI. Not only is he an NIDDK representative, but his research background and clinical training provide a unique and accessible perspective to which NMRI members can relate.

A popular NMRI initiative is its mentor program, which matches members at different stages in their careers. The goal of the program is to foster the development of junior faculty by providing a formal platform to provide expertise, support and advice. Typically, mentors and mentees have similar research interests, career goals or shared life experiences.

NMRI holds a meeting every spring at which members come together to network, share research findings, get information on new initiatives from funding agencies, gain insight on the promotion and tenure process, and share anecdotes and exchange strategies used for thriving in academia.

Arguably, one of the highlights of the annual conference is the mock study sections. Prior to the meeting, members have the opportunity to submit previously reviewed research proposals for discussion and critique at the meeting. At the conference, attendees form groups and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each proposal. The responses from questionnaires completed after the meeting routinely show that members find the mock study section a valuable tool that enhances grant-writing skills and provides tangible tips for communicating more effectively and developing a logical research plan.

Past meetings also have included discussions on new strategic initiatives being implemented at the institute, presentations on research initiatives in health disparities, strategies for developing a national reputation and effective ways of managing laboratory personnel.

Sylvia E. Rosas of the University of Pennsylvania remarked that "attending the NMRI meetings was invaluable to learn from outstanding mentors how to develop a successful research program." Rosas first went to the annual meetings to learn about preparing budgets, get tips on grant writing and interact with other minority researchers. Her role in NMRI has evolved over the years, and most recently she co-organized the network's 2010 annual meeting along with Bessie Young (University of Washington). Young also has been involved with NMRI since its inception and credits the program with helping strengthen her CV, which facilitated both obtaining her first NIH RO1 grant and being promoted from assistant professor to associate professor.

Marion B. Sewer ( is an associate professor in the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California, San Diego.

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