ASBMB receives NIH grant to promote faculty diversity
The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has received a cooperative agreement with the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences to develop and execute a program that will support postdoctoral fellows and new investigators from diverse backgrounds embarking on careers at research-intensive institutions.
The ASBMB will receive almost $1.27 million over five years to serve as one of three inaugural host organizations for the Maximizing Opportunities for Scientific and Academic Independent Careers, or MOSAIC, program. The American Society for Cell Biology and the Association of American Medical Colleges are the other two host organizations.
“The ASBMB has a long history of supporting underrepresented scientists. We established what is now known as the Minority Affairs Committee in the 1970s. Over the past almost five decades, it has engaged in a number of effective activities,” said Barbara Gordon, the ASBMB’s executive director and MOSAIC principal investigator. “I am very pleased that we have received this grant, as it will allow us to take our support to a new level.”
The MOSAIC Postdoctoral Career Transition Award to Promote Diversity (K99/R00) aims to enhance workforce diversity by facilitating a timely transition of promising postdoctoral researchers from diverse backgrounds (e.g., see Notice of NIH’s Interest in Diversity) from their mentored, postdoctoral research positions to independent, tenure-track or equivalent faculty positions at research-intensive institutions.
The NIGMS began accepting applications from postdoctoral researchers for MOSAIC K99/R00 awards in 2020. Once it makes the awards, the institute will assign awardees to participating host organizations that align with their scientific interests.
The ASBMB’s MOSAIC program will leverage its established professional development, mentoring and networking activities and offer new ones.
“The society’s IMAGE grant writing workshop, for example, has been very impactful, and our Journal of Biological Chemistry recently launched an early-career reviewer program. We will extend these programs to our MOSAIC scholars,” said Ruma Banerjee of the University of Michigan, the co-investigator for the ASBMB’s MOSAIC grant. “In addition, we will create opportunities for our scholars to present their work at the national meeting, network cross-institutionally with peers, and receive culturally aware coaching in a setting that is non-evaluative.”
Each participant will be paired with a coach at a different institution. In addition, each year’s scholar cohort will be anchored by a coach, building a community of practice. Importantly, all coaches will be trained to discuss and respond appropriately to issues relating to gender, race and culture, including, for example, stereotype threat and microaggressions.
“A major goal for the coaches will be to engender a culture of effective communication and openness that invites frank discussions of concerns without anxieties about repercussions,” Banerjee said. In addition, each cohort will have regular virtual meetings to establish “a safe space for open discussions of sensitive issues that they might not discuss with colleagues and mentors at their institutions.”
What the ASBMB participants will do
The ASBMB’s component of the MOSAIC program will offer a professional-development curriculum to help awardees prepare for and navigate the transition to professorship.
In the first year, when all participants will be engaged in postdoctoral research, participants will focus on network building and science communication. Their activities will include, for example, taking the ASBMB’s online course The Art of Science Communication to develop their public speaking skills.
In the second year, they will put those skills to the test by giving short talks at the society’s annual meeting, and they will engage in a number of other skill-building workshops and webinars, such as training on preparing scientific figures for publication and reproducibility.
A highlight of the third year will be the society’s grant writing workshop. That workshop is assessed regularly and, by the last count, 85% of participants had won grants within three years.
The final two years of the MOSAIC program, which will coincide with participants’ first years as professors, will be carefully tailored to individual scholars’ goals and needs but could include, for example, editorial training, additional public speaking opportunities, pedagogical training and mentoring training.
Though the society aims to serve each scholar’s needs, Banerjee emphasized that the ASBMB rejects looking at the need to diversify the biomedical workforce through a deficit lens.
“To achieve what has been an elusive goal of diversification, it is imperative that we assess and address the restrictions that continue to challenge inclusive participation and help perpetuate a demographic imbalance,” she said. “We will introduce new programming to engage administrators at the MOSAIC scholars’ home institutions in discussions on barriers to sustainable change and evidence-based approaches to improving outcomes.”
For more information about the ASBMB MOSAIC program, visit asbmb.org/diversity/MOSAIC.
The ASBMB has assembled the following advisory board to oversee its MOSAIC activities:
Vahe Bandarian, University of Utah
Squire Booker, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Pennsylvania State University
Enrique de la Cruz, Yale University School of Medicine
Sonia Flores, University of Colorado–Denver
Richard McGee, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Other ASBMB programs and awards for minority scientists
IMAGE grant writing workshop: This annual program, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, trains about 35 senior postdoctoral fellows and new faculty members in best practices for securing federal research funding. Learn more.
Marion B. Sewer Distinguished Scholarship for Undergraduates: This annual program provides up to $2,000 to help cover the tuition costs of up to five undergraduates committed to enhancing diversity in the biomedical workforce. Learn more.
Graduate student travel awards: This program provides up to $1,000 in travel expenses for underrepresented graduate students presenting their work at the society’s annual meeting. Recipients of the travel awards also are paired with mentors at the meeting. Learn more.
Ruth L. Kirschstein Diversity in Science Award: This annual award recognizes an outstanding scientist who has shown a strong commitment to diversity. The winner receives a cash prize of $3,000 and a plaque and gives an invited lecture at the society’s annual meeting. Learn more.
Promoting Research Opportunities for Latin American Biochemists: This annual travel-award program allows Latin American graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to spend up to six months in U.S. or Canadian laboratories. Participants get access to technologies and expertise that may not be readily available in their home countries, allowing them to grow their skills and contribute to building capacity in the life sciences at home. Learn more.
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Paul Wright, a chemist whose 28-year career in the pharmaceutical industry spanned many types of roles and companies, shares what he learned along the way with ASBMB Today.