Training and Workforce Diversity

Training and Workforce Diversity

NINDS funds and conducts neuroscience research training and career development programs to ensure a vibrant, talented, and diverse neuroscience workforce. 

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Today’s research trainees are an integral part of the neuroscience research workforce, and they will become tomorrow’s leaders in neuroscience discovery and innovation.  Excellent mentorship and training are critical to the development of exceptional future scientists and are therefore critical to the NINDS mission.  NINDS supports neuroscience research training and career development through individual, institutional, and national awards, and the NINDS Intramural Research Program provides opportunities for research training on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland.  These extramural and intramural programs span basic, translational, and clinical neuroscience research training initiatives at multiple career stages, from summer experiences for high school and undergraduate students to mentored career development awards for new research faculty.  Rigorous research training, strong mentorship, and ample opportunities for professional development provide trainees with a foundation for pursuing a wide range of careers in academic or industry research as well as teaching, science policy, science writing, and research administration, among others. 

NINDS is committed to supporting a diverse and inclusive neuroscience workforce.  The objectives related to diversity in this section of the plan focus mainly on training and career development, as one important part of a cross-cutting strategy to promote a culture of inclusive excellence and diverse representation.  NINDS intends that all trainees in the NINDS intramural research program or those supported with extramural NINDS funds, whether through specific NINDS training and career development programs or research project grants, receive excellent scientific training, professional development, and mentorship.  NINDS can directly influence training quality in the intramural research program and in extramural programs designated for research training and career development, yet many more trainees are supported through extramural funding for research projects, where this influence is less direct.  However, institutions and investigators receiving support through training mechanisms overlap with those receiving research funds, creating a bridge for broader impact.  In addition, there are other means for NINDS to endorse the view that excellent training, mentorship, professional development, diversity, and inclusive environments are essential for high-quality research and a thriving neuroscience community.  Through the following objectives, NINDS aims to enhance its efforts in research training and workforce diversity to keep pace with increasing complexity in neuroscience research and to address current and emerging challenges and opportunities.

NINDS Extramural Training and Career Development Programs

Scientific Training

Support training across the breadth of basic, translational, and clinical neuroscience research to foster advances and innovation.

a man looking through a microscopeNINDS supports and provides training across the spectrum from fundamental basic science to translational and clinical research.  NINDS must continue to align programs and policies to unique and evolving training needs and career trajectories in these areas to ensure a vibrant workforce.  For example, in addition to broadly available programs for individuals and institutions, NINDS supports training programs that are tailored to clinician scientists at different career stages, that provide training specifically for translational research, and that support postdoctoral fellows using cutting-edge tools, theories, or approaches in one of the seven, high-priority research areas of the NIH BRAIN Initiative.  

Scientific advances often occur when investigators recognize the relevance of discoveries made in an entirely different discipline.  Moreover, investigators will often be best positioned to make important discoveries when they understand the uses of a wide array of methods and technologies.  Therefore, training in neuroscience research must extend beyond proficiency in an individual line of study so that investigators are prepared take on new directions, adopt and develop new approaches, and work collaboratively and in teams to share expertise and resources.  Consequently, NINDS will continue to empower the research community to direct training to areas of need and opportunity as well as incentivize and support broad, cross-disciplinary training in both content and technology that will seed innovation, collaboration, and novel discoveries.  NINDS also will implement strategies for training in data science, neuroethics, health disparities, and other cross-cutting or emerging approaches with the potential for wide-ranging application to neuroscience research.  Finally, NINDS will work to enhance coordination and awareness about programs and policies for research training.

Strengthen training in principles of rigorous research, experimental design, and quantitative skills.

Rigor in scientific research, sound experimental design, and quantitative analytical methods are essential to continued progress in neuroscience.  NINDS has championed efforts to promote rigor in the biomedical research community and recognizes that research training programs can be an effective way to improve the rigor of scientific research conducted by trainees as well as established investigators who serve as training mentors.  For example, NINDS has incorporated requirements in extramural institutional training programs for intensive, formal training in experimental design, statistical methodology, and quantitative literacy and also provides funding to these programs to integrate a statistician into programmatic activities and to fund workshops on quantitative analysis.  However, opportunities remain for strengthening these efforts across neuroscience research training within both the NINDS extramural and intramural communities.  NINDS will enhance the effectiveness of training in principles of rigorous research, experimental design, and quantitative skills by expanding emphasis in review, evaluation, and interactions with the research community.  In addition, NINDS will work to improve, develop, and disseminate resources to facilitate training in these areas for researchers and research support staff at all career stages for continuous learning.

Diversity and Inclusion

Support programs and policies that address challenges to achieving diversity and inclusion.

Scientific discovery and innovation depend on a pool of highly talented scientists from diverse backgrounds, and NINDS has long recognized that achieving diversity in the neuroscience workforce is critical to realizing our research goals.  NIH encourages institutions to diversify their student and faculty populations to enhance the participation of individuals from groups that are underrepresented in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral, and social sciences such as identified in the NIH’s Interest in Diversity Notice. The NINDS Office of Programs to Enhance Neuroscience Workforce Diversity (OPEN) coordinates NINDS extramural diversity activities spanning the training pipeline.  These include innovative programs for neuroscience education outreach at the college and even high school level and training and mentoring initiatives that specifically promote career progression across critical transition points for trainees and junior faculty.  In addition, NINDS recently expanded criteria for funding meritorious grant applications beyond the payline to consider the value of diverse perspectives a project or investigator adds to the field or workforce.  The NINDS IRP also coordinates and participates in programs that bring diverse students and research trainees to intramural NIH laboratories for research training experiences.

However, gaps remain for achieving diversity, including for racial/ethnic diversity at the level of NIH research project funding (R01s) and NINDS intramural faculty, which may result from multiple complex biases and disparities that create disadvantages to career success. In early 2021, NIH launched the UNITE Initiative, an agency-wide effort to end structural racism in biomedical research within NIH and across the extramural research community, and NINDS is a committed partner in this initiative. To further enhance diversity and inclusion, NINDS will implement new and continued strategies that reduce barriers to career advancement for underrepresented researchers and support increased diversity across all programs and career stages. NINDS will support programs and policies that promote success in independent research careers, such as the Diversity K01 award and the Common Fund FIRST programs, as well as create programs and policies that retain diverse trainees and faculty in the NINDS IRP. NINDS also will partner with other NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices, as well as professional societies, institutions, nonprofit organizations, and others with shared and complementary goals regarding diversity.

Support programs and policies that promote inclusivity and cultural competence.

A diverse research workforce engages different perspectives, creativity, and individual enterprise to address complex scientific problems.  However, retaining diverse talent will require environments that embrace and value different perspectives and contributions and a research workforce that is culturally competent, or able to understand, communicate, and effectively interact with people across cultures and backgrounds.  In order to tap into the full potential of an increasingly diverse workforce, NINDS must support and promote inclusion – active, intentional, and ongoing engagement that increases cultural competence and awareness, empathic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions, and feelings of belonging.  NINDS will promote inclusivity in intramural and extramural environments through strategies to create and support a positive culture that will reduce incidents of harassment, microaggressions, and unconscious bias.  NINDS also will integrate diversity and inclusion goals in processes and programs that are not just diversity-targeted, address the potential for bias in program and scientific review, and provide opportunities for training that expands awareness and knowledge of barriers to diversity and inclusion.  Finally, NINDS will communicate and foster the value of diversity and inclusion across all programs and career stages and evaluate the outcomes of our efforts.

Cross-cutting values regarding training, diversity, and inclusion at NINDS include scientific rigor, support for career transitions, intellectual ownership of projects by research scholars, support for diversity and inclusion through general training programs and targeted efforts, and mentorship for all career stages.

Mentorship

Promote mentorship as an essential component of research training and workforce development.

Scientists consistently rate great mentorship as the most important factor in their success.  Likewise, good mentors know that strong mentorship benefits their own research and science overall, as well-trained individuals with confidence to take on challenges will be more creative and productive.  Mentors pass on scientific wisdom, advise on designing experiments and analyzing data, and help trainees decide when to continue a difficult project.  They give mentees opportunities to become known in the scientific community, help them learn how to obtain funding and communicate with journal reviewers and editors, and support them in exploring career paths and navigating transitions.  Mentees, too, have important roles and responsibilities in successful mentoring relationships.  Broadly, effective mentorship helps mentees mature intellectually and professionally, develop and maintain confidence, and persevere in the face of obstacles.  For all these reasons, mentorship is also critical for enhancing workforce diversity.

a group of scientists looking at samples NINDS emphasizes the need for strong mentorship in extramural and intramural training and has invested in programs and resources that support effective mentoring practices and relationships.  Leaders of NINDS-funded institutional training programs are expected to provide oversight of mentorship to ensure that all trainees and scholars obtain appropriate guidance and support, as well as finish their training on an appropriate timeline.  To promote intellectual ownership for trainees, NINDS encourages creative projects for individual fellowship (F) and career development awards (K) that are generated via intellectual collaboration between mentees and mentors.  Moreover, NINDS requires that all K awardees have ownership of their projects, which they can take with them without competition from their mentors.  In 2018, NINDS created the Landis Award for Mentorship to recognize outstanding mentors, as well as signal to the community the importance that NINDS places on contributions to research through mentorship as well as scholarship.

To ensure that the entire workforce has access to superior mentorship, NINDS will strengthen emphasis on high-quality mentorship across NINDS research training programs and support the development, coordination, and dissemination of resources and tools to facilitate mentorship training for mentors and mentees.  NINDS also will continue to reward and incentivize dedication to excellence in mentorship and will strive to communicate the value of mentorship across all programs and career stages.

Professional Development

Foster a holistic approach to professional development for the neuroscience workforce.

Professional readiness and success for the neuroscience workforce depend on more than scientific knowledge and research skills.  In recent years, training programs in biomedical research have embraced the importance of professional development encompassing areas such as communication, leadership, management, networking, and exposure to a variety of potential career paths.  NIH has been a champion of a more holistic approach to professional development, as demonstrated by efforts such as the NIH Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) initiative and the broad array of services provided by the NIH Office of Intramural Training & Education (OITE).  NINDS expects strong commitments to professional development in its extramural programs for training and career development and supplements activities offered by funded institutions with workshops and other events for trainees, mentors, and training program directors.  The NINDS intramural research community has access to many resources for professional and career development through the OITE and a new NINDS Research Training and Career Development (RTCD) office.  However, access to and participation in such activities can vary across institutions, programs, and lab or research groups, and opportunities for ongoing professional development may be limited outside of traditional training trajectories.  NINDS will promote professional development across career stages for the neuroscience workforce through support for learning and experiences that are important for research but likewise applicable to other career choices.  In addition, NINDS will emphasize the essential roles of personal wellness and positive community culture in professional success, including institutional commitments to family-friendly environments, accommodations, and leave policies that help trainees achieve their career goals despite critical life events.  NINDS will also partner with other NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices, as well as professional societies, universities, nonprofit organizations, and others with shared goals in professional development for the biomedical research workforce.