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Meeting the Nation’s Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists: Summary of the 1993 Public Hearing
becomes very difficult at this important period of training to entice a clinician into a research career when he or she would have to face a considerable reduction in compensation.
To assure a continuing supply of skilled investigators in the coming years, more attention should be given to developing better approaches to identifying individuals with the best potential to become successful research scientists. In comparison to other professions (medicine, dentistry, law, etc.), few studies have been bundertaken to determine the best predictors for successful researchers so that this information can be incorporated into admission criteria to graduate school. Likewise, little hard data are available as to what constitutes the best methods of training successful investigators.
What steps might be taken to improve the effectiveness of the NRSA program in recruiting women and minorities into scientific careers?
The ASM’s Public and Scientific Affairs Board Committee on Manpower Planning conducted a survey during the 1987-88 academic year to document the demographics of microbiology students and faculty in the U.S. The survey addressed age, gender, race and ethnicity of microbiology trainees and faculties at all levels. It was sent to departments in institutions that offer degrees in microbiology. Of the 363 departments contacted, 125 (34% of the total) responded. However, these 125 institutions account for 72 percent of Ph.D.s in microbiology awarded in 1987. An article published in ASM-News in January 1990, based on the survey, points out that shortages can be anticipated in the future in the microbiological sciences and that minority representation in microbiology departments is very poor. Female representation among microbiology faculties was also shown to be poor, although female representation appears to be better at the lower professional and trainee levels.
In answer to this question, we agree with and include the following specific comments from the response to this question developed by the ASM’s Committee on the Status of Minority Microbiologists, chaired by Dr. Gerald Stokes of George Washington University: The structural organization of the NRSA-sponsored minority predoctoral awards is overly restricted, underfunded, and fails to recognize the diversity of highly qualified minority applicants. The NRC should develop a coordinated effort to assist the funding of a greater number of qualified minority applicants than is currently being done. This load could be shared with other federal funding agencies or federally funded university training programs for award considerations. Students should be able to apply for NRSA support, with awards contingent upon being admitted to graduate school. The NRSA award criteria is heavily weighted towards student performance on standardized examinations. Some consideration should be given to the fact that minority student performance is consistently below national averages on such tests. The current process neglects to realize the diversity of personality traits which may factor into the production of a well-rounded academician or scientist.
Competitive renewals for 732 NRSAs now must include detailed summaries of minority recruitment, not only at the level of the institution as a whole, but also at the departmental and individual mentor level. All the NIH institutes should rigorously review this information and enforce this requirement which should result in increased recruiting activities and, consequently, in increased numbers of minority trainees. Review criteria should also include efforts to increase retention of minority students. Special support services are needed to retain even the best minority students.
The NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health has established a program to encourage women to return to science careers. The ASM’s Committee on the Status of Women in Microbiology, chaired by Dr. Anne Morris-Hooke, notes that although many women are entering the profession of microbiology, a number leave at the doctoral and postdoctoral levels. They suggest one approach to recruiting those who have left research careers for family or other reasons, is to target some NRSA funding directly to women who are trying to reenter science at the graduate level. Also the Committee on Women in Science and Engineering of the Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel of the National Research Council recently published a report entitled “Women in Science and Engineering: Increasing Their Numbers in the 1990s,” in which the following recommendation was made: “Government subsidies or grants from private foundations for child care to undergraduate and graduate students and postdocs might also serve to recruit more women into scientific and engineering careers.” Consideration should be given to increasing the length of time allowable for support of females on NRSA awards when adequate time for maternity leave and the ability to receive training at a slower pace during the early phases