Integrated Empirical and Translational Research to Diversify the Scientific Workforce

Project: Research project

Project Details


The rate of diversification of the scientific workforce has been extraordinarily slow despite efforts of thousands of individuals and large financial investments from government and private agencies over the past 4+ decades. In particular, faculty diversity in biomedical and other natural sciences has not changed to any meaningful degree. Most research to address this problem has focused early in the pipeline, on ways to improve retention in college STEM majors, a sense of belonging in STEM fields, and entry into PhD programs. Modest success has been achieved in entry of students from underrepresented (UR) ethnic and racial groups, and women into biomedical PhD training. However, these changes have not led to any real improvement in UR or gender diversity at the faculty level. Single time, cross-sectional survey studies have shed some light on this seemingly intractable problem, but they are limited by recall bias and lack the capacity to explain the complexity of individuals’ experiences over time. Our research combines two research streams aiming to fully understand experiences and career intentions of biomedical scientists: 1) through a large-scale, empirical study beginning in 2008, “The National Longitudinal Study of Young Life Scientists,” we are following the experiences and decision-making of a diverse group of biomedical PhD students from the start of the PhD; 2) with translational research beginning in 2011, “The Academy for Future Science Faculty,” we implemented a randomized controlled trial of a novel group coaching model to augment uneven mentoring and address the isolation faced by young UR scientists. Both are prospective qualitative studies using annual, in-depth, one-on-one interviews. We have drawn on multiple social science theories for interim analyses with sub-groups of students. The great majority have completed the PhD; for the first time, we have revealed the great fluidity of career intentions during training. With continuing interviews, we are poised to follow them into their careers. The combined studies are unprecedented in their scope and duration. As of January 1, 2020, we continue to engage 289 young scientists who have begun, or are still on a path towards, an academic career. Of this number, 116 (40%) are UR individuals and 170 (59%) are women. Analysis of interview data has provided new insights into the complexity of career intentions during the PhD. The next 5 years of interviews will reveal how career intentions change during postdoctoral training; factors that influence those intentions; and, for the first time, prospective insights on what leads to achievement and success in academic careers. The diversity of the study population will allow detailed comparison across racial/ethnic groups and gender. Our emerging model from the data shows how elements and integration of several social science theories will explain the lower likelihood that individuals from UR groups will choose and persist in academic careers. With inclusion of the Academy participants, we will be able to study the long-term effects of this novel intervention and identify features and aspects that can be translated to student support and diversity efforts.
Effective start/end date6/1/215/31/26


  • National Institute of General Medical Sciences (5R35GM118184-08)


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