The biomedical sciences have struggled with diversity for a long time. Research shows that many groups who are under-represented in the general population, are even further under-represented in the biomedical science workforce. In fact, one study found that black scientists were less likely to receive NIH funding than their white peers who had similar training experiences, publication records and educational backgrounds.
To combat this, the NIH developed a Diversity Program Consortium that administers the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN). The network consists of biomedical professionals and institutions that offer mentorship and professional development to mentors and trainees from under-represented racial and ethnic groups, those with disabilities or who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) in the biomedical, behavioral, clinical, and social sciences.
NRMN currently connects about 1,300 mentees and 740 mentors across the nation through in-person and virtual mentoring programs and offers a valuable wealth of resources regarding coaching on grant writing and mentor training. The nationwide mentoring initiative behind NRMN seeks to increase under-represented trainees’ access to quality mentors from diverse groups and backgrounds – “across race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, able-ism, and geography”.
Vivian Lewis M.D., vice provost for Faculty Development & Diversity and professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at URMC, knows that culturally responsive mentoring is key to the success of any researcher. But she also knows that “just being a good researcher doesn’t make you a good mentor automatically. Here at University of Rochester we’ve had a lot of experience training mentors.”
In fact, Lewis leads the UR Mentors program that offers support and training to faculty across the university, including those in biomedical research, on how to be an effective mentor. One of the program’s major initiatives is to discuss the role of diversity and bias in the mentor-protégé relationship and understand the implications. Through the program, faculty gain confidence, knowledge, and skills to help them give their protégés the best leg up.
URMC also collaborates with Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically black college that is a NRMN academic partner and is funded by NRMN’s sister program, Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD). Many of Xavier’s pre-medical and pharmacy students have trained at University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry over the years, but fewer biomedical research students have taken advantage of that partnership. Lewis hopes to recruit more under-represented students to come to URMC for mentored research experiences and to forge more faculty research collaborations through the NRMN partnership with Xavier.
John Cullen, PhD., director of Diversity and Inclusion at the CTSI and coordinator of Outreach in the Susan B. Anthony Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center, recently signed up to be a NRMN mentor and encourages both trainees and faculty to join the network. He cautions, “though the NRMN website primarily focuses on mentorship, it is extremely important for under-represented trainees to sign up as mentees. Anyone from undergraduates up through junior faculty can join as a mentee.”