Category: Director’s Messages

NIGMS Strategic Plan 2021-2025 Now Available

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I’m pleased to announce the release of the NIGMS 2021-2025 Strategic Plan [PDF]. Like its predecessor [PDF], this plan sets the direction and priorities that the Institute will pursue over the next 5 years. It enumerates a series of goals, objectives, and implementation strategies that build upon the successful outcomes [PDF] of our prior plan, and it reflects key organizational values of the Institute. The plan also contains representative targets for each implementation strategy that promote both transparency and accountability to ensure that progress is tracked and periodically reported, and that any necessary course corrections can be implemented.

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Application and Funding Trends in Fiscal Year 2020

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On December 27, 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, was signed into law. The appropriation provides NIGMS with a budget of $2,991,417,000, in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, a 1.8% increase over the FY 2020 appropriation. With this increased budget, NIGMS is committed to providing taxpayers with the best possible returns on their investments in fundamental biomedical research. As part of this commitment to stewardship, we regularly monitor trends in our funding portfolio.

NIGMS maintains a diversified biomedical research portfolio, supporting a wide range of topics and investigators. NIGMS and NIH programs and policies aim to increase the number of funded investigators and to maintain researchers’ funding stability over time. In this post, we describe NIGMS investigator-level trends for selected R01-equivalent grants as well as overall research project grant (RPG) trends for FY 2020 compared to previous fiscal years.

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Richard Aragon to Direct Division of Data Integration, Modeling, and Analytics

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Headshot of Dr. Richard Aragon.

I’m pleased to announce that Richard Aragon is the new director of the Institute’s Division of Data Integration, Modeling, and Analytics (DIMA). He has been acting director of DIMA since January 2020.

Richard has ably led NIGMS’ strategic planning and evaluation activities and has served as our Congressional liaison since joining us in 2014 as chief of what was then our Office of Program Planning, Analysis, and Evaluation. In this role, he has evolved and expanded our capabilities to include predictive analytics, budget and fiscal modeling, and the use of artificial intelligence to enhance business processes. As we prepare to the launch the NIGMS 2021-2025 Strategic Plan this spring, Richard’s extensive expertise in spearheading these activities makes him the ideal candidate to lead this critical component of the Institute.

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It Takes Courage: Re-Emphasizing Our Institutional and Societal Commitment to Diversity, Respect, and Inclusion

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Recent events have highlighted the unfortunate, discriminatory, and, at times, violent or criminal actions taken against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. These events, including attacks on women and the elderly, constitute a threat to the health and well-being of not only the AAPI community, but also to the principles of diversity, inclusivity, respect, and civility. Data recently released [PDF] by California State University, San Bernardino, indicate a 149% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes reported to law enforcement between 2019 and 2020, including staggering increases in some of the most demographically diverse cities in the country. These events, and the perspectives or attitudes that underlie them, damage the social fabric and mutual bonds that hold us together. Elements of hate and discrimination anywhere act as a barrier to equity and respect everywhere.

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Wanted: NIGMS Deputy Director

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The search is underway for a critically important position on the NIGMS leadership team: our deputy director. The deputy director assists me in managing the Institute, advises on a range of topics, and handles special projects. This person also works closely with groups within and outside NIH and represents us on various federal and nonfederal scientific and professional committees.

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NIGMS Supports UNITE, the Trans-NIH Initiative to Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Biomedical Research

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UNITE logo. UNITE is an NIH initiative to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in biomedical research.

On March 1, NIH Director Francis Collins announced UNITE, a new effort to end structural racism and racial inequities in the biomedical research enterprise. NIGMS fully supports this initiative and is actively reviewing our own policies, practices, procedures, and priorities. We’re also intensifying our current efforts to undo the impacts of structural racism and all other forms of structural bias and discrimination in the biomedical research enterprise. Upcoming NIGMS communications and activities will identify structural and cultural elements in biomedical research that are contributing to racism and what we’re currently doing and plan to do to address them. New initiatives include, but are not limited to:

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Dorothy Beckett to Direct BBCB Division

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Headshot of Dr. Dorothy Beckett.

I’m pleased to announce that Dorothy Beckett will join NIGMS on January 19 as the new director of our Division of Biophysics, Biomedical Technology, and Computational Biosciences (BBCB). Dorothy is a molecular biophysicist with extensive expertise in the field. She is a leader in the scientific community and a proponent of expanding opportunities for women and underrepresented groups in science.

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Dorit Zuk Named NIGMS Acting Deputy Director

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Headshot of Dr. Dorit Zuk.

I’m pleased to tell you that Dorit Zuk has agreed to serve as acting deputy director of NIGMS upon Judith Greenberg’s retirement at the end of the month.

Dorit has served in several leadership roles at both NIGMS and NIH. She’s been the director of our Division of Genetics and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (GMCDB) since early 2016. Before joining NIGMS, she was director of the former Office of Policy, Communications and Strategic Alliances at NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Prior to that, she was the science policy advisor to the NIH deputy director for extramural research.

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Developing a Culture of Safety in Biomedical Research Training

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NIGMS is committed to supporting safety in the nation’s biomedical research and training environments. Last April, we shared with you resources for enhancing lab safety in biomedical research training environments. Now, in a perspective in the current issue of Molecular Biology of the Cell (MBoC), we focus on strategies for improving laboratory safety. Some of these strategies are also applicable to other forms of safety including the prevention of harassment, intimidation, and discrimination. We frame the problem of laboratory safety using a number of recent examples of tragic accidents, highlight some of the lessons that have been learned from these and other events, discuss what NIGMS is doing to address problems related to laboratory safety, and outline steps that institutions can take to improve their safety cultures.

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What Can We Do to Combat Anti-Black Racism in the Biomedical Research Enterprise?

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The recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, in addition to the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on African Americans, are wrenching reminders of the many harms that societal racism, inequality, and injustice inflict on the Black community. These injustices are rooted in centuries of oppression—including slavery and Jim Crow, redlining, school segregation, and mass incarceration—that continue to influence American life, including the biomedical research enterprise. Despite leading an NIH Institute whose mission includes building a diverse scientific workforce, at NIGMS we’ve struggled with what an adequate response to this moment would be, knowing that the systems that mediate the distinct and disparate burdens Black students, postdocs, and scientists face are complex and often aren’t easily moved with the urgency that they demand. With that in mind, below we share thoughts on what each of us who is in the majority or in a position of power can do to help break the cycles of racial disparities that are woven into the fabric of the biomedical research enterprise and that limit opportunities Link to external web site for Black scientists Link to external web site.

Institutional structures, policies, and cultures Link to external web site, including those in the biomedical research enterprise, all contribute to racial inequality and injustice. This fact was laid bare for us by the responses to the request for information (RFI) we issued in 2018 on strategies to enhance successful postdoctoral career transitions to promote faculty diversity. Respondents cited bias and discrimination—including racism—most frequently as a key barrier to postdoctoral researchers attaining independent faculty positions.

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