Category: Director’s Messages

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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Seeking Feedback on Our New Strategic Plan

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As I described in my last post, we recently released a progress and outcomes report [PDF] highlighting the work we’ve done to meet the goals and objectives of the NIGMS 2015-2020 strategic plan [PDF].

We’re now beginning development of a new strategic plan that will describe NIGMS’ overarching goals, strategic objectives, and implementation tactics in support of the Institute’s mission over the next 5 years.

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Reflecting on Our Strategic Priorities

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In my first post as NIGMS director in 2013, I discussed the need to develop a new strategic plan to guide our efforts and to ensure that we invest taxpayer money as efficiently and effectively as possible. Our current strategic plan emerged as a product of collaboration between all functional units of our Institute, with valuable input from external stakeholders, and it’s been used to guide management decisions at NIGMS for the last 5 years.

Since publication of this strategic plan in 2015, the Institute has undertaken programmatic and organizational changes to better achieve the goals set forth in the plan. I therefore wanted to reflect on these activities as we consider our priorities for the next 5 years.

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New Webinar Series for the NIGMS Training Community

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UPDATE: Additional webinars have been announced. View the full schedule.

We’re pleased to announce a new webinar series for students, postdocs, and faculty. Each hour-long webinar will include a 10- to 15-minute presentation by the speaker followed by a moderated question and answer session. Our hope is that these webinars will enhance our trainees’ ongoing learning experiences. 

The webinar series kicks off next Monday, May 4, and a tentative list of dates and speakers is below. As plans are finalized, additional details will be posted on our website.

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New NIGMS Web Resource on Safety in the Lab and Other Training Environments

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The safety of trainees and other lab workers from accidents, violence, harassment, and inappropriate behavior is a high priority for NIGMS. Because the Institute has such a large training and workforce development portfolio, we feel that we should play a central role in promoting the development of a robust culture of safety in biomedical research training environments.

As part of this effort, we recently announced the availability of supplements for research education, training, and career development grants to enhance laboratory safety curricula and to build a culture of safety in biomedical research training environments (NOT-GM-20-016). To provide additional resources to enhance safety, we have now launched an NIGMS website highlighting laboratory safety training and guidelines. On this page, you’ll find links to a number of online resources including:

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NIGMS Virtual Learning Resources for Scientists at All Career Stages

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To assist with virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’d like to remind you of the valuable resources NIGMS supports for our trainee and educator communities. These resources apply to all levels, ranging from community college students to faculty.

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Application and Funding Trends in Fiscal Year 2019

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On December 20, 2019, the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 Link to external web site, was signed into law. The appropriation provides NIGMS with a budget of $2,937,218,000 in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, a 2.2% increase over the FY 2019 appropriation. With this increased budget, NIGMS is committed to providing taxpayers with the best possible returns on their investments in fundamental biomedical research [PDF]. As part of this commitment to stewardship [PDF], we regularly monitor trends in our funding portfolio.

NIGMS maintains a diversified investment portfolio, supporting a wide range of research topics and investigators. Recent NIGMS and NIH programs and policies aim to increase the number of different investigators funded, and to maintain researchers’ funding stability over time. Consistent with our focus on supporting a broad group of investigators, we monitor two statistics that describe our investigator pool.

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Erica Brown Named Associate Director for Extramural Activities

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Headshot of Dr. Erica Brown.

I’m pleased to announce that Erica Brown has been named NIGMS associate director for extramural activities and director of our Division of Extramural Activities (DEA). In this role, Erica oversees the receipt, referral, review, and fiscal management of the Institute’s grants. Additionally, she serves as executive secretary of our advisory council and advises senior staff on the planning, development, and administration of Institute grant activities.

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Susan Gregurick to Lead Data Science Activities at NIH

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Headshot of Susan Gregurick.

It’s with profoundly mixed emotions that I tell you that Susan Gregurick has been named the NIH associate director for data science and director of the Office of Data Science Strategy. This new position will allow her to play a key role in shaping data science activities across NIH.

Susan has provided extraordinary leadership to our Division of Biophysics, Biomedical Technology, and Computational Biosciences (BBCB) for the past 6 years and has been an essential member of the Institute’s senior staff. I’m confident that she’ll bring the same level of enthusiasm, professionalism, judgment, and keen intellect to her new office as she did here at NIGMS. The appointment becomes official on September 15, although Susan will remain here at NIGMS through the end of the month. Deputy Director Judith Greenberg will serve as acting director of BBCB while we search for a permanent replacement.

For more on this appointment, see the statement from NIH Director Francis Collins. Please join me in wishing Susan the best in the next phase of her career. NIGMS’ loss is certainly NIH’s gain!

NIGMS Grantees Receive Top U.S. Award in Science and Engineering

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I’m pleased to congratulate four members of the NIGMS community who are among the recipients of the 2019 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers Link to external web site. This award is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government to outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent research careers and who show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology.

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