NIH’s NIDDK Network of Minority Research Investigators (NMRI)
to Hold 10th Anniversary Celebration
The NMRI will hold a
10th Anniversary Celebration at the
NMRI Annual Workshop on April 19-20, 2012, in Bethesda, MD.
For information, visit the NMRI website at http://nmri.niddk.nih.gov/.
In 1999, NIH Director Dr. Harold Varmus called the new Director of the NIDDK, Dr. Allen Spiegel, into his office to discuss what could be done to increase the number of minority researchers in the United States, and by default (it was hoped) encourage research on health disparities. At the time, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) had instituted an initiative for each of the NIH Institutes to establish programs to address these problems. Dr. Spiegel returned to the NIDDK and called Dr. Lawrence Agodoa, the Director of Chronic Kidney Disease and End Stage Renal Disease Programs and the newly appointed Director of the Office of Minority Health Research Coordination (OMHRC), to ask him to lead this new DHHS initiative for the NIDDK. Dr. Agodoa, with support from Dr. Spiegel, established the Network of Minority Research Investigators (NMRI) as one initiative to address the lack of minority researchers involved in diseases of interest to the NIDDK; the same diseases that were disproportionately affecting minorities in the U.S.
“The NMRI workshops were the first time I saw there was a slew of people like me. It made me feel less alone. Good role models of success in academia.”
During the next decade, the NMRI recruited, cajoled, and influenced the state of research to markedly improve participation of minority investigators in the research enterprise. Beginning with a concerted effort to enlist senior investigators to serve as “owners” of the Network, Dr. Agodoa found a select group willing to accept the responsibility of finding and mentoring junior minority investigators with the goal of providing entry into the medical research fields of interest to the NIDDK. Success was not long in coming as the NMRI became nationally known as an avenue for career promotion and peer mentoring for minority researchers that could strengthen a junior investigator’s knowledge, experience, and resume.
Since the NMRI was established in 2002, it has grown to more than 100 active members, with another 300 who have attended at least one NMRI annual or regional workshop. As Dr. Agodoa tells workshop attendees, “The NMRI belongs to you. The NIDDK will support the Network by funding NMRI activities, like these workshops, but the Network will succeed or fail depending on the enthusiasm and hard work of its members.”
An evolving strategy to expand the reach of the NMRI is to develop partnerships with national scientific organizations, such as the constituent societies of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. Speakers from these organizations are included on the agendas of each annual workshop and NMRI members offer their participation as speakers and/or breakout session leaders at national scientific meetings. In addition, the NMRI works closely with organizations such as The Endocrine Society to support their minority training activities.
“The NMRI gave me massive help while I was applying for a faculty position. I had made some unforgivable errors in my first series of interviews. Some of the senior fellows at the NMRI corrected my interview style and were helpful in the next series. I am now an Assistant Professor.”
After almost a decade, enough data have been collected from members to make an assessment about whether the NMRI is doing what Dr. Spiegel (and the current NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin Rodgers) and Dr. Agodoa foresaw as they worked to create the NMRI. In response to questionnaires completed online by NMRI members, a steady progression of career advancement has occurred among members, with many members attributing participation in the NMRI as a significant influence. At the same time, mentor/mentee pairings have increased for 4 in 2008 to 23 in 2011; this indicates the future is brighter for meeting the goals of the NMRI. At each NMRI workshop, members are asked to report on career promotions, successful grant applications, and number of publications. Each of these areas have increased in the past 5 years. For grant applications, a primary focus of NMRI workshop training sessions, the number has increased dramatically over the decade. Although participation in the NMRI does not guarantee successful grant applications, most members completing the NMRI questionnaire have felt the instruction and mentoring processes have increased their capability to write a winning grant application.
Increasing the number of minority researchers as a goal of the NMRI has been met in the past decade, but there still is a large gap to close in creating a representative research environment, especially in these stressful economic times. Because the NMRI has become a model program at the NIH for increasing minority participation in medical research, other NIH Institutes are discussing how to implement a program such as the NMRI, or possibly how to allow the expansion of the NMRI to include minority researchers in disciplines outside the NIDDK mandate, such as heart disease, cancer, and infectious diseases.
The NMRI will be celebrating its 10th anniversary at the 2012 NMRI Annual Workshop on April 19-20 in Bethesda, MD. The anniversary is a time to look back and see the progress made for increasing minority participation in medical research, but also an opportunity to look forward to the remaining challenges. The next ten years promise to see continuing gains in research participation for minority scientists, but only if programs such as the NMRI continue to be supported by those who “own” the Network by bringing in the next generation of minority researchers, mentoring their progress, and giving them the knowledge and skills necessary to access the research enterprise.