|Dr. Lawrence Agodoa (l), director of NIDDK’s Office of Minority Health Research Coordination, with NIDDK deputy director Dr. Greg Germino
A theme resonated among members of NIDDK’s Network of Minority Research Investigators (NMRI) who gathered in Bethesda for the group’s annual workshop and 10th anniversary celebration recently: receiving and giving back.
A career development network, NMRI aims to increase the number of minority researchers in NIDDK’s mission areas and encourage research on health disparities. Members share best practices to help them succeed as investigators and advance toward tenure.
“I think the network will be here another 10 years, especially if those of us considered junior members give back as much as we’re getting,” said Dr. B. Michelle Harris of the University of the District of Columbia. “I’d like to help other people who come behind me.”
Mentoring is the linchpin of the network. Between 2009 and 2011, the group increased its mentor/mentee pairs from 4 to 23. Workshop speakers stressed the importance of mentors in helping new investigators write successful funding proposals and launch research careers.
“If you’re not getting mentored, your chance of success is very low,” said Dr. Jasjit Ahluwalia of the University of Minnesota Medical School. He advised new investigators to market themselves and to not discount smaller grants, which could lead to bigger opportunities.
“The NMRI is the type of program that can make a long-term commitment to providing the support for up and coming investigators that is necessary if we are to develop the diverse biomedical scientific workforce for solving our important health challenges,” said former NIH acting director and current Grinnell College president Dr. Raynard Kington, a past NMRI keynote speaker. “Every major study of our career system’s success in increasing diversity has noted the need for better mentoring. It doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen without the infrastructure provided by programs like NMRI.”
“NMRI’s value is in the networking and in a large group coming together like this, as well as in the mentor/mentee liaisons,” said Dr. Carmen Castaneda Sceppa, chair-elect of NMRI’s planning committee and associate professor at Northeastern University in Boston. “This meeting gives us a good knowledge of what’s going on and how to apply successfully for a grant.”
Under Dr. Lawrence Agodoa, director of NIDDK’s Office of Minority Health Research Coordination—of which NMRI is a part—the network has grown from a handful of people to 200 strong. During the workshop, members honored Agodoa for his decade of leadership and mentorship.
The meeting included mock study sections, a poster session and scientific presentations. During the study sections, scientific review officers and experienced researchers who won grants, often after failed first attempts, reviewed sample grant applications and offered feedback.
“What has happened [with NMRI] over the years is remarkable—the continuity, the growth, the membership of young people,” said Dr. Jacqueline Tanaka, NMRI’s first chair and associate professor of biology at Temple University.
Agodoa hopes to perpetuate NMRI’s cycle of sharing wisdom, saying, “A desirable achievement over the next 10 years would be a markedly increased number of underrepresented minorities in academia serving as role models, and that the network’s members would be instrumental in recruiting the next generation of minority research investigators and nurturing them.”
For more information or to join the network, visit http://nmri.niddk.nih.gov.