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Unexpected Outcomes: Diversity in the NIGMS IRACDA Program
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J. Marcela Hernandez

 

Jessica Faupel-Badger, PhD, MPH, program director of the Postdoctoral Training Branch, Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity, at the National Institute of General Medical Science (NIGMS) moderated an informative panel about one of their postdoctoral programs during the 2017 NPA Annual Meeting. Postdoctoral scholars funded through Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Awards (IRACDA/K12) dedicate 75 percent of their time to research and the remaining 25 percent to a mentored teaching experience. During the latter, they learn teaching skills and conduct a teaching practicum at a partner minority serving institution. The program has been operating since 1999 and there are currently 25 IRACDA programs around the country.

 

In June 2016, NIGMS published an analysis of outcome data for the IRACDA program. The report includes data from 450 alumni who participated in the program from 1999 to 2014. Faupel-Badger reported 73 percent of participants are in academic faculty positions, with 35 percent at research-intensive institutions, 25 percent at primarily undergraduate institutions, and the rest at associate and master degree-granting institutions. The study compared outcomes to the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Award Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship (F32) awardees conducting postdoctoral research over the same time and at the same institutions as IRACDA awardees. F32 awardees had a lower rate of placement, with 67 percent in academic faculty positions (Figure 6, outcomes report).

 

A remarkable outcome documented in this report is that the diversity of the IRACDA participants is far greater than that of the F32 programs. Of the 450 IRACDA participants, 63 percent are female, and 53 percent identify as a race/ethnicity other than white, non-Hispanic. In contrast, only 25 percent of F32 awardees are not white, even in the subset with academic faculty positions (outcomes report, Figure 5). The IRACDA program is training faculty for diverse types of institutions, while 85 percent of the F32 program participants in academic faculty positions are employed at research-intensive institutions. There are also significant differences in the geographic distribution of the alumni from each program: IRACDA alumni are employed in 45 of the 50 US states, while F32 alumni are employed in 34 states (outcomes report, Figures 8 and 9). In short, the data shows that the IRACDA program is more effective in training postdocs for academic positions, in producing diverse faculty, and in distributing their employment in a wider area of the country.

 

During her presentation, Faupel-Badger stated that the high diversity of the IRACDA alumni is somewhat unexpected because this program does not target underrepresented minority (URM) postdocs. However, this is not surprising given that individuals from underrepresented groups are likely to pursue graduate and postdoctoral training with the main objective of giving back to the communities they came from (Thoman et al 2014). Since the IRACDA institutions need to partner with a minority-serving institution for the teaching component, prospective URM postdocs see this as a way to teach and mentor students like them. It is clear that in order to increase faculty diversity, we need to increase student body diversity. At the same time, URM students want to attend institutions with diverse faculty, creating an urgent need for hiring more professors of color. Institutions need more URM students to attract URM faculty, and more URM faculty to attract URM students, thus creating a vicious cycle. The IRACDA program is indeed satisfying both needs in a creative way and breaking that cycle.

 

The other presenters in the session included an IRACDA alumnus and faculty who mentored IRACDA postdoctoral scholars in the research component of the program. Their testimonials clearly indicated that this program is satisfying both mentors and trainees in unexpected ways. One story described how a white postdoctoral scholar learned not only about teaching, but also the unique needs and challenges that students of color face every day. This experience made them aware of needed changes in climate and retention strategies for institutions to increase the diversity of their student bodies. These kinds of experience show that IRACDA is not only contributing to diversity in academia by producing URM faculty, but also by producing non–URM faculty who will be advocates and allies for diversity.

 

J. Marcela Hernandez, PhD, is the arts and sciences director for graduate and STEM diversity at The Ohio State University and diversity officer for the NPA.

 

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