The Pearls of Wisdom online series of short videos aims to inspire, motivate, and inform women in the beginning or middle stages of their biomedical careers. These videos are featured on the Women in Science Website, an effort of the NIH Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers.
Supporting Women in Biomedical Careers
Mentored Career Development Programs and Projects
The Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women's Health (BIRCWH) program was established by ORWH and its NIH institute, center, and office partners in 2000. BIRCWH (pronounced “birch”) is an institutional mentored career-development program designed to connect scholars who are junior faculty to senior faculty with a shared interest in women’s health and sex differences research. The program provides research support for scholars as they conduct interdisciplinary basic, translational, behavioral, clinical, and/or health services research relevant to women’s health and sex and gender research. BIRCWH has graduated more than 750 BIRCWH Scholars, the vast majority achieving productive research careers, have impactful publications, and received at least one NIH-level research grant.
Reentry administrative supplements are given to existing NIH research grants to support full- and part-time research by people of all genders returning to active research careers after interruptions for family responsibilities or other qualifying circumstances. During the period FY 2012-2021, the majority (80%) of the applicants were women and the most cited reason for the hiatus is childrearing. Reintegration supplements also provide opportunities for researchers to transition from unsafe or discriminatory environments to environments that are safe and supportive. Retooling supplements enable cross-sectoral collaborations that would empower early and mid-career investigators to acquire novel skills and perspectives that would enhance their chances of advancing their careers.
These administrative supplements for K and RPG awardees aim to retain investigators facing critical life events such as childbirth, adoption, serious personal health issues or illness and/or debilitating conditions, high-risk pregnancy, as well as primary caregiving responsibilities for an ailing spouse, child, partner, parent or a member of the immediate family. The supplements provide support as the PI transitions from career development grants to R01s or as they transition to the first renewal of their first independent research project grant award. In the first two years (2021-2022) since the issuance of these 2 FOAs, about 65% of applications for both programs were awarded. The majority of the awardees were women, with childbirth as the most frequently cited critical life event.
The LSP will create a more robust cadre of researchers dedicated to women’s health research. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) and ORWH are partnering to launch a pilot program to support and train research scholars by helping them acquire and hone team science leadership and mentoring skills. The Team Science Leadership Scholars Program (LSP) will be funded by ORWH and embedded within the Accelerating Medicines Partnership® Autoimmune and Immune-Mediated Diseases (AMP® AIM) program, which NIAMS and ORWH both support. A funding opportunity announcement was released in December 2022 and the program is now accepting applications through February 20, 2023.
The BIRCWH Scholars Innovation Program aims to provide training and mentorship in the critical area of substance use disorders/mental health and women’s health. The program primarily targets BIRCWH scholars and is open to interested Specialized Centers for Research Excellence (SCORE) on Sex Differences Career Enhancement Core Scholars. The aims of the program are to develop: 1) a didactic series and online training experience focused on sex and gender differences in substance use disorders (SUDs) and mental health issues related to SUDs throughout the lifespan; 2) a consultative and mentoring system to allow BIRCWH scholars to work with Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) SCORE investigators, including visits to MUSC or national meetings for networking and fostering collaborations; and 3) a grant review and mock study section for BIRCWH scholars submitting grants focused on sex/gender differences and mental health issues related to SUDs.
More Details to Come
The SCORE program funds and supports Centers of Excellence around the country that serve as vital hubs for research exploring sex differences in health and disease—Each Center has three interrelated research projects headed by leaders in the field of sex and gender. A key element of each center in the SCORE program is a Career Enhancement Core, which aims to provide resources and pilot funding to train the next generation of scientists in the study of sex differences.
The NIH Loan Repayment Programs (LRPs) are a set of programs established by Congress and designed to recruit and retain highly qualified health professionals into biomedical or biobehavioral research careers. The escalating costs of advanced education and training in medicine and clinical specialties are forcing some scientists to abandon their research careers for higher-paying private industry or private practice careers. The LRPs counteract that financial pressure by repaying up to $50,000 annually of a researcher's qualified educational debt in return for a commitment to engage in NIH mission-relevant research.
The Women's Reproductive Health Research (WRHR) Program was established in 1998 by NICHD, with support from ORWH. The focus of this institutional career development program is to create a pool of clinically trained junior obstetrics/gynecologic investigators representing several subspecialties and emerging areas with expertise in women's reproductive health research in academic settings across the US.
Initiatives and Projects to Retain and Advance Careers of Women: Promoting Diversity in the Workplace
The NIH Prize for Enhancing Faculty Gender Diversity in Biomedical and Behavioral Science recognizes institutions whose biomedical and behavioral science departments, centers, or divisions have achieved sustained improvement in gender diversity. Understanding that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to enhancing diversity in academia and that ideas based on evidence are necessary to achieve systemic change, this prize acknowledges and recognizes transformative approaches, systems, projects, programs, and processes that have successfully enhanced and sustained gender diversity within an institution. All prize past and future recipients and honorable mentions substantially contribute to systemic change aimed at addressing gender diversity and equity issues among faculty members within their institutions' biomedical and behavioral science departments.
The Advancing Gender Inclusive Excellence Research Initiative (U54), a cooperative agreement, was published in 2021 to support a coordinating center (CC) that will serve as an online central repository for sharing resources, tools, technologies, expertise, and strategies that address challenges in overcoming systemic gender-based inequities impacting the biosciences academic and research workforce. It will be available to interested parties searching for ways to identify and overcome systemic gender-based inequities and enable women to attain leadership positions in STEMM research. The Funding Opportunity Announcement was recently reissued with applications due in Spring 2023.
The Notice of Special Interest (NOSI): Interventions Designed to Change the Culture to Mitigate or Eliminate Sexual Harassment in the Biomedical Research Enterprise (NOT-OD-21-150) was published in 2021 to support research on evidence-based interventions that will diminish or eliminate sexual harassment in the biomedical research environment by producing a change in the institutional culture where harassment is tolerated. Two awards were issued in the first year of the FOA.
The Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine of the NASEM has been contracted to conduct a comprehensive study to explore promising and innovative policies and practices for supporting caregivers working in STEMM. The findings of the report (to be released in 2024) are expected to inform leaders in academia and government with evidence-based strategies that not only raise awareness of the inequities in this space but also promote culture change resulting in the retention and advancement of STEMM professionals with caregiving responsibilities. Two public symposia will be held in 2023.
More Details to Come
The ORWH collaborates with the NIH OITE programs to support intramural trainees working on all NIH campuses. ORWH supports two important diversity programs: 1) HiSTEP2.0, a program to support high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and 2) OITE Postbac Enrichment Pro
The ORWH collaborates with the NIH OITE programs to support intramural trainees working on all NIH campuses. ORWH supports two important diversity programs: 1) HiSTEP2.0, a program to support high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and 2) OITE Postbac Enrichment Program (OITE-PEP), a program to bring a cadre of diverse post-bachelor's degree holders to NIH for training before graduate or professional school. ORWH also supports the OITE diversity certificate program, the Resilient Scientist Series, mentor training, the OITE mental health series, and leadership programs, some of which are open to trainees and staff in the intramural and extramural community. Over 50% of trainees who attend OITE programs identify as female.
Travel awards provided by the NIH and the National Medical Association (NMA) are awarded to senior residents, fellows, and junior faculty who are interested in pursuing careers in academic medicine or biomedical research. Led by NIDDK, ORWH together with the NICHD and NHLBI participate in the program, with ORWH Director Dr. Janine Clayton giving inspirational talks during the NMA annual assemblies held in 2021 and 2022.
The Women in Science website is one of the many achievements of the NIH Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers (WgWBC) whose goal is to consider barriers for women in science and develop innovative strategies to promote the entry, recruitment, retention, and sustained advancement of women in biomedical and research careers. Celebrating the successes of women in science can serve as an inspiration to both women and men. The women’s profiles that are featured on this website highlight their contributions to research, what they learned along the way, and advice they have for other women in science. You will also find information, tools, and resources that support and promote the entry, recruitment, retention, and sustained advancement of women in biomedical research careers.
In 2007, in response to the National Academies Report, "Beyond Bias and Barriers, Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering," NIH established the NIH Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers, co-chaired by the former NIH Director, Dr. Francis Collins, and the Director of the Office of Research on Women's Health, Dr. Janine Clayton. The focus of the working group is to assess successful strategies and develop programs and policies that aid the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in biomedical faculty and leadership positions. In 2008, the group issued a NIH-wide request for applications (RFA), "Research on Causal Factors and Interventions that Promote and Support the Careers of Women in Biomedical and Behavioral Science and Engineering". The RFA supported the funding of 14 research grants that investigated a range of obstacles facing women at all stages of the scientific career pipeline, and assessed interventions that begin to address these obstacles. The grants totaled $16.8 million over four years with support from 11 NIH Institutes and Centers and four Offices within the NIH Office of the Director.