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Assessment of NIH Minority Research and Training Programs: Phase 3
to the trainee. All but one member of the committee also believes that, regardless of whether each trainee advances to the next step in his or her education or becomes a Ph.D.-level researcher, the programs provide important and valuable training experiences for all participants that should be considered in assessing whether a program works.
Given disparities in educational opportunities available to trainees prior to enrollment in any of the NIH programs, it would be inappropriate to expect or demand that minority trainees, as a whole, attain the same average rates of professional success as nonminority trainees. Indeed, the training programs exist because of the need to overcome this gap. An additional and appropriate standard for evaluating minority programs, therefore, is the “value added” by the program to all its participants. This introduces a set of measurement problems as outlined below, but it is a critical foundation of the committee’s analysis and recommendations. Thus, the following principles bear upon any discussion of minority research training program success:
More than one family generation is needed to establish a research training pipeline that is both attractive to minorities and successful at producing large numbers of Ph.D.-level scientists.
Building capacity and sustaining minority interest in science require the visible promotion of role models. Such persons may include science teachers, professors, medical doctors, entrepreneurs, and others, who open a window to science careers and opportunities to which young minds might not otherwise have been exposed.
The research training pipeline is necessarily leaky. Those who exit the pipeline early to become part of the scientific workforce are not program failures.
The research pipeline is not always a straight line. Some will exit the pipeline only to return some years later.
Programs designed for those who are in early career stages should endorse a broad definition of success. Programs for trainees at later career stages may adopt a more highly prescribed definition of success.
The study committee was charged with addressing its study questions to the extent that they could be using available data from NIH supplemented by interviews with minority trainees and program administrators. Simply put, the committee was not able to obtain all of the data it wished. While the committee met its charge to the extent feasible, it could not answer all of the research questions in as direct and complete a manner as it would have liked, and it now advocates for a future study. If the advice provided in this report leads to corresponding action, it will improve the programs in the short run and facilitate a more comprehensive study in the future. Indeed, extensive data collection efforts, ongoing deliberations, and analyses allowed the committee to identify critical data elements that should be collected by NIH on a systematic basis, in order to make future assessments of all NIH research training programs feasible.