Advancing Diversity in the Genetics Workforce

June 2019

“The tremendous value of diversity and genetic variation is an elemental tenet of human genetics, and inclusion is a core value of the Society. An inclusive workforce is a scientific imperative – ensuring diverse perspectives, connections, talents, and expertise will enrich the community and its work.”
—Anthony Wynshaw-Boris, PhD, ASHG president-elect

This April, ASHG announced the creation of the Human Genetics Scholars Initiative, a program to increase and support workforce diversity in the human genetics and genomics research community.

Interested in applying? Submit an abstract to ASHG 2019 by June 6!

Greater diversity is a recognized need in the human genetics community and a core goal in ASHG’s new strategic plan. Findings show that historically underserved populations are under-studied and underrepresented in nationwide and global genetic research databases, highlighting the de facto exclusion of diverse populations from many health studies and the resulting benefits. Workforce studies demonstrate the need to adopt more effective strategies to recruit, retain, and promote diverse researchers in research.

Engagement Opportunities to Build the Pipeline

Over the course of the planned five-year program, the Human Genetics Scholars Initiative will provide a two-year, intensive mentoring and skill-building experience for up to 40 promising U.S. trainees and early career scientists from underrepresented backgrounds. It will also offer a broader community-building and learning program for up to an additional 200 diverse young researchers.

The program will increase ASHG’s engagement with academic institutions and with undergraduates from diverse communities, building awareness about human genetics as an exciting career path and increasing the pipeline of diverse researchers. It will support informal networking events within the human genetics community to promote diversity and create an educational forum for institutions to share best practices in the recruitment, retention, and promotion of diverse leaders in research.

“Today’s Human Genetics Scholars will make tomorrow’s novel discoveries, help ensure we are increasing diversity in our research populations, and help close the gap on deep health disparities among underserved populations,” said Dr. Wynshaw-Boris. “This program is an important start to advancing diversity in human genetics community. We look forward to its success and to realizing the benefits of human genetics for all people.”

Program Components Address Key Needs

Participants in the Human Genetics Scholars Initiative can expect a slate of new opportunities, including new events at the 2019 Annual Meeting:

  • Diversity Breakfast, a trainee-focused event on unconscious bias intended to increase awareness of and mitigate this bias and its effects
  • Diversity Reception, open to all, which will recognize and celebrate the importance of diversity and provide networking for the research and training community
  • T32 Directors Forum, in which Shirley Malcom will discuss the AAAS SEA Change program and how directors and administrators can support diversity and inclusion at their institutions

Taken together, these events and the Initiative as a whole aim to address many factors with direct and indirect effects on diversity. These include implicit bias, strategies for starting a lab and changing careers, ways to make a lasting impression, and tips for grant writing.

Valued Leaders on the Advisory Group

The program’s advisory group will include a range of ASHG members and others with unique perspectives on promoting diversity in science, and will be chaired by Cynthia Morton, PhD, a past president of ASHG who has been a longtime leader in efforts to enhance diversity.

“The Human Genetics Scholars Initiative is an important program to increase the workforce diversity in the human genetics and genomics research community. A goal of the program is to support early career researchers to not only find their career path in genetics and genomics, but also become active members of the Society,” said Vence L. Bonham, JD, a member of the advisory group.

Eligibility Criteria and Related Opportunities

ASHG and the Annual Meeting feature a variety of award opportunities for members and attendees. Complementing existing opportunities, the Human Genetics Scholars Initiative is intended for U.S. citizens and legal residents who meet the NIH criteria for underrepresented groups.

Applicants may be late-stage graduate students (who have completed their qualifying exams) or others early in their scientific career, including postdoctoral scholars, assistant professors, non-tenure-track faculty, and industry researchers.

Field Support Key to Program Success

The Human Genetics Scholars Initiative has strong support of leading organizations within the field, made possible through a multi-year founding partnership with the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and with the valued support of Color, a population health company. NHGRI is a committed core founding partner in the program, providing a leadership funding level and ongoing advisory support.

“By building community cohorts, we can create a network of researchers from historically underserved and underrepresented groups. The Human Genetics Scholars Initiative will help developing researchers excel in their scientific career tracks and provide support, reinforcement, and enrichment to address the social and economic factors that hinder otherwise promising academic careers,” said Carla Easter, PhD, chief of NHGRI’s Education and Community Involvement Branch.

“Effective programs to enhance diversity in genetics research are essential to close the health equity gap, ensuring we all benefit from cutting edge science,” added Alicia Zhou, Color’s VP of Research and Scientific Affairs.

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