Enhancing research careers: An example of a US national diversity-focused, grant-writing training and coaching experiment

Harlan P. Jones, Richard McGee, Anne M Weber-Main, Dedra S. Buchwald, Spero M. Manson, Jamboor K. Vishwanatha, Kolawole S. Okuyemi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Background and purpose: Preparing a successful research proposal is one of the most complex skills required of professional scientists, yet this skill is rarely if ever, taught. A major goal of the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) in the United States (U.S.) is to support the professional advancement of postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty from diverse populations by offering intensive coaching in the development of grant proposals early in their careers. This article highlights the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) NRMN initiative to prepare diverse constituencies of early-stage biomedicine scientists for research careers by implementation of an evidence-based nationwide program of comprehensive grant writing and professional development. Program and key highlights: NRMN delivers four unique but complementary coaching models: the Proposal Preparation Program from the University of Minnesota (UMN); Grantwriters Coaching Groups from Northwestern University (NU); Grantwriting Uncovered: Maximizing Strategies, Help, Opportunities, Experiences from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (UC) and Washington State University (WSU); and Steps Towards Academic Research from the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC). Because these programs cater to scientists at different career stages, rather than employ a single approach, each is uniquely tailored to test its efficacy at the national level. The first two models prioritize scientists with reasonably well-developed research projects who are ready to write proposals for specific NIH research competitions. The other two models target postdoctoral fellows and early-career faculty who need more extensive guidance in proposal development plans. To achieve scalability, all programs also recruit faculty as Coaches-in-Training to learn approaches and acquire particular group facilitation skills required by each model. Implications: These efforts exemplify NRMN's potential to enhance the career development of diverse trainees on a national scale, building research skills, competitiveness for obtaining faculty positions and capacities that will result in high quality research proposals from a diverse pool of applicants, thereby advancing innovations in science and diversifying the U.S. biomedical workforce.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number16
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Proceedings
StatePublished - Dec 4 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
A key outcome of NRMN’s approach to grant-training is to increase a sustainable architecture that will support and facilitate harnessing the collective expertise of successful scientists in the interest of accelerating the research career development of a diverse constituency of faculty. Considering that proposals are a key element of academic job applications, NRMN programs targeting postdoctoral fellows is one its impactful innovations. Although outcomes are premature, it is expected that such programs will also help URM scientists to be more successful in obtaining faculty positions. As an outcome, we expect to see an increase in the number and proportion of URMs progressing in their faculty career in part by receiving NIH research grant awards. Collectively, a diverse representation of URMs have participated as trainees across all programs including postdoctoral fellows and a growing diverse cadre of faculty Coaches-in-Training. Recruitment encompasses participation from partner minority-serving institutions, attendance at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students, Society for Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science and fostering collaboration with scientific National professional societies. To date, African Americans (Blacks) and Hispanic/Latino populations comprised most of the participants followed by White and Asians. Collectively, Native-American and Hawaiian Pacific Islanders comprised made up 6% of the cohorts (Fig. 1). The NRMN Professional Development Core programs have successfully expanded from their original institutional settings by introducing five new locations to host one of NRMN’s grant writing programs. This has allowed NRMN to reach new participants trainees and train new coaches on a national scale (Fig. 2). Data on the efficacy of each program have begun to accrue, including numbers of proposals submitted, reviewed, resubmitted, and funded. In addition, baseline self-reported data is being collected from trainees providing value information of their grantwrit-ing proficiency and confidence in persistence in biomedicine research. By the end of the first 5 years of funding, NRMN investigators will have accumulated substantial data to assess which program is most effective in which setting, and for which types of early-career trainees. The four programs are also learning best practices from each other and adding effective new practices to complement existing approaches. The support from NIH to expand four different models instead of collapsing them into a single program appears sound, as it promises to identify best practices for successful career development among minority researchers.

Funding Information:
Originating at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (Dr. Spero M. Manson) and Washington State University (Dr. Dedra S. Buchwald), and initially offered in 2015, GUMSHOE springs from innovative best practices developed in the Native Investigators Development Program. The latter effort has been funded by NIH for the past 20 years, and has achieved remarkable success in increasing the number of American Indian and Alaska Native PhDs and MDs who obtain NIH research funding [17–19]. Since its inception, the program has retained 92% of applicants initially admitted, more than one-third of whom were tenured at their home institutions. It has also produced 48 graduates who have collectively generated more than 425 peer-reviewed publications and secured in excess of $100 million in NIH funding as principal investigators over the last 20 years.

Funding Information:
Work reported in this publication was supported by the National Institutes of Health Common Fund and Office of Scientific Workforce Diversity (USA). Publication of this article was funded by the CEC awards U54GM119024 and U54GM119024–03:S1 administered by the National Institute of General Sciences (NIGMS). Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute Of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under award number U54GM119023. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s).


  • NATIONAL Institutes of Health (U.S.)
  • WASHINGTON State University
  • NORTHWESTERN University (Chicago, Ill.)
  • PROFESSIONAL education
  • RESEARCH methodology


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