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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Drilling Down on Grant Disparity

Pettigrew speaks into table microphone.

At the conference table, NIBIB director Dr. Roderic Pettigrew (l) discusses NIH grant review.

Photo: Ernie Branson

Diversity in the scientific workforce became a concern several years ago and rose on the ACD’s agenda after release in 2011 of the NIH-commissioned Ginther study, which found that African-American/black (AA/B) applicants were less likely than whites to be awarded R01 grants from NIH during fiscal years 2000 to 2006. 

An ACD-assigned working group on AA/B funding disparities followed up on Ginther, analyzing data from fiscal years 2010 to 2015. 

AA/B submit fewer applications, fewer applications per AA/B applicant are submitted and fewer of their applications get discussed, AA/B applications are scored lower and fewer resubmissions come from that community. Cumulatively, the odds of an AA/B scientist being funded are 35 percent less than for a white scientist.

Summarizing key findings by a core team from that group, NIH chief officer for scientific workforce diversity Dr. Hannah Valantine said, “There is a disparity in every stage of the application from submissions to funding…This work needs to continue to be done and NIH needs to continue a vigilant eye on the issue.” 

Nakamura speaks into table microphone.

CSR director Dr. Richard Nakamura offers insights on the NIH grant review report.

Photo: Ernie Branson

Valantine’s working group recommended several interventions to narrow the gap, including targeted mentoring/coaching on submissions. Also, the group initiated with the Center for Scientific Review an anonymized application study—a randomized controlled trial—to determine potential bias in peer review.

Collins said NIH has funded many programs over many decades to recruit more underrepresented minorities into science, and that success of past efforts has been difficult to gauge because “they were often not conducted in a rigorous way where you can tell what happened.

“We’re not going to do it that way any more,” he stressed. “We’re determined…We will expand the things that are working and we will kill the ones that are not.”

Valantine’s ACD slides are online at

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