Blacks Are Making Progress in Biomedical Research, But Not in Faculty Posts

A team of researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville recently completed a study that shows that while there are increasing numbers of trainees from underrepresented groups conducting research in biomedical science at U.S. medical schools, this has not translated into faculty positions at medical schools for researchers from these underrepresented groups. The researchers examined the entire training pathway of potential faculty members to identify where along this pathway was the most attrition of researchers from underrepresented groups.

The results showed that the diversions from developing a faculty career are found primarily at two clearly identifiable places, specifically during undergraduate education and in transition from postdoctoral fellowship to tenure-track faculty in the basic sciences at medical schools. The study found that almost half of White undergraduates who entered college planning to major in the biological sciences, actually did so. But this was true for only 25 percent of students from underrepresented groups.

The data showed that White researchers in the biomedical sciences and those from underrepresented groups were equally likely to begin doctoral programs, receive doctoral degrees, and receive postdoctoral research positions. But then there is a fall off in those that take faculty posts in the biomedical sciences. Roger Chalkley, senior associate dean for biomedical research, education and training at Vanderbilt, notes that “we’re doing a good job of educating underrepresented minority individuals in the biomedical sciences. They graduate with Ph.D.s, and they take postdoc positions. They go on to a wide diversity of jobs and do well, but they’re not taking faculty jobs.”

The study, “Survey of Checkpoints Along the Pathway to Diverse Biomedical Research Faculty,” was published online on PLOS One. The study may be accessed here.

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