Diversity Catalysts: Attracting Talent to NLM and NIH

Guest post by David Landsman, PhD, Senior Investigator, Computational Biology Branch in NLM’s National Center for Biotechnology Information and Kathel Dunn, PhD, Associate Fellowship Coordinator, NLM

NLM is committed to attracting, developing, and retaining diverse library and scientific talent. Professional development at NLM yields completed research, publications, and entrée to a network that extends to NIH, the academic community, and industry at large. In the collective management of NLM training programs, we are aware of the ability of an NLM fellowship or residency to advance a person’s career. Our challenge is recruiting diverse talent to NLM and ensuring that our training environments contribute to their success. We’re also keenly aware of the power of being selected by NLM, and we take our role in exercising that power seriously by developing recruitment strategies that extend beyond our own networks, tapping into the networks of our trainees, and in pipeline programs.

In 2014, NLM joined an NIH-wide initiative within the Office of Scientific Workforce Diversity (SWD) to enhance the scientific workforce. One of its programs, Diversity Catalysts, engages NIH Institutes and Centers to develop and pilot new, evidence-based approaches to enhancing diversity throughout NIH.

Through the Diversity Catalysts program, NLM has participated in shaping an implicit-bias education module that has been rolled out to all staff across NIH. We’ve integrated portions of the SWD-developed recruitment search protocol into our own recruitment strategies. We’ve put this training to good use in the hiring mechanisms and practices within the training programs at NLM, as well as mechanisms to hire highly qualified principal investigators and training staff.

Recruiting for the future is now.

The trainees, who will join us in 2036 for the 200th anniversary of the founding of NLM, are currently 10 years old. They were born on the cusp of the United States becoming a majority-minority country. They spent their tenth year at home, living through a pandemic. Furthermore, our future trainees will come to us stamped by the technology of online education and a freedom gained through science and technology development. We’re engaging in discussions about how to welcome them at NLM. We’re looking for ways to capture and engage around the unique and differing experiences of the pandemic: some of our future trainees may have been at home participating in online learning; others may have lost a year of education completely.

What we’re doing now is keeping track of our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts by reviewing our recruiting and interview practices to ensure that they are free of bias, promoting trainee attendance at diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings offered by NIH’s Office of Intramural Training and Education, and continuing our practice of conducting regular individual and cohort debriefs to learn how we can improve our programs.   

NLM stands with NIH to end structural racism in biomedical research.

Through the NIH’s UNITE initiative, we are working together to establish new ways to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, and identify and dismantle any policies that may harm our workforce and our science. We actively support trainees’ participation in the UNITE initiative and have noticed genuine interest among our trainees in wanting to engage and be a part of the institutional change.

NLM offers scientific training programs for high school students, bachelor’s students, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and fellowships for librarians, historians, and history-minded researchers from a range of disciplines, from the fields of medicine, anthropology, and literature, to philosophy, law, and the arts, and many more. We promote the opportunity to study at NLM, as well as share the successes of our trainees. We use the visibility afforded to NLM to highlight trainees and believe that the power of attraction plays an undeniable role in bringing talent to NLM. However, that’s not enough. We know we must do the intentional work of making connections, extending invitations, and following up with potential candidates. We must let them know what we see in them: future scientists, librarians, historical thinkers, and leaders.

Throughout the next 15 years, as 2036 grows near, we will continue to build on our ability to attract and retain diverse candidates.

Our challenge remains to advance a strong institutional commitment to attract a diverse workforce to the NLM administrative, librarian, and scientific programs with increased outreach and, by example, extending our experience to the education of NLM staff in making best practice hiring decisions.

David Landsman, PhD serves as one of NLM’s representative to the NIH Diversity Catalysts. He is also a senior investigator at NLM with a special interest in the merging of results obtained in computational biology analyses with those derived from experiments in biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, and genetics

Kathel Dunn, PhD serves as one of NLM’s representative to the NIH Diversity Catalysts. She is also NLM’s Associate Fellowship Coordinator where she is responsible for oversight of the Associate Fellowship Program curriculum, recruiting for the Program, and providing mentorship and guidance for the Associate Fellows.

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