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Mt Sinai J Med. 2012 May-Jun;79(3):397-411. doi: 10.1002/msj.21310.

Diversity in the biomedical research workforce: developing talent.

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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, USA.


Much has been written about the need for and barriers to achievement of greater diversity in the biomedical workforce from the perspectives of gender, race, and ethnicity; this is not a new topic. These discussions often center around a "pipeline" metaphor that imagines students flowing through a series of experiences to eventually arrive at a science career. Here we argue that diversity will only be achieved if the primary focus is on (1) what is happening within the pipeline, not just counting individuals entering and leaving it; (2) de-emphasizing the achievement of academic milestones by typical ages; and (3) adopting approaches that most effectively develop talent. Students may develop skills at different rates based on factors such as earlier access to educational resources, exposure to science (especially research experiences), and competing demands for time and attention during high school and college. Therefore, there is wide variety among students at any point along the pipeline. Taking this view requires letting go of imagining the pipeline as a sequence of age-dependent steps in favor of milestones of skill and talent development decoupled from age or educational stage. Emphasizing talent development opens up many new approaches for science training outside of traditional degree programs. This article provides examples of such approaches, including interventions at the postbaccalaureate and PhD levels, as well as a novel coaching model that incorporates well-established social science theories and complements traditional mentoring. These approaches could significantly impact diversity by developing scientific talent, especially among currently underrepresented minorities.

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