ASHG launches Human Genetics Scholars Initiative
Program to increase, network, mentor, and retain diverse early-career researchers
ROCKVILLE, Md. – The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) is pleased to announce the creation of the Human Genetics Scholars Initiative to increase and support workforce diversity in the human genetics and genomics research community.
Over the course of the planned five-year program, the Human Genetics Scholars Initiative will provide a two-year, intensive mentoring and skill-building experience for up to 40 promising U.S. trainees and early career scientists from underrepresented backgrounds. The program will also offer a broader community-building and learning program for up to an additional 200 diverse young researchers. The program will support informal networking events within the broad human genetics community to promote diversity and create an educational forum for institutions to share best practices in the recruitment, retention, and promotion of diverse leaders in research. Details of the application process will be announced later this spring.
The program is made possible through a multi-year founding partnership with the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and with the valued support of Color, a population health company.
“The tremendous value of diversity and genetic variation is an elemental tenet of human genetics, and inclusion is a core value of the Society,” said Anthony Wynshaw-Boris, PhD, ASHG president-elect. “An inclusive workforce is a scientific imperative – ensuring diverse perspectives, connections, talents, and expertise will enrich the community and its work.”
The program will provide year-round engagement for all participants through regular educational webinars and chats, as well as events at the ASHG Annual Meeting, the world’s largest human genetics and genomics meeting. Additionally, it will provide intensive mentoring, travel, and professional support for a smaller group of scholars selected through a competitive process. Beyond these events, the program will increase the engagement of ASHG with academic institutions and with undergraduates from diverse communities, building awareness about human genetics as an exciting career path and increasing the pipeline of diverse researchers.
Greater diversity is a recognized need in the human genetics community. Findings show that historically underserved populations are under-studied and underrepresented in nationwide and global genetic research databases, highlighting the de facto exclusion of diverse populations from many health studies and the resulting benefits. Workforce studies demonstrate the need to adopt more effective strategies to recruit, retain, and promote diverse researchers in research.
The advisory group for the Human Genetics Scholars Initiative will include a range of ASHG members and others with unique perspectives on promoting diversity in science, and will be chaired by Cynthia Morton, PhD, of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. A past president of ASHG, Dr. Morton has been a longtime leader in efforts to enhance diversity. Moreover, ASHG is pleased that the program has the strong support of leading organizations within the field. NHGRI is a committed core founding partner in the program, providing a leadership funding level and ongoing advisory support.
“NHGRI is pleased to partner on this important effort, recognizing that workforce diversity is essential and imperative to realizing the promise of human genetics for all,” said Carla Easter, PhD, chief of NHGRI’s Education and Community Involvement Branch. “By building community cohorts, we can create a network of researchers from historically underserved and underrepresented groups. The Human Genetics Scholars Initiative will help developing researchers excel in their scientific career tracks and provide support, reinforcement, and enrichment to address the social and economic factors that hinder otherwise promising academic careers.”
The Human Genetics Scholars Initiative will build on and contribute to workforce diversity programs at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which itself has made the issue a high priority. For instance, ASHG’s initiative draws programming strategies from the Neuroscience Scholars Program, funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, as well as ASHG’s participation in the NIH-funded Maximizing Access to Research Careers program.
Color Genomics, a population health company that provides clinical-grade genetics and digital tools with a deep focus and expertise addressing genetic factors of diverse populations, has joined as a year-one program partner.
“Effective programs to enhance diversity in genetics research are essential to close the health equity gap ensuring we all benefit from cutting edge science,” said Alicia Zhou, Color’s VP of Research and Scientific Affairs. “Color is honored to be part of this exciting program that recognizes the importance of building a diverse workforce from the ground up. The Human Genetics Scholars Initiative will create a lasting foundation that will support potentially life-saving research for years to come.”
Dr. Wynshaw-Boris said, “Today’s Human Genetics Scholars will make tomorrow’s novel discoveries, help ensure we are increasing diversity in our research populations, and help close the gap on deep health disparities among underserved populations. This program is an important start to advancing diversity in human genetics community. We look forward to its success and to realizing the benefits of human genetics for all people.”