NIH Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) Program: FIRST Cohort (U54 Clinical Trial Optional)

The following is a limited submission opportunity with only one application per institution is allowed. If you are interested in this limited submission please email Michelle Wonsey a single PDF by January 15, 2021 with the following pre-proposal requirements:

1.      A two-page summary that must include your research/project:

a.      goals
b.      objectives
c.       methods, and
d.      a short statement of competitiveness (i.e., what you think will discriminate your proposal from the competition, including anything you have done to pre-position yourself/your team for this funding opportunity)

2.      A pro forma budget, including any cost-sharing and facilities requirements and how you plan to meet them; use template:

3.      A short-form CV for the PI and each senior staff person

4.      Current and Pending Support of PI’s


Program Description:

The purpose of the FIRST Coordination and Evaluation Center (CEC) will be to coordinate with FIRST Cohort awardees and facilitate the development of strategies to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the FIRST program. The FIRST CEC will collaborate with FIRST Cohort institutions to identify and harmonize a set of common data elements to be used by each institution to facilitate an objective evaluation of the FIRST program goals.

NIH institutes and centers remain committed to increasing and sustaining the diversity of the biomedical research workforce. NIH’s commitment has been informed by an extensive body of research supporting the argument that scientific workforce diversity is essential to accomplish the NIH’s mission of discovery and innovation toward improving human health (Nielsen et al., 2017Valantine and Collins, 2015). Despite recognizing the pressing need to enhance diversity in NIH-funded institutions across the U.S., progress in accomplishing this goal has been seen mostly with trainee populations, leaving biomedical research faculty diversity as an ongoing, recalcitrant challenge (Gibbs et al., 2016). Starkly, extrapolation of current trends suggests that without new and effective strategies, it will take nearly 50 years for women to reach parity among full professors (Valantine et al., 2014National Science Foundation, 2019and centuries for underrepresented racial/ethnic groups to reach parity among medical school faculty with the current recruitment pool (U.S. Medical School Faculty Trends: Percentages). This representation gap is driven in large part by institutional cultures lacking necessary elements of inclusion and equity and sending a message to certain groups that they do not belong in science (Price EG et al., 2009Pololi LH et al., 2013). Because U.S. biomedical research is largely driven by NIH-funded faculty in academic institutions, there is an urgency for NIH to encourage institutions to develop and implement broadly effective strategies to cultivate institutional culture change (Krupat E et al., 2013), with the goal of enhancing scientific workforce diversity at the faculty level. The ultimate goal of the FIRST program is to employ a faculty cohort model to foster cultures of inclusive excellence (scientific environments that can cultivate and benefit from a full range of talents) at NIH-funded institutions with a sustained commitment to diversity and inclusion in biomedical research.

The program will test the primary hypothesis that a cohort model of faculty hiring, sponsorship, continual mentoring, and support for professional development, embedded within an institution implementing evidence-based practices to create academic cultures of inclusive excellence, will achieve significant improvements in metrics of institutional culture and scientific workforce diversity. Evidence supports that diversity positively impacts scientific discovery through improved problem-solving, innovation, prediction, evaluation, verification, and strategization (Page SE, 2017Page SE, 2007). In addition, the program will test the impact of the cohort on institutional culture change. Implementing and sustaining cultures of inclusive excellence at a range of academic institutions has the potential to be transformational for the biomedical research workforce.

Needs, Gaps, Opportunities:

Establishing and maintaining scientific environments that can cultivate and benefit from a full range of talents is not only essential for the quality and impact of science, but it is also a matter of good stewardship of federal funds to ensure that the most talented of researchers are recruited, supported, and advanced to become competitive research investigators. This initiative defines inclusive excellence consistent with the work of Williams et al., (2005) as the act of establishing hallmarks of excellence and organizational effectiveness; operationalizing inclusion across organizational functions; and creating education and professional development processes that have diversity, equity, and inclusion at their core. Achieving inclusive excellence at the national level must be preceded by transformation at the institutional level, through broad adoption of enhanced diversity of faculty and culture change, creating a welcoming environment to recruit and retain scientific talent. Although achieving inclusive excellence at a national level must be accompanied by enhanced diversity of faculty, culture change at the institutional level is essential for creating the welcoming environment to recruit and retain scientific talent. Thus, inclusive excellence hinges on both enhancing diversity and inclusion, as well as institutional culture change. Thus, inclusive excellence hinges on both enhancing diversity and inclusion, as well as institutional culture change.

Underrepresented racial/ethnic groups comprise 34% of the US population, but publicly available data indicate that only 15% of the PhD recipient pool (NSF SED, 2018; Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities 2018 | NSF - National Science Foundation), 12% of medical school graduates (AAMC Data and Reports), 9% of current assistant professors, and 4% of tenured faculty (Faculty Roster: U.S. Medical School Faculty | AAMC). Recent 10-year trend data, 2010-2020, shows a dismal 0.2% increase in the percentage of URM faculty at US medical schools. Reaching parity in the number of URM faculty with the PhD recipient pool is estimated to require centuries assuming that institutions do not transform their current recruitment practices and work environments to attract and sustain diverse cohorts of faculty. The low diversity of faculty compared to the available talent pool is attributed in part to the disproportionately high attrition of academic researchers from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups during the transition from training status into faculty-level research careers Gibbs et al., 2016and, Valantine, Lund & Gammie, CBE-Life Sciences Education, 2016). By contrast, women in science and medicine have made substantial progress in workforce participation.

Women comprise more than 50% of PhD graduates in NIH research-relevant disciplines, over 50% of U.S. medical school graduates, but only 40.6% of U.S. biomedical tenure-track faculty, 27% of tenured faculty (AAMC faculty roster, 2018), and about one-third of principal investigators (PIs) on NIH-funded research (R01-equivalent) grants (Plank-Bazinet, et al., 2017Hechtman et al., 2018). Furthermore, there is a lack of representation of women in leadership positions that also needs to be addressed. In addition, literature shows that women from underrepresented backgrounds face particular challenges at the graduate level and beyond in scientific fields (Ong M, et al., 2011).

Because progress has been seen mostly with trainee populations, diversifying the professoriate is the next logical, and achievable, step for an NIH-funded extramural investment. The FIRST program aims to not only provide support for diverse cohorts of new faculty, but to create systemic change at institutions. Reports on faculty cluster hiring at academic institutions suggest that the cohort model might be an effective strategy for enhancing diversity (Sgoutas-Emch S et al., 2016Lord S, et al., 2015Faculty Cluster Hiring for Diversity And Institutional Climate Change, 2015). The approach has been tested in undergraduate environments such as the successful Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (for example, Sto Domingo, et al., 2019). However, little is known about the multi-level barriers and challenges encountered and overcome by institutions and faculty cohorts where efforts toward inclusive excellence have already been initiated. There is, therefore, a profound knowledge gap regarding integrated strategies to address diversity and inclusion, the impact of faculty cohort hiring in higher education, and institutional change models that achieve the goal of inclusive excellence.

The Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) program (consisting of two components: the FIRST Cohort and the FIRST Coordination and Evaluation Center (CEC)) has been developed to determine if a systematic approach that integrates multiple evidence-based strategies, including the hiring of faculty cohorts with demonstrated commitments to inclusion and diversity, will accelerate inclusive excellence, as measured by clearly defined metrics of institutional culture change, diversity, and inclusion. The FIRST program goals are to: (1) foster sustainable institutional culture change; (2) promote institutional inclusive excellence by hiring a diverse cohort of new faculty; and (3) support faculty development, mentoring, sponsorship, and promotion.

Funding for the FIRST program will come from the NIH Common Fund, which supports cross-cutting programs expected to have exceptionally high impact. All Common Fund initiatives invite investigators to develop bold, innovative, and often risky approaches to address problems that may seem intractable or to seize new opportunities that offer the potential for rapid progress.


The FIRST CEC will analyze data provided by FIRST Cohort awardees to test the primary hypothesis that a cohort model of faculty hiring, sponsorship, mentoring, and professional development, embedded within an institution implementing evidence-based practices to create academic cultures of inclusive excellence, will achieve significant improvements in metrics of institutional culture and scientific workforce diversity.

The FIRST CEC will not be evaluating individual FIRST Cohort awardees. Rather, the FIRST CEC working collaboratively with the FIRST Cohort awardees will develop common data elements that FIRST Cohort awardee institutions will collect and provide to the FIRST CEC for an objective evaluation of the program. In addition, the FIRST CEC will not be expected to develop a comparison group for the evaluation. The FIRST CEC will determine appropriate evaluation designs and methods, such as pre-post evaluations, among other approaches.

The FIRST CEC will enable effective communication and coordination across FIRST Cohort awardees and across award cycles. Working with the FIRST Cohort awardees, the FIRST CEC will conduct a comprehensive evaluation and assess progress made toward the FIRST program goals. To accomplish this, the FIRST CEC, in collaboration with FIRST Cohort awardees, will establish common data elements, standardize data collection and submission procedures, receive data from FIRST Cohort awardees, check data quality, harmonize data, conduct objective analyses of the data and generate summary reports. The FIRST CEC will be engaged in writing source code, planning analyses, and providing statistical oversight for both qualitative and quantitative data. The FIRST CEC is also expected to ensure the integrity, privacy, and security of data received from the FIRST Cohorts. The FIRST CEC will be expected to obtain IRB approval before human subjects research or analyses of personally identifiable data is initiated. Also, the FIRST CEC will summarize lessons learned across the FIRST Cohort sites and disseminate the information.

The functions of the FIRST CEC are directly linked to the FIRST program goals. The common data elements may include the following, organized by program goals:

  • For Fostering Sustainable Institutional Culture Change: the FIRST CEC in collaboration with FIRST cohort awardees will identify, acquire, or if necessary, develop, measures for institutional climate and culture changes informed by multiple dimensions of culture (Krupat E et al., 2013) or other theories or frameworks as appropriate. Measures within the following dimensions might include but are not limited to: self-efficacy in career advancement; relationships/inclusion/trust; values alignment; ethical/moral distress; leadership aspirations; work-life integration; gender equity; and racial/ethnic equity. These measures coupled with measures at the institutional level are critical to assess whether institutional cultural changes translate to measurable improvements at the individual/cohort and institutional levels.
  • For Promoting Institutional Inclusive Excellence by Hiring a Diverse Cohort of New Faculty: The FIRST CEC will facilitate collection of common data to indicate the change from baseline on type and number and diversity of cohort recruitment, retention, promotion, tenure, attainment of research grants, research productivity, development of new research programs, increased collaborations, and impact of cluster characteristics. Data collection on the demographics of the new faculty hires needs to include at a minimum race, ethnicity, sex, disability status, and socioeconomic background.
  • For Supporting Faculty Development, Mentoring, Sponsorship, and Promotion: Data collected from the FIRST Cohort awardees might include types and number of faculty-centered supports provided by the institution in the following areas: professional development, academic advancement, managing career challenges and expectations, mentorship team, interventions to prevent or mitigate isolation, discrimination (based on race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, geographic origin), or other types of discrimination or injustices such as disproportionate assignment of committee work or other administrative tasks to URM faculty members, or inequitable processes for considering tenure clock extension requests due to childbirth, adoption, severe illness, disability, or caregiving of a family member.

The FIRST CEC will conduct the following activities including, but not limited to:

  • Establishing evaluation approaches, logic models, and short/intermediate/long-term common data elements for different levels (institutional, departmental, faculty), as deemed appropriate for FIRST program goals.
  • Conducting process and outcome evaluations to assess the strategies implemented by the FIRST Cohort awardees.
  •  Identifying measures for assessing the impact of inclusive excellence on scientific discovery and quality of research conducted by FIRST faculty cohorts.
  • Collaborating with all FIRST Cohort awardees to iteratively assess the impact of key institutional culture change strategies and other innovative approaches implemented at FIRST Cohort sites to promote inclusive excellence.
  • Establishing and coordinating approaches for data collection, data storage, data harmonization, quality control standards, data cleaning, data management, data analyses, and other data related functions.
  • Developing novel and innovative quantitative and qualitative data analytic approaches to assess the strategies employed by FIRST Cohort awardees for completing the FIRST program goals.
  • Receiving quantitative and quantitative data from FIRST Cohort awardees, checking data quality, analyzing the data, providing statistical oversight, and generating reports.
  • Leading the development of a data use and data sharing agreement plan for the FIRST Cohort sites.
  • Facilitating and coordinating collection of the minimum set of common data elements from
    FIRST Cohort awardees to conduct a comprehensive evaluation, including assessment of measurable changes in metrics from baseline for all three FIRST program goals.
  • Planning and coordinating annual meetings (in person or as appropriate) with all FIRST Cohort awardees to facilitate communication about program progress, preliminary findings, and the sharing of successes and challenges.
  • Disseminating successful evidence-based practices, and lessons learned for transforming institutions across FIRST Cohort sites.
  • Managing and disseminating all FIRST program-related peer-reviewed research publications, non-peer reviewed publications, and invited presentations.
  • Coordinating and facilitating communication among FIRST Cohort awardee institutions through regular meetings, committees, and workgroups as needed.

Applicants are expected to demonstrate appropriate professional expertise and experience in the areas defined above. The applicant institutions must have the necessary facilities to meet the special requirements mentioned in the FOA.

The leadership and key personnel of the FIRST CEC are expected to have broad experience working collaboratively to assess and evaluate the range of activities critical for accomplishing FIRST program goals. The ability to work collaboratively with multiple academic communities while providing strong leadership in evaluative activities is a requirement. The FIRST CEC must also include individuals with expertise in multi-site evaluation as well as in coordination, communication, and consensus-building among diverse groups of stakeholders. The FIRST CEC should also include individuals with knowledge and expertise regarding factors that contribute to inclusive excellence, diversity training, institutional culture change, and the current evidence base related to training and mentoring practices and approaches to evaluate them. Expertise in evaluation methods, psychometric properties of measures, statistics and qualitative methods is also needed.

In developing and implementing the FIRST program evaluation plan, it is expected that the FIRST CEC may also refine evaluation questions and selection of metrics based on the empirical literature, as appropriate, to assess FIRST Cohort program processes, impacts, and outcomes. The evaluation questions developed, and data collected in collaboration with the FIRST Cohort awardees, are expected to apply at the individual, department, and institutional level, as appropriate. The FIRST CEC will also consider the institution types (highly resourced, limited-resourced) and types of partnerships and their impact on the overall program goals.