Health and Social Science for All

Recently, I have been reflecting on the state of health and social science in the US.

How competitive is it to get an NIH grant?

The number of submissions to the National Institutes of Health has grown continually over the past 20+ years; in 2018, NIH received more than 55,000 grant applications, of which about 20% were funded, though the success rate varies by NIH institute.

Graph showing upward trend in number of grant submissions, and downward trend in funding rates.

Retrieved from: https://report.nih.gov/nihdatabook/report/20

Who is actually receiving grants?

NIH’s Data Book makes it easy to see the breakdown of grant awardees by gender.

Thus, about 70% of R01-equivalent (NIH’s main grant mechanism for large research projects) are awarded to men. I tried to find the numbers broken down by race/ethnicity in NIH’s Data Book, but the numbers were not available. Nikaj, Roychowdhury, Lund, Matthews, and Pearson (2018) examined R01 grant awards between 2009 and 2016. They found that less than 5% of awardees identified as underrepresented race or ethnic minorities.

Early stage investigator = 10 years or less from terminal degree; New investigator = never been awarded an R01; Experienced investigator = has held an R01. Underrepresented Minority = investigators who identified as African American/Black, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. Data source: Nikaj, Roychowdhury, Lund, Matthews, & Pearson, FASEB Journal, 2018. doi: https://doi.org/10.1096/fj.201800639

Thus, the majority of NIH-funded biomedical, health, and social science research grants are awarded to men who are non-underrepresented; or primarily white men. That is, the nation’s NIH funded research agenda is being primarily driven by white men.

Why does the lack of diversity matter?

The NIH lists one of it’s fundamental goals as “to foster fundamental creative discoveries, innovative research strategies, and their applications as a basis for ultimately protecting and improving health.” Unfortunately, the lack of diversity in the NIH-funded workforce may be stifling innovation and creative discovery, and ultimately protecting and improving health for some not all. Galinsky et al. (2015) argued that diverse groups “enable effective decision making, innovation, and economic growth by promoting deeper information processing and complex thinking.” That is, groups that are less diverse, will have less innovation at least partially due to more simplistic thinking, and will actually solve problems more slowly and are less productive. Because NIH-funded research groups are often not diverse and are most often led by men who may not have had to face gender, race, or sexual minority discrimination, there are likely numerous critical, fundamental research questions that are not being answered because well-resourced groups with the ability to carry them out are not thinking of them. These critical, fundamental research questions may be asked by diverse scholars, but due to a lack of data, these scholars may never have the resources to answer these questions. Ameliorating health disparities (due to gender, race, ethnicity, education, social class, sexual and gender minority status, and other factors) is one of our most pressing public health problems. Efforts to reduce and eliminate health disparities should be led by diverse teams of researchers who are designing cutting edge studies to ask questions that are not currently being asked, and to collect data that are not currently being collected to answer them.

Health and Social Science for All: The Case of the National Couples’ Health and Time Study

I am leading a team that is working on the National Couples’ Health and Time Study (NCHAT). NCHAT is the first population-representative study of same and different-gender couples in the United States. We are collecting data from over 2500 individuals and their partners, and will have an oversample of individuals who are race and ethnic minorities. With support from NICHD, we will be collecting survey, time diary, and biological (dried blood spot) data. These data will eventually become available to scholars around the world to use, in the same vein as studies like the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health or the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study.

The research team for NCHAT is diverse in terms of race, ethnic, and sexual minority status. In fact, it is the most diverse team I have worked on, by design. Having this diverse team has shaped the project in critical ways that will certainly increase its impact. For example, one day when we were going over the survey, a team member points out that we had items and language that could be interpreted as a microaggression to some groups. As a white, cis, hetero woman, I did not notice these microaggressions, and now our survey is less offensive thanks to our awesome team. Yay! There are also items, questionnaires, and research questions that our team has discussed that I never would have thought about on my own. I am so grateful for each person’s perspective: JaNelle Ricks, Wendy Manning, Miranda Berrigan, Alexandra VanBergen, Patricia Pittman, Lawrence Stacey, Luther Young, Meghna Mahambrey, Jessica Horan, and Corinne Reczek.

Our goal in survey design has been to design a survey that will not only allow us to test the aims of our grant, but will also give researchers without access to adequate populations to test their research questions the ability to do so. With that in mind, we are crowd-sourcing our survey. That is, we want feedback from all scholars who might be interested in using these data to answer important research or policy-related questions. You can find a draft of the survey here, and you can find the feedback form here. The feedback form will stay open until June 16, 2019. We are grateful to have already received feedback from several individuals that has been incredibly helpful. Thank you all.

This is my stance on open science, and health and social science for all. I cannot wait to see how NCHAT will advance my own science, and perhaps even more importantly, the science of diverse scholars around the world. Help us make sure it does by giving us your feedback and shaping what we learn.

Fighting Back: Implicit Bias, Micro-aggressions, and Micro-resistance

I have been planning to do a post on diversity in graduate education, but it requires me being vulnerable and I wasn’t even sure how to even do it. On Tuesday, in my first-year graduate proseminar, we had a session on implicit bias, micro-aggressions, and micro-resistance, and ironically, 2016 was the first year that I have included this session. I thought as I taught that class that the glass ceiling would be shattered that night and that the need for a class on these topics would become less necessary over time. How wrong I was. Now, more than ever, the necessity of promoting diversity, and strategies for dealing with implicit bias in the academy and life, have never been more important.

What is implicit bias?

Implicit bias is a major pathway through which privilege is enacted. Using the definition from Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute: “implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.  Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.  Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.”

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A Graduate Family Course Syllabus

I have been revising my Theoretical Perspectives on the Family syllabus (see the final product here). [Check out this post for tips on how to design your own interdisciplinary graduate seminars]  In a given week, I only want to assign about four readings. But, given that I have to cover theory and substantive topics each week, four readings is always too few. Further, I don’t want the students only reading work from psychology, but also from sociology and economics, and even from communication, public health, anthropology, and law when appropriate. My courses therefore end up being a lot of work for students, and a lot of work for me in design.

Two principles that informed my design:

First, I spoke with a student last year who was talking with me about race discrimination and overall racial ignorance in her graduate program. One example she gave me was that in her classes, diversity was either ignored all together or relegated to a specific week in the semester. This was insulting as race and diversity issues touch every issue, every week. With this in mind, I tried to incorporate readings about marginalized families every week.

Second, all readings must be accessible online. I will only assign a reading that is not online if I have access to a pdf that I can post to our course management system. I do not want to contribute to grad student debt if at all possible.

Here is a list of theories and topics that I cover each week, and the readings I chose to represent them.

Introduction to the course. What is a fact? Historical changes and the American family. An introduction to theory

Cherlin, A. (2009). Why it’s hard to know when a fact is a fact.

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Where should I go to graduate school?

After you decide to go to graduate school [after reading Should I go to graduate school] and are accepted [see Crowdsourced Advice for Students Applying to Graduate School], it is time to decide where to go to graduate school. Many students are making those decisions now. Yesterday I received an email from a student who was trying to decide where to attend graduate school, and wanted to know my opinion on which of two graduate programs (neither that I had attended or worked at) were better in terms of their statistics and methods training. I didn’t know the answer, but I also thought the student was not asking the most important question. Here is a list of issues I would evaluate on when trying to decide where to go to graduate school, in order of importance.

photo credit: ¿? via photopin (license)

photo credit: ¿? via photopin (license)

Note these are considerations for after you are accepted, but could also inform where you apply. Hopefully, you will be able to ask most of these questions in person when  you visit the graduate program.

  1. The Mentor

This is by far the most important issue to consider. First, does the mentor study what you want to study? This is absolutely critical. Graduate students who study want to study what the mentor studies get 1) more opportunities for co-authorship, 2) help from a mentor who knows the field well and can give excellent feedback on whether a study idea is a contribution to the field, and 3) can help you network within the field, opening up opportunities for fellowships, awards, and postdocs. You absolutely need to work with a mentor who does research in your interest area.

Second, is the mentor productive? The job market is brutal, and even if you want a job at a primarily teaching college, you need to have publications. Thus, publishing in graduate school is likely to be the most important activity you can do to advance your career. Working with a productive mentor will help you get publications because 1) you may coauthor with the mentor, and 2) you can learn how to publish from the mentor. Evidence of productivity: publishing papers in the top journals in the past few years, active research grants, and/or grants under review. The best way to get a sense of productivity is to look at a current CV (note that a CV is the academic equivalent to a resume). But, faculty often do not keep CVs current. I suggest you search the mentor’s name on Google Scholar. That will also allow you to click on hyperlinks of their publications, and you can read their recent work.

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