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.

Professional Organizations: Why You Should Join Them, How to Get the Most Out of Their Meetings, and How to Avoid Going Broke Doing So

Professional organizations and their meetings are one of the best parts of academic life. You get access to important professional resources and networks. Conferences are in fun locations – some of my favorites have been Melbourne, San Diego, New Orleans, Lausanne – and once there, you get to hang out with a bunch of people who also nerd out on good research. But, professional organizations and conferences can also feel overwhelming and mysterious to new graduate students.

Why join a professional organization?

The big question is – why join an organization in the first place? They are expensive to join, and once you graduate, they are even more expensive to maintain membership. But, they do offer a host of benefits.

Me, Kelly Musick, and Tasha Snyder on the Lavaux Vineyard walking tour outside of Lausanne, Switzerland. We were attending the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies conference.

Me, Kelly Musick, and Tasha Snyder on the Lavaux Vineyard walking tour outside of Lausanne, Switzerland. We were attending the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies conference. Kara Joyner was behind the camera.

Resources

Professional organizations often sponsor journals. You will have access to the journal through your membership, and often can even get print copies of journals if you prefer. But, you can probably get the journal through your institutions library, at least at most universities with graduate programs. You also get access to other professional resources, such as the mentoring program that the International Association for Relationship Research (IARR) offers. Junior scholars are paired with more senior scholars, and these senior scholars offer advice, networking opportunities, and support. Many organizations have teaching resources available, and others have professional development resources, such as example conference submissions.

Some organizations have member profiles on their websites. The Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) has a database of members that reporters can search for experts related to their reporting. The listserves maintained by professional organizations are also very useful. They are used for disseminating information such as job opportunities and as recruitment tools for studies. Some disseminate teaching resources or media articles related to the organization’s topical focus.

Most departments post their job ads to professional organization websites as well as the Chronicle of Higher Education. It is much easier to find jobs that are related to HDFS on the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) website that to try to search the massive Chronicle database.

Finally, organizations often publish newsletters with useful articles and updates on issues of relevance to the organization, such as the funding situation at NIH or a policy brief that was recently published. You do not always need to be a member to receive these emails, so check the organization’s website to see if you can sign up for the emails even before you are a member.

New research ideas

Professional organizations, particularly through their meetings, can spark new research ideas. Consuming the latest research at conferences can help you identify exciting trends coming in the field before they even appear in the journal.  You might learn about a dataset that is publicly available that you did not know existed. You might come up with a novel research idea that you hadn’t previously thought of upon hearing a question at a talk. Thus, professional organizations can help you push your research forward.

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How to Succeed in Graduate School While Really Trying

I am really trying! photo credit: dkjd via photopin cc

I am really trying! photo credit: dkjd via photopin cc

We are midway through the autumn semester, and I have been reflecting on my graduate proseminar course, which is essentially an introduction to graduate school. Some programs have these types of classes, and others do not. So, in this post I give you links to articles I assign and a few tips I give to our first-year graduate students. The articles and tips are designed to tell students those things which faculty generally assume students know, as well as give them suggestions on how to succeed in graduate school. What would you add to my list?

How do I take a graduate class? How do I know what classes to take?

Claire’s Tips for registering for courses:

  • Talk with your advisor. Talk with your advisor about which courses you should take each semester. They may have specific courses they want you to take, or they may know about a specific seminar being offered that would teach you a specialized skill or knowledge set.
  • Email the professor. You may not be able to tell from the title of a course what the course topic will be. If you see a faculty member is teaching a seminar, email them for a course description and/or syllabus. Even if the syllabus is not ready, they will be able to share with you the topic for the seminar. Then, you can decide whether or not to take the seminar.
  • Take seminars when they are offered. Faculty often rarely have the opportunity to teach graduate seminars. Thus, if you are interested in a seminar in a specific topic, such as attachment, it may not be offered again for two or more years. Thus, it is smarter to take the seminar when it is offered and delay a required course, because you may not have the opportunity to take the seminar the following year.
  • Make it count. Choose your electives wisely. For example, try to take electives related to your research interests. You may be able to write a paper for these courses that are related to your research interests and will thus lead you closer to a publication or help you prepare for candidacy. Further, if you are planning to do a minor or specialization, you should look for electives that will count towards the requirements for the specialization.
  • Explore other departments. HDFS is interdisciplinary, and our students often take coursework outside of the department. If you cannot find an elective you are interested in taking in the HDFS course offerings, you might explore electives in Psychology, Sociology, Economics, or Communication.
  • Register for independent studies and thesis credits. Do not forget to register for independent study and thesis credits! By adding these credits to your load, you will free up time from coursework to focus on your research.
  • Make sure you take the minimum number of credits needed to be a full-time student.

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