Office of Research Training, Diversity, and Disparities Newsletter, March/April 2021

What’s New at NIDA

Ending Structural Racism: The NIH UNITE Initiative  

The UNITE initiative was established to identify and address structural racism within the NIH-supported and the greater scientific community. Individuals across all NIH Institutes and Centers have come together with the goal of establishing an equitable and civil culture within the biomedical research enterprise and reducing barriers to racial equity in the biomedical research workforce. To reach this goal, UNITE is facilitating research to identify opportunities, make recommendations, and develop and implement strategies to increase inclusivity and diversity in science. UNITE is comprised of five committees with separate but coordinated objectives on tackling the problem of racism and discrimination in science. Learn more about UNITE and each of these committees.

Request for Information

NIDA wants to hear from the substance use and addiction community! NIH has issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking public input on practical and effective approaches to improve and strengthen racial equity, diversity, and inclusion across all facets of the biomedical research workforce, both within NIH and the external community, and expand research to eliminate or lessen health disparities and inequities. NIH will use responses collected through the RFI to assist in identifying, developing, and implementing actions and solutions — through policy, procedure, or practice — to promote positive culture and structural change through effective interventions, leading to greater inclusiveness and diversity across the biomedical enterprise and to address inequities in the existing system.

To ensure a broad perspective, NIH invites stakeholders throughout the scientific research, advocacy, clinical practice, and non-scientific communities, including the general public, to provide their feedback by April 23rd, 2021.

Enhancing Health Disparities Research Related to Substance Use and Addiction: Research Gaps and Opportunities

On February 16th and 17th 2021, the NIDA Racial Equity Initiative (REI) Research Gaps and Opportunities workgroup held a “Racial Gaps and Disparities” symposium.

The goals of this virtual meeting were to discuss research gaps on racial inequities in substance use and addiction and to inform NIDA’s commitment to this area by identifying short- and long-term plans for enhancing the research portfolio. Discussion centered on research in areas where there are known racial/ethnic inequities; and where research has the greatest potential to reduce those disparities. These included, but were not limited to, persistent health disparities related to substance use, addiction, and related outcomes; a lack of attention to research questions most salient to underrepresented communities; and existing system bias in the scientific enterprise. The overarching goal of the Research Gaps and Opportunities Workgroup was to engage the scientific community in identifying research priorities that can inform NIDA programs/funding opportunities and ultimately reduce health disparities and improve outcomes. Missed it? No problem. Here is the recording of the symposium.

Funding Opportunities and Program Updates

The NIDA Diversity Supplement Program deadline is approaching!

Mark your calendars! The deadline to apply for a NIDA Diversity Supplement is May 11, 2021. PIs with selective active NIDA grants are eligible to apply for this administrative supplement on behalf of the candidate. Eligible candidates include postbaccalaureates, predocs, postdocs, and early-stage investigators from groups that have been shown to be underrepresented in health-related research. For more information about the eligibility and how to apply to the program, contact Dr. Angela Holmes.

The NIH SuRE Program (R16)

The Support for Research Excellence (SuRE) Program has replaced the Support of Competitive Research (SCORE) Program. SuRE is a research capacity building program designed to develop and sustain research excellence in U.S. higher education institutions that receive limited NIH research support and serve students from groups underrepresented in biomedical research with an emphasis on providing students with research opportunities and enriching the research environment at the applicant institutions. Faculty investigators who have had experience leading independent research who are not currently program directors/principal investigators of active NIH research project grants may apply for a SuRE Award (PAR-21-169). Faculty who haven’t had any prior independent research grant support are encouraged to apply for the SuRE-First Award (PAR-21-173). The first application due dates are May 26, 2021 (SuRE Award) and September 28, 2021 (SuRE-First Award).

Childcare Supplements for NRSA Fellows

NIH recognizes that the high cost of childcare impacts graduate students and post-doctorates funded through NRSA fellowships, specifically their ability to successfully complete their training and fully participate in the extramural research workforce. Therefore, as part of ongoing efforts to support family-friendly work environments for the NIH-supported workforce, NIH is providing childcare support to recipients of NRSA fellowships, on or after April 8, 2021. See the announcement for more information.

Extension for Early Career Scientists Impacted by COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic, along with extensive mitigation measures, has adversely affected progress in many biomedical research settings. Evidence from multiple sources indicates legitimate concerns about career trajectory for early career scientists. Therefore, within existing constraints of available funding, NIH plans to support early career scientists whose career trajectories have been significantly affected by the pandemic. NIH is providing an opportunity for recipients of NIH Fellowship (“F”) and NIH Career Development (“K”) awards who have been impacted by COVID-19 to request no-cost and funded extensions. See the announcement for more information.

Administrative Supplements to Promote Research Continuity and Retention

The goal of these administrative supplements is to support the transition and retention of investigators from mentored career development to research independence and to minimize departures from biomedical workforce at this critical juncture. This supplement is designed to promote continuity of the career development during a period in which the PD/PI experiences critical life events which have the potential to impact research progress or productivity. Researchers with active selected K awards or R project grants are eligible. The supplement may be used to support additional personnel, computational services, supplies, and equipment that will promote the continuity of the career development research project during a period in which the PD/PI experiences critical life events which have the potential to impact research progress or potential productivity. Administrative supplements must support work within the scope of the original project. For the purposes of this program, childbirth, adoption, and primary caregiving responsibilities of an ailing spouse, child, partner, or a member of the immediate family during the project period are critical life events that would qualify for consideration. For more information, contact Dr. Lindsey Friend.

For more information on NIDA Funding Opportunities, visit the Funding Opportunities at NIDA webpage. For a full list of NIH training, fellowship, career development, and research education funding opportunities including parent announcements, please see the NIH Guide to Grants and Funding.

AIDS Research Program Opportunities

Notice of Special Interest (NOSI) for Multi-Level HIV Prevention Interventions: NIDA, along with the National Institutes on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) and Mental Health (NIMH) are offering funding opportunities to test the effectiveness of multi-level interventions to prevent HIV in high-risk health disparity populations in one or more geographic hotspots. NIDA is especially  interested in supporting research under this NOSI involving people who use drugs including members of key populations among whom drug use is a common HIV acquisition risk. Areas of special interest to NIDA are multi-level interventions that incorporate substance use treatment, harm reduction or other settings that commonly provide substance use services. Projects should use existing evidence-based HIV-prevention interventions or practices, either alone or in combination with new intervention elements.  NIDA is looking for structural interventions to reduce HIV acquisition conducted in partnership with clinicians and service providers responsible for delivering HIV prevention services or programs at the local, state, or regional level.

Notice of Special Interest (NOSI) Promoting Viral Suppression: NIDA, NIMHD and NIMH are also offering new funding opportunities that test interventions to promote ART initiation, ART adherence, and suppressed viral load for typically underserved people living with HIV in one or more hotspots. NIDA is interested in testing of interventions that directly engage sexual and/or injecting partners in ART adherence and HIV transmission prevention, as well as clinic-level intervention components to enhance cultural competency and reduce health-care related stigma and discrimination toward people living with HIV who are racial/ethnic or sexual and gender minorities. Proposals should include engagement of high-risk populations and related subgroups, and should encourage collaboration with diverse local stakeholders. Projects that develop and test interventions to minimize delays in initiating or re-initiating ART services for people who use drugs are encouraged, as are proposals that incorporate cost-effectiveness analysis.

Career Development Spotlight: Dr. Micah E. Johnson

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Micah Johnson, Ph.D.
Dr. Micah E. Johnson

The NIDA Office of Research Training, Diversity, and Disparities is thrilled to introduce Dr. Micah Johnson, a NIDA Principle Investigator and Assistant Professor in the Department of Mental Health Law and Policy, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences at the University of South Florida. Dr. Johnson was a 2019 NIDA Diversity Scholars Network Program scholar and was recently awarded a NIDA K01 on a project titled “Examining the Stress Processes Relating Ethnicity and Sex to Substance Misuse and Services Outcomes (ESPRESSO).” We had the opportunity to interview Dr. Johnson and wanted to share some of his background, experiences, and advice in hopes that his story will inspire you to never stop chasing your after your dreams. 

At what point in your life did you know you to become a scientist? What drew you to the STEM field and particularly substance use/addiction research?

My journey to becoming a scientist began with holidays in Hotel Cadillac. During the first seven years of my life, my father was a single parent who suffered from alcohol use disorder and drug misuse. My caretakers were persons experiencing addiction and other individuals that were highly stigmatized and marginalized. My family became loving peers who were deemed juvenile delinquents, and our home became my friend Nelson’s wrecked 1980 Cadillac, which we called Hotel Cadillac. I vividly remember the holiday seasons we would spend sleeping in that car, sharing whatever food we could scavenge. The stigma placed on us erased our humanity. We were set on a path toward addiction, incarceration, and early death. Many of my childhood friends experienced addiction, were incarcerated or died young. I became a scientist to understand the issues impacting our community with the hope of helping disadvantaged children.  

Were there any particular events or individuals who inspired you throughout your professional journey?

I am surrounded by sources of inspiration. I am inspired by the senior scientists that I see at the College on Problems of Drug Dependence. Their mastery gives me a standard to aim for. I am inspired by my students, who are courageous and passionate. I am inspired by my father, who has not had an alcoholic drink in over 20 years. I am inspired by individuals who suffer from substance use disorder who are courageous, hopeful, and fight every day to become better versions of themselves.

What has been the most challenging obstacle throughout your journey to an independent scientist?

I am still on the journey. It is challenging to correct for the deficits in my early education and professional experiences. I have had to work late and without breaks for several years to catch up. Also, there are race and class-related experiences that fuel imposter syndrome and related anxieties. These challenges can be managed through tenacity, work ethic, and a diverse team of caring mentors.

What was the best and worst career advice you have received during your journey of becoming a scientist?

The best advice I received was during the NIDA Diversity Scholars Training Program. During one of the workshops, Dr. Albert Avila provided data demonstrating that early-career investigators who were persistent had a higher chance of success. Dr. Avila’s advice was to be tenacious and persevere. This advice allowed me to fully appreciate the process and mentally prepare for the difficulties ahead. Interestingly, the worst advice I received was to quit. My first proposal for the K series was not discussed, but my most recently revised proposal was scored in the top 1%. I find that great efforts yield great rewards.  

As a follow-up, what advice would you give to aspiring underrepresented minorities who want to be an addiction scientist but don’t believe they have the support or resources to pursue it as a career? 

There are multidimensional social and historical factors that inhibit many underrepresented minorities from joining the research workforce. However, the scientific community is filled with folks who want you to succeed and will invest in your development. With effort, humility, tenacity, and quality mentorship, you can overcome barriers and achieve your goals. Also, I implore you to think of the families whose lives are improved by your work. Humanize the population that we study and remember that they are worthy of respect, dignity, and our best efforts. My research gives me a profound sense of joy and fulfillment because in my data I see my childhood friends, I see my family, and I see myself. My connection to these communities gives me the fuel to stay the course despite how bumpy and unfamiliar the path can be.

Is there anything else that you would like to share with the NIDA community about your inspiring journey?

Community mentoring and enrichment programs for early-career investigators contributed significantly to my development. The best way I know how to show appreciation is to give my best effort as a scientist and pay it forward. I am deeply committed to training bourgeoning students in substance use and addiction research, especially those who are historically underrepresented in academia. For nearly a decade, I have studied and implemented the best practices in undergraduate research education with the goal of helping to build a diverse pipeline of future scientists. While today I am a long way from Hotel Cadillac, I hope my research improves the lives of disadvantaged communities. Also, I hope that my journey demonstrates the importance of training programs for persons who are underrepresented or disadvantaged.

Congratulations to NIDA Kirschstein-NRSA (T32) Awardees in Fiscal Year 2020!

We would like to congratulate the awardees of NIDA NRSA (T32) awards in Fiscal Year 2020! The goal of the Kirschstein-NRSA training program is to prepare qualified predoctoral and/or postdoctoral trainees for careers that have a significant impact on the health-related research needs of the Nation. The next round of applications is due on May 25, 2021. Applicants should check with the relevant Institute or Center (IC), since some do not accept T series applications for all three receipt/review/award cycles. Applicants should refer to the IC Table of Contacts for information for each IC's scientific/research contact for the NRSA T32 program. See below for a full list of active NIDA T32 grantees from NIH RePORTER.

NIDA NRSA (T32) Active Awards

What’s to Come

HIV/AIDS Avant Garde

On Tuesday, April 27th, 2021 the NIDA AIDS Research Program invites you to join a symposium honoring awardees of the Avant-Garde Award Program for HIV/AIDS and Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Research (DP1) from 1:00 PM – 4:30 PM. The NIDA Avant-Garde Award Program for HIV/AIDS and Substance Use Disorder Research supports individual scientists of exceptional creativity at all career levels who propose high-impact research that will open new areas of HIV research and/or lead to new avenues for prevention and treatment of HIV among people who use drugs. Click here for more information about the HIV/AIDS Avant Garde Awards Program. If you would like to attend, please register for the symposium here.

COVID-19 Updates

The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation. Visit the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Information for NIH Applicants and Recipients of NIH Funding webpage for the latest information and guidance about programs in place to help with NIH projects. This webpage provides information about proposal submission, award management, human subjects, clinical trials, animal welfare, peer review, and lists funding opportunities related specifically to COVID-19. We encourage you to check this webpage often for updates and don’t hesitate to reach out to your Program Officer or our office if you have questions.

NIDA ODHD listserv

We encourage you to subscribe to the NIDA ODHD listserv. Please spread the word about this listserv! Emails from Dr. Albert Avila, Director of the Office of Diversity and Health Disparities (ODHD), are sent out to subscribers a few times a month containing announcements about training and career development.