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No time to waste in assisting minorities, says Nature Immunology

The research community needs to increase the number of minority students who choose scientific research careers, according to the September Editorial in Nature Immunology (10, 927; 2009). Black and Hispanic Americans compose roughly one third of the US population, yet the percentage of graduate degrees earned by members of these minorities is much less than 30%. Only 168 people of a minority background were listed as faculty members in biological science departments of the top 50 research institutions in the United States as of 2007. How can the research community encourage more minority students to pursue a research career?

The Editorial describes varous programmes and initiatives, for example the NIH National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) is increasing student diversity in its Maximizing Student Development initiative; the American Association of Immunologists has established a Minority Affairs Committee; the AAAS and other organizations are sponsoring the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students, to be held this year in Phoenix, Arizona (4–7 November); and the Keystone symposia have initiated a Diversity in Life Science programme. The Editorial notes that such ‘critical mass’ networking interactions help to inspire confidence and can continue long after the attendees have returned home.

The Editorial concludes: “As the US population becomes less ‘white dominated’, more minority workers will enter the workforce. This scenario is no less true for scientific research, especially as a substantial number of white male faculty members prepare to retire in the next decade. Thus, the training of tomorrow’s scientists and faculty must begin today. To achieve this, faculty chairs and administrators must identify those hurdles that might now preclude the career development of under-represented minorities on their campuses and take steps to ensure their education programs are sufficiently rigorous to train competitive minority scientists. There is no time to waste.”

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