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NHGRI recognizes leaders in diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the genomics workforce

Recipients of a new NHGRI award include an extramural investigator and two NHGRI staff members.

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is honoring three individuals for their achievements in enhancing diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) in the genomics workforce. These individuals are the first recipients of NHGRI’s Outstanding Award for Enhancing DEIA in the Genomics Workforce, which was launched this year and will be awarded annually.

These NHGRI awards recognize the exceptional efforts of an extramural investigator and two NHGRI staff members: Pardis Sabeti, M.D., Ph.D., professor at the Center for Systems Biology and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University; Bettie Graham, Ph.D., NHGRI division director of extramural operations; and Ann Mc Cartney, Ph.D., assistant researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz and former postdoctoral research fellow at NHGRI.

“These recipients are people who think outside the box to encourage a diverse genomics workforce and whose work will have an enduring impact,” said Lorjetta Schools, a policy analyst in the Training, Diversity and Healthy Equity Office at NHGRI who coordinated the inaugural awards.

Dr. Sabeti, Dr. Graham and Dr. Mc Cartney will each receive their awards and discuss their DEIA achievements with NHGRI Director, Eric Green, M.D., Ph.D., at the 98th meeting of the National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research this month.

“With their multifaceted approaches to DEIA, the award recipients will serve as role models for the genomics community,” said Schools. “I hope this recognition encourages others to follow their example of making diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility important components of science.”

This new recognition is the latest in NHGRI’s longstanding work to promote DEIA through grants, programs and notable publications, such as the 2020 “NHGRI Strategic Vision” and the 2021 “Building a Diverse Genomic Workforce: An NHGRI Action Agenda.”

NHGRI will issue the Outstanding Award for Enhancing DEIA in the Genomics Workforce annually, and nominations for next year’s awards will be due September 1, 2023. In future years, NHGRI encourages nominations of extramural early career investigators and established investigators with impressive achievements in DEIA.

The 2022 Awardees

Pardis Sabeti
Pardis Sabeti, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor of Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

Elevating DEIA in the study of infectious diseases

Dr. Sabeti, an NHGRI-funded computational geneticist and professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard University, integrates DEIA into her research and teaching.

Dr. Sabeti’s research focuses on infectious diseases, and with her collaborator Christian Happi, Ph.D., Dr. Sabeti co-founded the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID). Having trained over 1,000 researchers, ACEGID has expanded the biomedical workforce and supported crucial public health endeavors.

“I view diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility as imperative for meaningful advancement of genomics and science,” said Dr. Sabeti. “With these principles in mind, my lab and I are dedicated to empowering our collaborators and training the next generation of genomic scientists.”

In her role as an educator, Dr. Sabeti has championed mental health. “I have seen firsthand the increasing challenges to health and wellbeing that the next generation faces,” said Sabeti. In addition to leading wellness sessions in the classroom, Dr. Sabeti has served on the Harvard University Committee on Mental Health to advocate for students’ wellbeing.

Dr. Sabeti has also reached beyond her own classroom, developing interactive lesson materials about public health and infectious disease. These materials include DEIA themes and serve to engage more students with genomics topics.

By including her laboratory members in her DEIA work, Dr. Sabeti trains her colleagues to be leaders who will advocate for DEIA at their institutions and beyond.

For example, Dr. Sabeti encouraged and supported Adrianne Gladden-Young, a former senior research associate in Dr. Sabeti’s research group, in publishing an article in The Atlantic about medical racism, infectious diseases and the need for medical research fields to embrace the expertise of Black scientists.

“She listened to me, took my concerns seriously and used her platform to amplify my message as a Black scientist,” said Gladden-Young. “To me, that’s what’s most important for DEIA efforts — making networks and resources accessible so that people in underrepresented groups can thrive and move ahead in their/our environments.”

Dr. Sabeti will continue to have a lasting influence on DEIA in the genomics workforce through ACEGID, teaching and her trainees.

Bettie Graham, Ph.D.
Bettie J. Graham, Ph.D.
Director, Division of Extramural Operations, NHGRI

Advancing diversity in NHGRI extramural training for decades

With over 50 years of federal service, Dr. Graham is director of NHGRI’s Division of Extramural Operations. Dr. Graham has been a leader at NHGRI since the institute’s beginning and has championed DEIA in its Extramural Research Program.

“As a member of NHGRI’s leadership team, I always make the points that (1) implementation of DEIA principles is everyone’s responsibility, regardless of one’s position in the institute, and (2) diversity is an integral part of science; these are not two separate initiatives,” said Dr. Graham.

In 2001, NHGRI convened a workshop to address the lack of scientists from underrepresented minorities (URM) in the genomics workforce. Putting these findings into action, Dr. Graham spearheaded efforts to include URM trainees in NHGRI-funded programs.

Dr. Graham continues to promote diversity in training through UNITE, an NIH-wide initiative to address structural racism in the biomedical workforce. Through UNITE, Dr. Graham has expanded and revised NIH education and training programs to create a training environment that supports equity and diversity in the scientific workforce.

Dr. Graham has recruited 17 NIH institutes and centers to participate in the Science Education Partnership Award. She is also leading the revision of the T32 training grant to include mentorship training for faculty, support for career development outside of academia and criteria for evaluating recruitment and retention.

“Leading by personal example and with her consistent and creative effort, Bettie is a powerful advocate for building the genomics workforce and increasing its diversity,” said Michael Boehnke, Ph.D., a professor of biostatistics at the University of Michigan who has worked with Dr. Graham for over 20 years in directing the university’s genomics training program. “Bettie’s kindness, generosity and absolute commitment have inspired us all, and her ability to identify key players and build connections has been central to our training success.”

Additionally, Dr. Graham succeeded in expanding eligibility of the NIH Loan Repayment Program to include genetic counselors involved in research, which removes financial barriers to careers in genomics.

Dr. Graham will retire from NHGRI at the end of 2023. Her work and outlook will leave a lasting impact on NHGRI and the genomics workforce.

Ann McCartney
Ann Mc Cartney, Ph.D.
Assistant Researcher, University of California, Santa Cruz

Centering Indigenous perspectives in genomic data science

Dr. Mc Cartney, Ph.D., is an assistant researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz and a former postdoctoral research fellow at NHGRI. Through her work in biodiversity and genomics, Dr. Mc Cartney has integrated Indigenous knowledge and data sovereignty into genomics research.

Historically, genomics has harmed certain populations, including Indigenous peoples. “The notion of reconstructing and reorienting the scientific enterprise toward a more just, equitable and inclusive future can be uncomfortable and daunting, but it’s also exciting,” said Dr. Mc Cartney.

At NHGRI, Dr. Mc Cartney served on detail with the NIH Office of Science Policy, where she developed equitable data sharing policies. She also provided leadership for NHGRI’s involvement in the European Reference Genome Project and the Earth BioGenome Project. In these roles, Dr. Mc Cartney worked in collaboration with Sámi, Māori and Native American stakeholders to create genomics practices and policies.

“Ann is a highly knowledgeable scientist with added sensitivity for matters of justice,” said Marcela Uliano-Silva, Ph.D., who serves as co-chair of the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the Earth BioGenome Project with Dr. Mc Cartney. “She teaches me so much everyday about respect for other kinds of knowledge and other ways of living. She is an inspiration to me.” 

In building a more diverse and equitable future for genomics, Dr. Mc Cartney has aided in training the next generation of scientists to use genomic data ethically and with consideration for Indigenous perspectives. “I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to play a very small part of reimagining and creating this future for genomics research,” said Dr. Mc Cartney.

Dr. Mc Cartney is a co-organizer for the annual workshop IndigiData, which introduces undergraduate and graduate students to data science in a context that centers Indigenous cultures and data sovereignty. She has also led workshops with Summer internship for INdigenous peoples in Genomics (SING) in both the U.S. and New Zealand.

“Building a more diverse, equitable and just future for genomics does not happen overnight. It takes an intentional investment and a sustained commitment over time,” said Dr. Mc Cartney. “It is great to see these efforts are finally getting the acknowledgement and recognition they deserve.”

Last updated: February 13, 2023