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Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility at NEI

Dr. Michael Chiang

Messages from Dr. Michael Chiang, NEI Director

NEI’s ability to remain at the forefront of vision research and to ensure that scientific discoveries truly benefit all depends on a workforce with diverse skill sets, viewpoints, and backgrounds. NEI is committed to breaking down the barriers that prevent the full breadth of talent from contributing to the biomedical research enterprise. @NEIDirector

In search of clinician-scientists to review grant applications

New NEI program aims to increase pool of qualified reviewers

January 3, 2022

About 25,000 volunteers review the roughly 80,000 grant applications submitted to NIH each year. The process, which tags the best proposals with the highest potential for making an impact, is the bedrock of NIH's success. And reviewing grant applications is one of the best ways to acquire grant-writing skills, particularly for early-stage investigators.

Grant reviewers.

NEI launched the Clinician Scientist Reviewer Program to increase the pool of qualified clinician scientists eligible to serve as reviewers on NEI special emphasis panels. Program participants will strengthen their grasp of the peer review process while gaining working knowledge of the various NIH grant mechanisms. Importantly, the program will facilitate networking with NEI program staff and fellow reviewers. An additional goal of the program is to increase participation of individuals from underrepresented groups.

To qualify for the program, applicants must have completed all fellowship/ postdoctoral training and be actively involved in research. After attending a brief orientation, participants are assigned one to three grant applications along with instructions for how to review them and develop critiques in preparation for review meetings. Check out additional criteria and other details about how to apply for this new program on the NEI website. And please share with young scientists that you think would benefit from the program.

Michael F. Chiang, M.D.

DIVRO: Encouraging diversity through summer internships

November 2, 2021

Encouraging diversity is more than doing the right thing. It makes science better by incorporating unique perspectives, strategies, and solutions.

The NEI launched the Diversity in Vision Research and Ophthalmology summer internship program in 2011 to address the underrepresentation of specific communities in science. Our hope was that we could persuade talented young people to pursue careers in vision research if we offered them a hands-on experience that tempted their curiosity and helped them tap into the vision research community.

A decade later, we’re seeing our efforts pay off. DIVRO has supported more than 80 summer interns. Nearly half were college students. About a quarter were medical school students, with the remainder a mix of high school and graduate students.

Modupe Adetunji joined NEI for summers during and after her undergraduate training at Princeton University. She worked in the Laboratory of Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology with Stanislav Tomarev. With Tomarev and colleagues, she authored a 2017 paper on the neuroprotective effects of platelet-derived growth factor in a mouse model of glaucoma. She returned to NEI briefly after her first year of medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. She is now an ophthalmology resident at Duke University.

Modupe Adetunji portrait on left; with Tomarev lab on right.

Left, DIVRO intern Modupe “Funmi” Adetunji (2014-2016), now an ophthalmology resident at Duke University. At right, Adentunji in 2015 with members of the Tomarev lab. 

Alexis Warren interned with the late Robert Nussenblatt in the NEI Laboratory of Immunology in 2014 after her first year of medical school at the University of Kansas. She was Chief Resident at the University of Iowa Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and is now completing a vitreoretinal surgery fellowship at the University of Illinois in Chicago. 

Alexis Warren.

Alexis Warren

Emile Vieta Ferrer was a 2017 DIVRO intern in the NEI Ophthalmic Genetics and Visual Function Branch under the mentorship of Brian Brooks while a medical school at the San Juan Bautista School of Medicine. Emile returned to NEI after medical school for postdoctoral fellowship and is now a resident in ophthalmology and medical genetics at the University of California Los Angeles. He appears to be walking in the footsteps of Dr. Brooks, who is NEI’s clinical director, but we’ll be proud wherever he ends up. 

Check out NEI’s training page to learn details about DIVRO and other NEI training opportunities. In a nutshell, DIVRO interns spend 8 to 12 weeks of summer at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, working closely with leading research scientists in the NEI Intramural Research Program. Participants help plan experiments, learn hands-on skills in the lab, and attend topical workshops and seminars. We provide a monthly stipend, commensurate with  education. The program culminates in August when interns present their research at the NIH summer intern poster day. COVID-19 restrictions canceled 2020 summer training programs and in 2021 they went virtual, but we’re hopeful that in summer 2022 trainees will be back on campus. 

Group photo of the 2017 DIVRO class.

The 2017 DIVRO Class at the NIH Poster Day (left to right): Alejandra Maiz, Adam Lazere, Maria Rios, Daniel Lulli, Natalia Santiago, Kaifa Boyce, Nicole Pannullo, Fatima Gomez, Karina Navarro, and Emile Vieta Ferrer. Kneeling in front is NEI Training Director Cesar Perez-Gonzalez. 

A couple of dates you should note: The application period opens mid-November, and the application deadline is March 1, 2022. Questions about summer training programs can be directed to NEI Training Director Cesar Perez-Gonzalez,

Michael F. Chiang, M.D.

Cultivating gender diversity

May 26, 2021

Promoting diversity within and beyond the National Eye Institute includes ensuring that women have opportunities to bring their expertise and insights to our research and clinical practice.

At NEI, we’re working to make progress in recruiting women scientists. Our Intramural Research Program comprising scientists and clinicians who work in laboratories on the NIH campus) has recruited 7 tenure-track investigators since fall 2016. Four of the investigators recruited are women. We will continue to take steps in the direction of addressing gender imbalance in NEI’s Principal Investigator ranks.

Beyond our own staff at NEI, I am determined to reflect the values of gender diversity in the panels and symposia I participate in. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins has spoken out against all-male speaking panels. Like Dr. Collins, I will decline to participate in scientific panels where women are conspicuously missing. I look forward to having women researchers consistently represented and heard at scientific meetings.

A group of five lab scientists posing for a picture.

Ending structural racism at NIH

March 1, 2021

As Director of the National Eye Institute, I am proud to be part of NIH as we take a stand against structural racism in biomedical research.

Under the leadership of NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, we:

  • Launched a new initiative called UNITE. This initiative has already begun to identify short-term and long-term actions to address structural racism at NIH, the institutions we support, and anywhere where NIH research activities take place.
  • Issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking input from the public and stakeholder organizations about our plans as we move forward. The RFI is open through April 9, 2021, and responses to the RFI will be made publicly available.

You can learn more about NIH’s efforts, actions, policies, and procedures through a newly launched NIH webpage on Ending Structural Racism aimed at increasing our transparency on this important issue.

We look forward to working together on this critical effort.

NIH Ending structural racism badge.


Last updated: March 28, 2022