U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

The .gov means it’s official.
Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.


The site is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

July 2023

Advisory Council considers plans to foster diverse, inclusive research

Topics discussed included improving equity across NIEHS, revising funding strategies, and strategizing the future of environmental health.

Strengthening environmental health sciences research begins with building more diverse and inclusive research teams, according to presenters at the 169th meeting of the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council (NAEHSC) held June 6-7. The diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) theme weaved together the hybrid session, as the Council discussed the NIEHS strategic plan, research funding strategies, and strengthening peer review, among other topics.

Council members engaged with senior leadership
During the spring meeting, Council members engaged with senior leadership and advised on the direction of research, research support, training, and career development supported by NIEHS. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

DEIA at the fore

Improving equity across NIEHS and the wider environmental health sciences community has been a focus of work groups led by Deputy Director Trevor Archer, Ph.D., and council member Karen Vasquez, Ph.D.

“We really want to have this be a cultural change — rather than being just a set of policy directives — and something that people can embrace, understand, and accept, and be really committed to,” Archer said.

Trevor Archer, Ph.D.
Archer reported that NIEHS is currently recruiting a chief diversity officer, with plans to hire two deputy diversity officers as well. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

To refine institute policies and staffing, Archer outlined the main goals of the NIEHS Racial and Equity Plan (REEP), a National Institutes of Health (NIH) UNITE initiative. The implementation team is working to apply a framework called the racial and ethnic equity lens; identify and dismantle any racial and ethnic disparities in the NIEHS workforce; and enhance the diversity of the NIEHS workforce.

Such efforts will complement the work of an independent 15-member council work group, which was tasked with advising NIEHS leadership on DEIA issues. Vasquez, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Texas, led the work group for the past two years and submitted a final report to Rick Woychik, Ph.D., director of NIEHS.

Putting DEIA principles into practice is possible in the environmental health field, as evidenced by presentations from Ana Diez Roux, M.D., Ph.D., of Drexel University, and Mark Reed, Ph.D., of San Diego State University. Their respective Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) Programs created self-reinforcing communities of scientists committed to diversity and inclusive excellence.

Director’s updates

Rick Woychik, Ph.D.
“You’ve made a number of really important points, and we will certainly keep all of them in mind as we continue to refine our program for DEIA at NIEHS,” Woychik said, praising the NAEHSC work group’s efforts. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

Woychik shared updates regarding development of the NIEHS Strategic Plan as well as his vision for collaboratively identifying how the environment influences health. Central to that vision is improved understanding of the exposome, or the tangible measure of all the external or environmental forces acting upon a person and the body’s response to them.

“The concept of exposomics is gaining significant attention and support at other institutes,” Woychik said. “We have to be thinking about what we can be doing with the knowledge and structure that we have to accelerate and promote exposomic science.”

Woychik described efforts to coordinate exposome research across the globe and incorporate environmental exposures into the NIH All of Us Research Program.

In addition, he said a comprehensive effort to bring understanding of the role of environmental exposures in health to the medical community is needed. Physicians could then take the information to their patients to advance health.

Funding strategy refresh

Faced with the prospect of a flat or reduced budget in fiscal year 2024, Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) Director David Balshaw, Ph.D., sought Council members’ input about how the institute awards funds to grantees around the country.

“We have a lot of new players and perspectives on our budget,” Balshaw said, explaining what prompted the conversation about the division’s funding strategies. “And fiscal year 2024 is looking to be quite challenging.”

David Balshaw, Ph.D.
During his first Council meeting as the new DERT Director, Balshaw led a discussion about NIEHS funding strategies, the first such discussion since 2017. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

He pointed out that over the past five fiscal years, the top 25 universities received more than half of NIEHS funding to academia, which was $1.1 billion or 86% of NIEHS total investments. Sixty institutions received more than $10 million, and six states — California, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas, and Michigan — received more than half of NIEHS total funding during this five-year period.

Efforts to refocus first-level review on the scientific or technical merit of grant applications and mitigate reputational bias in the peer review process also are underway, according to Noni Byrnes, Ph.D., director of the NIH Center for Scientific Review.

The next NAEHSC meeting is scheduled for September 12-13, 2023.

(Ernie Hood is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

Back To Top