Leveraging the RD Toolbox to Support Inclusive Excellence

Contributed by Debra Karhson, Ph.D., Crystal M. Botham, Ph.D., Gretchen L. Kiser, Ph.D., and Elizabeth Seckel, M.A.

The 10 year anniversary of the report by Ginther et al. (2011) has re-ignited an important conversation on federal grant funding disparities and structural oppression within biomedical research. Recent updates to the report show only a marginal increase in funding rates for Black researchers (Erosheva et al., 2020). Importantly, response articles by Taffe and Gilpin (2021) and Stevens et al. (2021) highlight the calls to action by stakeholders to rectify this unjust federal funding infrastructure. While these articles single out federal funding institutions like the NIH, they also highlight the critical role for research development (RD) professionals in transforming the research workforce to be more just and equitable. Moreover, in light of the forthcoming funding initiatives by federal funding institutions to increase diversity in research (i.e., NIH UNITE initiatives), RD professionals have an instrumental role in ensuring these funds have the greatest impact on the communities that need them most.

To assist other RD professionals ideate actions at their own institutions and in line with the October 12th NORDP blog post on Conversation Roadblocks, we spent a session during the 2020 NORDP Pacific Regional Meeting keeping ourselves accountable to this work. In this dedicated session, we shared the individual practices and policies NORDP members have taken to advance justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion at their institutions.

Below we categorized these crowd-sourced actions into one of the three following categories (Figure 1): allies, accomplices, and co-conspirators. These terms come from social justice epistemology and create a framework for examining where greater risk can be taken by those committed to increasing justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in the workforce. Briefly, allies and allied actions are those which show an individual’s general support of social justice movements and initiatives. Actions of an accomplice are pro-active, de-center dominant narratives, and leverage our privileges in service of justice. Finally, co-conspiratorial actions are those that involve the greatest risks and are the most active of the three in disrupting systems of oppression.



  • Lead a Conversation Roadblocks or similar discussion
  • Join and be an active member of the NORDP Committee on Inclusive Excellence
  • Ask questions when something is inequitable. “If you see something, say something!” Advocacy is like a muscle that gets strengthened with each use
  • Serve on advisory committees, groups and task forces. Leverage your privilege as an RD professional to advocate for others in these spaces
  • Enhance equity, validity, and diversity in university hiring, using processes such as Oregon State University’s Search Advocate Program or Ohio State University’s strategic planning for a fair and equitable future
  • Attend training for RD professionals like the UCSB-based Center for Research, Excellence, Diversity in Team Science (CREDITS) to understand why and how to encourage greater team diversity
  • Bring in expert facilitators to give workshops on different DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging) topics such as how to build inclusive research teams, best practices for community engagement, etc.


  • Partner with campus offices and organizations that are involved in DEIB activities. For example, UCSF hosts a matchmaking event between interested research faculty and URM students/trainees/staff from other local universities and community colleges
  • Engage affinity groups such as Black and or/ LatinX postdoc and faculty associations to co-create resources based on their needs
  • Volunteer your grant writing expertise for a community non-profit serving BIPOC (black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities
  • Evaluate language and review criteria for internal grants to adopt an anti-racism praxis in peer review. University of Michigan launched a new resource for mitigating bias and improving practices in peer review, nominations processes, etc.
  • Convene and participate in anti-racism advocacy efforts on our campuses and beyond, applying RD skills like project management, writing, etc.
  • Develop guidebooks, workshops, and bootcamps for diversity-specific grant programs, such as Stanford’s Diversity Supplement website or Jump Start Awards
  • Develop and provide small seed funding opportunities to support research on structural racism or that promote diversity. Chapman University provides seed funding for research and creative activities that serve the needs of diverse communities. UCSF has introduced an intramural seed grant focused on anti-Black racism in health research.

We wish to thank all the participants in our 2020 Pacific Regional presentation, Leveraging the RD Toolbox to Support Institutional Diversity Efforts, for sharing the important work they are doing. The above list of actions is by no means exhaustive, instead we hope it sparks new ideas and implementation efforts. During the 13th Annual NORDP conference, we will continue this dialog and actively explore ways that we as RD professionals can support DEIB during the session titled Leveraging and Building the RD Toolbox to Support Institutional DEIB Goals. Please join us on May 4, 2021 at 12:15 pm. NORDP will also host another set of Conversation Roadblock discussions around the virtual conference as well, so get ready for this valuable conference add-on and join in on uncomfortable conversations! 

Figure 1. The Pyramid of accountability for Research Development Professionals (graphic inspired by @blessthemessy)
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