By David Barrett, JD, and Maritza McIntyre, Ph.D
Systemic inequities and racism have long existed in healthcare access, outcomes, and biomedical research. During the pandemic, we’ve seen these disparities in action as people of color have been disproportionately killed by Covid-19. A lack of racial diversity also exists in the STEM workforce; Black people accounted for 9% of STEM employees in 2019 — the same proportion as 2016 — and Hispanic workers in STEM jobs rose from 7% to 8% of total employees over that time period.
The American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (ASGCT) recognizes this and has made a commitment to address these disparities and provide its members from underrepresented populations in the scientific workforce with more opportunities to advance their careers. With that mission in mind, the Society has worked to greatly expand its resources. ASGCT is offering nearly $1 million in 2021 funded awards, including a new group of Diversity and Inclusion Awards to promote justice and equity in gene and cell therapy research.
Seek out diversity & inclusion initiatives
The introduction of the Diversity and Inclusion Awards demonstrates one way the Society is reinvesting in the field and providing career development opportunities for its members who are Black, Indigenous, and Latinx. The awards include the Society’s first two fellowships, valued at $100,000 each, for ASGCT members who are part of underrepresented populations. One of the fellowships focuses on gene or cell therapy-related research for an oncology indication, while the other supports gene and cell therapy-related research for any indication. The third award, valued at $50,000, supports an ASGCT member conducting gene and cell therapy-related research for a condition that disproportionately affects minorities.
The awards were created by ASGCT’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, a group of members who came together during the summer of 2020 with the goal of reducing disparities in research and healthcare and making ASGCT a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable organization.
To support researchers from underrepresented minority groups in the field, the committee also developed a new mentorship program. Mentorship can help alleviate disparities at all career levels, according to Dr. Rayne Rouce, a committee member and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine. However, mentors must be intentional in efforts to recruit and retain underrepresented minorities in the lab.
The mentorship program will award five applicants who identify as underrepresented racial or ethnic minorities with support for a mentored research project under the supervision of an applicant-identified research mentor in summer 2022. Award recipients will be paired with ASGCT members to serve as their career development mentors and they’ll receive other benefits, including the opportunity to share their research at the subsequent ASGCT Annual Meeting.
Apply for career development awards
ASGCT members are also invited to apply for the Career Development Awards, which were doubled to $100,000 each in 2021. These awards support the independent transformative pilot studies of six gene and cell therapy researchers whose projects would otherwise be challenging to fund with normal funding mechanisms.
Watch monthly professional development seminars
ASGCT started a brand new professional development seminar series in April 2021. The seminars, which are currently available for free live and on-demand to members, are designed with early and mid-career professionals in mind. While they are meant for those working in or studying gene and cell therapy, anyone looking to enhance their skills is invited to attend. Seminar speakers have covered topics including how to create a marketable abstract poster, optimal strategies for scientists using social media, best practices for submitting an abstract, and more.
Build your network through a professional society
If you’re a gene and cell therapy researcher interested in applying for awards, connecting with peers, or developing your professional skills, become a member of ASGCT! Anyone with a demonstrated professional interest in the field is invited to join. In addition to meeting people from different career levels, in different disciplines, and with different experiences, ASGCT members receive discounts on events like the Annual Meeting and Policy Summit, a free subscription to and publication discounts for the field-leading Molecular Therapy family of journals, and more.
ASGCT looks forward to celebrating the awardees who will surely have a lasting impact on the field of gene and cell therapy as well as on the lives of the people their research will someday soon improve. We hope you’ll consider joining our Society so you can develop your career by applying for these awards, learning from our seminars, attending our events, or publishing your research in our journal.
David Barrett is the CEO of ASGCT. Maritza McIntyre is chief development officer of StrideBio, a member of ASGCT’s Board of Directors, and chair of ASGCT’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee.