Esa Davis speaking
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This Pitt-led program will help underrepresented minorities in science and medicine move into leadership roles

  • Innovation and Research
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Faculty from underrepresented minorities (URM) make up a very small percentage of the senior academic faculty in biomedical sciences in the United States, but a new Pitt-led program aims to change that.

Mid-career URM faculty members in science and medicine will have an opportunity to refocus their career development with the help of a new program called TRANSFORM. Created specifically for faculty at the associate professor level, the program is designed to help promote these faculty into leadership positions at a pivotal time in their careers — and when attrition of URM faculty is most likely.

“The idea is to fill a void,” said Esa Davis, program director of TRANSFORM, which is funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. “There are a lot of programs for early-stage investigators and for senior faculty, but there’s not much in between.”

Mid-career faculty often have little time to focus on their own career growth, said Davis (pictured above), who is also an associate professor of medicine. They’re mentoring, teaching, serving on different committees and pursuing their own work, and their own career development gets stuck as a result. It’s a common time when attrition occurs, which is true for URM faculty.

“TRANSFORM was developed to increase the numbers of URM faculty in the biomedical sciences,” said Davis. “The goal is also to get more of a critical mass making that leap from associate to full professor. They can then mentor others.”

Mentorship is one of the four components of the program, along with coaching, leadership skill development and a longitudinal project. Davis and Audrey J. Murrell, professor of business administration and TRANSFORM’s co-principal investigator, created the program to expand on the Association of American Medical Colleges’ (AAMC) longstanding Mid-Career Minority Faculty Leadership Seminar. TRANSFORM will begin this fall with the 2022 AAMC seminars and conclude there the following year, with scholars presenting their projects and acting as ambassadors to welcome next new cohort.

TRANSFORM’s longitudinal project component involves working with an institutional leader on an issue of importance to both the institution and to the scholars’ leadership and professional goals. Davis said the longitudinal project is another novel part of TRANSFORM.

“As the leaders and scholars work in close conjunction throughout the year, leaders get to see firsthand what the scholars’ capabilities are,” she said. “The idea is to elevate scholars among their institutional leaders so that when opportunities for advancement arise, leaders have these scholars in mind. Sometimes leadership positions will come up and URM faculty aren’t considered because they’re not on the radar, even though they’re talented and capable.”

TRANSFORM is open to faculty members from institutions that have an AAMC membership. Pitt is one of the program’s sponsoring sites; the other sites include Meharry Medical College, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, Oregon Health and Science University, and AAMC.

“This program involves a unique collaboration among several institutions to combine our expertise as we address the critical issue of enhancing diversity across senior leadership levels nationally,” said Murrell, who is also a professor of psychology and of public and international affairs. “The collective expertise and [the grant’s] five-year commitment represents an opportunity to create meaningful and inclusive change. This is truly a transformational, collective endeavor.”

Davis said she is also excited for the first cohort to begin and noted TRANSFORM’s importance.

“It said a lot about Pitt that we’re leading these efforts, particularly around trying to create a more diverse biomedical workforce, which is so important for science and medicine,” she said. “We’ve always been about training, mentoring and developing scientists and physicians; we do that well. Now, we want to make sure that we continue to strengthen that part of the pipeline that has been leaky for a long time.”


— Maureen Passmore, photography by Aimee Obidzinski