FAQs: Diversity in Cancer Research Internship

The Diversity in Cancer Research (DICR) Program is a new program in Extramural Discovery Sciences that aims to improve diversity and inclusion in the cancer workforce by increasing the number of cancer researchers, who by race and ethnicity, are currently underrepresented in the field.

The DICR program’s first initiative is an internship program that targets underrepresented minority (URM) undergraduate students to expose them to cancer research as a strategy to ultimately increase the number of URM individuals who enter the cancer research field.

The DICR Internship program was made possible by a generous endowment from Elizabeth and Phil Gross and their family.

What does the internship involve, and what are the program’s goals?

The DICR Internship Program provides training and educational opportunities to encourage the pursuit of biomedical careers. 

For 10 weeks, undergraduate-student interns are mentored by accomplished investigators in cancer research labs or in clinical or community settings at leading research institutions, such as teaching hospitals, universities, medical schools, and cancer centers.

Throughout the year, interns also engage in career-development and networking activities.

The program’s long-term goals are to advance diversity and inclusivity in the cancer-research workforce and to drive greater innovation, problem-solving, and collaboration.

How is the DICR Internship implemented?

DICR internships are administered through the ACS national  Institutional Research Grants (IRGs) program. 

Why diversity in science is needed

Diversity in science is critical because it invigorates problem-solving, drives innovation, and better equips the scientific community to address inequities that exist in cancer prevention, treatment, and care.

The lack of diversity within the scientific workforce is a known issue.

The National Science Foundation reports that certain racial and ethnic groups are under-represented at many career stages in health-related sciences, namely, African Americans/ Blacks, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Hispanics/Latinos, and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders. Collectively, these groups are under-represented minorities (URMs) in science.

There is a disparity in National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant application pools. Data from the NIH’s R01 grants in 2013 and 2018 showed significantly fewer applicants from certain racial and ethnic groups than from White applicants. 

  • Only 7% of applicants were part of an underrepresented group.
  • Less than 2% of applicants were African American or Black. 
  • Less than 4% of applicants were Hispanics or Latino.

Under-represented minorities made up only 6% of applicants for American Cancer Society (ACS) research grants, with only 3% of Hispanic or Latino applicants for the fall 2019 and spring 2020 peer review cycles.

There is a clear opportunity to improve engagement and inclusion for scientists whose racial or ethnic background is underrepresented in biomedical research. 

The IRG is a block award to individual institutions to enable them to give small grants to beginning academic investigators who do not yet have national, peer-reviewed research grant support.

All IRGs have already been vetted by our rigorous peer review process and found to be outstanding environments for cancer research and for mentoring early-stage investigators. As such, leveraging these partnerships makes sense from scientific, administrative, fiscal, educational, and career development/mentoring perspectives.

In the summer of 2021, the ACS Extramural Discovery Science department began a beta-test of the DICR Internship Program with the 8 institutions with IRGs who applied for, and who subsequently received, supplemental funding for the internship program.

Going forward, each year the DICR Program will call for competitive, supplement applications for the DICR internship program. And, as with other Extramural Research Science grant applications,  a nationally competitive peer review process follows established guidelines and policies to determine which institutional applicants will be offered grants.

Do the peer review committees selecting the IRGs include members of color? 

Yes. ACS welcomes people from all ethnic and racial backgrounds to serve on our peer review committees. At least 20% of members for the IRG internship-selection committee will come from racial and ethnically diverse backgrounds, even when committee rosters change and at the end of members’ 4-year terms.

How are interns selected?

Every IRG institution awarded supplemental funding for the DICR internship will use an institutional selection committee to choose 4 DICR interns. The IRG institutions also pair interns with mentors, making an effort to align the student's interests with the research mentor’s expertise.

What are the eligibility criteria for DICR interns?

Internship eligibility is guided by the NIH definition of underrepresented minorities in science based on race and ethnicity. 

  • Underrepresented minorities who are rising college sophomores, juniors, and seniors with an interest in any STEM discipline (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) may apply.
  • Applicants must be in good academic standing with at least a 2.75 overall GPA.
  • Applicants must be full-time students and cannot be enrolled in summer courses concurrent with the internship.

No academic credit is awarded for completion of this summer program.

Are medical students eligible for the DICR Internship Program?

No. The DICR Internship program is limited to undergraduate college students—rising sophomores, juniors, seniors, or even recent graduates.

What is expected of the interns during the program?

Interns engage in 10 weeks of hands-on research experience while receiving mentorship from experts in the biomedical field. Interns work in a collaborative environment with other scientists and experience the day-to-day world of cancer research while participating in research projects.

Summer interns are also expected to actively engage in planned, longitudinal career-development and networking activities throughout the year(s), as well as complete post-internship surveys in a thorough and timely manner.

Must the mentors be part of an under-represented minority in science?

To ensure a robust offering of opportunities for participating interns, the ACS is not limiting mentorship to investigators with diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds. IRGs have the opportunity to develop co-mentoring arrangements to pair students with investigators from diverse backgrounds who may not be at the IRG institution.

Are these paid or unpaid internships?

The internship is a paid work experience. Students who are selected receive a weekly stipend of $500 for 10 weeks, totaling $5,000 for the summer internship. Additionally, a $2,000 allowance is included in the $22,000 supplement to the IRG, to be used at the discretion of the principal investigator. This allows each intern to receive up to $550 to offset housing and travel costs or cover expenses related to networking and career-development activities.

Which schools have internships? 

On July 1, 2021, the ACS announced institutional recipients for the supplemental IRGs. Eight IRGs applied. All 8 were approved for supplemental funding. Each IRG will select 4 interns, for a total of 32 interns. The IRGs include:

  • Emory University in Atlanta
  • Georgetown University in Washington DC
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Colorado in Denver
  • University of Kentucky in Lexington
  • University of Maryland in Baltimore
  • University of New Mexico in Albuquerque
  • Washington University in St. Louis

What is the IRG's internship application deadline?

All institutional applications for Summer 2022 internship supplements are due by October 15, 2021.

How will the impact of the internship program be assessed?

ACS will monitor the program on an ongoing basis. Our analysts will conduct periodic in-depth reports. The program evaluation will include both short- and long-term measures of success, with data collection at both the IRG and national levels.

The collected data will help us identify the successes of the program, including but not limited to:

  • Gauging  the amount of elicited interest in pursuing a career in biomedical research or other health sciences.
  • Identifying the percentage of interns who stay within the field at each institution.
  • Following up with institutions throughout the summer cancer research experience and through the year, as there will be year-round activities.

We will also study the data to determine if there are any system-imposed barriers modifying the program as needed to achieve excellence in inclusivity.

What are the long-term plans for the DICR Internship Program?

Over the next 10 years, our goal is to provide funding to partner institutions to facilitate a minimum of 40 biomedical research internships a year to undergraduate students. That’s a projected total of 890 to 1,000 interns.