FAQs: Diversity in Cancer Research Internship

The American Cancer Society's (ACS) Diversity in Cancer Research (DICR) Program is led by the  Extramural Discovery Sciences team. The DICR program aims to improve diversity and inclusion in the cancer workforce by increasing the number of under-represented minorities (URM) trained as cancer researchers.

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

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.

The DICR Internship program was made possible by the generous support of the DeLuca Foundation and an endowment
from Elizabeth and Phill Gross and their family.

INTERNSHIP OVERVIEW & ELIGIBILITY

What does the internship involve?

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

For 10 weeks, undergraduate-student interns engage in hands-on research and 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. 

Interns work in a collaborative environment with other scientists and experience the day-to-day world of cancer research while participating in research projects.

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

Interns are expected to complete post-internship surveys in a thorough and timely manner.

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, particularly people from these populations: African American/Black, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian and Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander groups. Collectively, these groups are considered under-represented minorities (URM) in science.

There is a documented disparity in National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant application pools. Data from the NIH’s R01 grants in 2013 and 2018 showed that significantly fewer applications were submitted from certain racial and ethnic groups. Specifically:

  • Only 7% of applicants were part of an URM group.
  • Less than 4% of applicants were Hispanic/Latino.
  • Less than 2% of applicants were African American/Black. 

URMs made up only 6% of applicants for American Cancer Society (ACS) research grants, with only 3% Hispanic/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 under-represented in biomedical research. 

Source and more statistics.

Are these paid or unpaid internships? Do interns earn academic credits?

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. Each intern will receive an allowance up to $500 to offset housing and travel costs or cover expenses related to networking and career-development activities.

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

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. 

  • Rising college sophomores, juniors, and seniors who are part of a URM population 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 3.0 overall GPA.
  • Applicants must be full-time students and cannot be enrolled in summer courses concurrent with the internship.

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.

APPLICATION PROCESS & SELECTION OF INSTITUTIONS

How is the DICR Internship implemented?

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

To ensure nationwide opportunities for college-level interns and drive administrative cost savings, the internship program will serve as a supplement to current IRG grants. All IRGs have already been vetted by the ACS 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.

There is an annual call for competitive, supplement applications. Selection of IRG grantee institutions for the DICR program supplements will be based upon nationally competitive peer review conducted by the ACS according to established guidelines and policies.

Are there any members of color on the peer review committees that are selecting the IRGs?

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.

When will the DICR Internships start?

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 selected 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

In June 2022, the ACS expects 83 interns to participate in the DICR Internship program and to complete the program in May 2023. Twelve IRGS applied, and all 12 were approved for funding. These institutions include:

  • Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio
  • Emory University in Atlanta
  • Georgetown University in Washington, DC
  • Indiana University in Bloomington
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Colorado in Denver
  • University of Kentucky in Lexington
  • University of Maryland in Baltimore
  • University of New Mexico in Albuquerque
  • University Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut

The competitive supplement IRG awards will be announced no later than July 1, 2022 and will be posted on cancer.org.

What is the IRG's internship application deadline for summer 2023 internships?

All applications are due October 15, 2022.

SELECTION OF INTERNS & MENTORS

How are interns selected?

Every IRG institution awarded supplemental funding for the DICR internship will use an institutional selection committee to choose 4 to 8 DICR interns. Each university sets its own criteria and process for intern applications and review. 

IRG institutions also pair interns with mentors, making an effort to align the student's interests with the research mentor’s expertise.

Must intern mentors be part of an URM 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.

THE PROGRAM'S ASSESSMENT & FUTURE

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 when possible

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

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

Starting in 2023 and for the next 10 years, the goal is to provide funding to partner institutions to facilitate a minimum of 100 biomedical research internships a year to undergraduate students. That’s a projected total of 1,000 interns over 10 years. 

How could the COVID-19 pandemic affect this program?

Institutions are required to submit a specific COVID-19 contingency plan in the mini-proposal.

Contacts: 
For more information about the DICR Internship Program and DICR Institutional Development Grant: DiversityEDS@cancer.org