Skip to Main Content

YSPH faculty co-launch research leadership program in India

March 12, 2024
by Fran Fried

Faculty from the Yale School of Public Health, the University of Arizona’s Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, and India's JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research (JSS AHER) have teamed up to launch a program to build leadership among public health scholars from India’s underrepresented groups.

Mayur M. Desai, YSPH professor of epidemiology (microbial diseases), and Erika Linnander, director of the Global Health Leadership Initiative at YSPH, along with two faculty from Zuckerman College’s Department of Health Promotion Sciences – Associate Professor Purnima Madhivanan and Professor Brian Dodge – collaborated with JSS AHER and the Public Health Research Institute of India (PHRII) to introduce the Research Leadership Program.

The program is based on successful programs in South Africa, Sudan, and Chad. It seeks to empower researchers and foster a more equitable global health research landscape. Its aim is to prepare scholars to become effective research mentors within a nurtured leadership network.

In addition to building a first cohort of research scientists from underrepresented minority groups, the goal is to establish a programmatic infrastructure for mentoring and leadership-skill development to promote career advancement of scientists from underrepresented communities well into the future.

Our program creates opportunities for scholars from historically marginalized groups to be the ones generating the scientific evidence, the ones taking on leadership roles, and the ones fostering the next generation of scholars.

Erika Linnander

Fifteen junior-to-mid-career scholars from JSS AHER were selected for the certificate program, which so far has included an in-person session in January, a virtual session in February, and practical career development assignments to build mentorship and leadership capacity. A second in-person is taking place March 18-21, culminating in graduation.

“Working with this network has been a wonderful experience,” Linnander said. "We have been able to both build skills and relationships among the participants AND foster some of the institutional changes needed to promote equitable opportunities. The participants have been fully committed to meaningful work, and all of the partner organizations have been contributing their unique strengths. We are excited to return to India.”

The curriculum is designed around four pillars: building skills for mentorship, coaching, and professional development; building skills for effective leadership in research teams and organizations; fostering understanding of global and national health system research priorities; and developing of a professional network for sustained research leadership.

The program launched quickly as a supplement to longstanding research and research training collaborations between the US and India-based partner institutions. The partners all aligned on the importance of creating a more diverse and equitable public health research workforce, and YSPH had a portfolio of similar programs ready for adaptation.

“All over the world, people marginalized by their racial, ethnic, sexual, gender, and face worse outcomes on myriad public health measures,” Linnander explained. “Generating the scientific evidence needed to tackle these inequalities requires the elevation of scholarship generated by researchers from marginalized groups. Our program creates opportunities for scholars from historically marginalized groups to be the ones generating the scientific evidence, the ones taking on leadership roles, and the ones fostering the next generation of scholars.”

India, with a population of 1.4 billion people, has a history of affirmative action in government sectors, but minorities and women are still greatly underrepresented in higher education and research.

The All-India Survey for Higher Education (AISHE) found that while women comprise 49% of higher-education enrollment, only 36.4% hold university faculty positions. The disparities are much higher for people in scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST) – officially designated groups of people who comprise the country’s most disadvantaged socioeconomic groups – and religious minorities. SC and ST make up 25% of the population but only occupy 11% of faculty positions. Muslims make up 14.2% of the population of the predominantly Hindu country, but represent just 2.8% of higher-education participants.

“Mentorship is essential to the success of researchers, but mentoring programs in India are scarce, and studies have revealed disparities in mentorship opportunities for historically underrepresented groups,” Linnander said. “This leaves minority faculty members without the support they need to become successful independent researchers. Our program aims to fill this gap by building the skills of individual participants and also advocating for stronger and more transparent mentorship systems and career advancement opportunities within JSS AHER.”

The program cohort comprises 13 women and two men, with 11 participants identifying as being from a scheduled caste, other backward class, or from a rural aspirational district. The operations of the program have been supported by PHRII, an organization committed to excellence in research collaborations. Beyond the core partners, panel discussions by thought leaders from across India have challenged and encouraged participants to take risks and learn from failure to accelerate their research careers.

The program is funded by the Fogarty International Center of the U.S. National Institutes of Health as an administrative supplement to the Global Health Equity Scholars program.

Submitted by Fran Fried on March 07, 2024