Many early career scientists launch their own labs with start-up funds from their host institution.
That support is provided with the expectation that the scientist will establish his or her own research program with independent funding. In the current funding climate, that transition has become a daunting hurdle. Now, a $300-million HHMI initiative aims to eliminate that stumbling block for as many as 70 of the nation's best early career faculty, chosen through a national competition.
The new program is directed at researchers who have run their own labs for two to six years and who may be ready to move their research in creative, new directions. The scientists will come from any of approximately 200 eligible U.S. medical schools, universities, and research institutions.
The six-year, nonrenewable appointments to HHMI will allow the scientists, most of whom will be assistant professors at the time of the award, to receive full salary and research support from HHMI. In selecting the early career scientists, HHMI will be guided by the principle of people, not projects—providing the early career scientists with the freedom to pursue their scientific interests wherever they lead.
This initiative comes at a critical time. Funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation's largest supporter of basic biomedical research, has remained essentially flat during the last five years, unable to keep up with inflation. Nowhere has the impact of this constrained funding been felt more intensely than by early career scientists who are competing with their peers and more experienced researchers to win research project (R01) grants from NIH.
HHMI President Thomas R. Cech and his advisors saw this as a clear opportunity.
“Many of these scientists who have led their own laboratories for a few years are at a high point of their creativity just as they see their start-up funds and other early career awards ending,” says Cech. “Some of them may still be in line for their first NIH R01 grant, while others may have their first grant but are facing the very challenging first renewal of that grant. It is this period of career vulnerability that the HHMI Early Career Scientist Program aims to bridge.”
HHMI is seeking scientists from all areas of basic biology and biomedicine as well as areas of chemistry, physics, computer science, and engineering that are directly related to biology or medicine. Candidates can apply directly to HHMI, a new approach the Institute used successfully in 2006 and 2007 competitions, broadening its pool of applicants by moving away from accepting nominations only from applicants' host institutions.
Detailed information about the competition, including the list of eligible institutions, may be found on the HHMI Website (www.hhmi.org/earlycareer2009/).