When Amanda Valeta came to the United States, she had trouble finding financial support for graduate school. “There are very limited sources of funding for non-U.S. citizens to train in the United States,” says the Zimbabwe native. “This greatly limits the ability of foreign students like myself to bring back the education and expertise that are needed to address the complex health problems facing our native countries.”
To encourage universities to take a chance on the best international graduate students, HHMI established a fellowship program to support science and engineering students during their third, fourth, and fifth years of graduate school.
Recently, the Institute selected Valeta and 47 other graduate students from 22 countries to be the inaugural recipients of the $43,000 a year International Student Research Fellowships. The support will allow them to devote their full attention to research at a critical time during their professional development.
“For my research project on cancer and the immune system, I need to carry out some very expensive studies,” says Valeta, a graduate student at the New York University School of Medicine. Now, with her salary covered by the HHMI fellowship, she has more money for those experiments.
HHMI originally planned to give 35 fellowships in this pilot year but increased the number to 48 because the quality of the applicants was so high. “The applicant pool was spectacular,” says Sean B. Carroll, HHMI’s vice president for science education. “We hope, through these fellowships, to identify future scientific leaders.”
Sixty research institutions with established relationships with HHMI were eligible to nominate between one and 10 graduate students for the fellowships, depending on the size of their graduate programs. A panel of top scientists and graduate educators reviewed applications from 385 students.
Institute leaders were particularly pleased with the broad distribution of countries represented by the awardees. Students from China and Canada received the most awards, but Turkey, Israel, Slovenia, and Colombia also are represented. The new fellows come from a wide variety of disciplines, including physics, chemistry, and engineering, in addition to the biomedical fields that HHMI has traditionally supported.
HHMI has committed to continue funding the program; planning for next year’s competition is already under way.