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HHMI Awards 50 International Predoctoral Fellowships

Summary

HHMI has awarded more than $2 million in fellowships to 50 promising graduate students from 19 countries.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has awarded more than $2 million in fellowships to 50 promising graduate students from 19 countries. The fellowships are designed to fund the students’ graduate education at a pivotal point in their scientific careers—a sink or swim time when they delve into intense laboratory research for their doctoral dissertations.

“The fellowship gives me the freedom to focus only on my research for the next three years without getting distracted,” said Elisa Araldi, a student from Italy who is studying macrophage biology at New York University’s Sackler Institute. Araldi said she hopes her research will provide an innovative perspective on cellular interactions in tumors. “This award gives me confidence in the risky project that I am carrying on,” she said.

HHMI launched the International Student Research Fellowships Program last year to support international students during their third to fifth years of graduate school in the United States. The Institute created the program because it recognized a problem: International students in U.S. graduate schools often have difficulty getting funding to support their studies. For example, they are not eligible for federal fellowships or training grant support, or other governmental opportunities that are generally reserved for U.S. citizens. The Institute chose to fund the third to fifth years of graduate school because, by this time, most students have chosen a graduate advisor, identified a research project, and demonstrated their potential for success in the lab. Each fellowship is worth $43,000 a year.

This program is designed to nurture the career development of scientists who have the potential to become international scientific leaders.

Robert Tjian

“Being an international student, it is virtually impossible to find fellowships that fully support my stipend, not to mention the educational allowance that is a luxury for most Ph.D. students,” said Araldi. “Part of my project involves very sophisticated and expensive experiments and this fellowship will allow me to perform more experiments, since my lab does not have to pay for my stipend.”

"Biomedical research is a global, collaborative enterprise," said HHMI President Robert Tjian. "HHMI has a long history of supporting highly promising international scientists and this program is designed to nurture the career development of scientists who have the potential to become international scientific leaders."

“Now in its second year, HHMI’s International Student Research Fellowships Program is supporting nearly 100 outstanding future scientists from 28 different countries. We anticipate that the program will eventually support 150 outstanding biomedical science graduate students in the crucial years of their Ph.D. work,” said William R. Galey, program director for HHMI’s graduate and medical education programs.

This year’s awardees represent a total of 19 countries, seven of which—Australia, Bulgaria, Chile, Italy, Latvia, Nigeria and Switzerland – were not represented last year. Students from China and Canada received the most awards. India and Taiwan had the next highest number of awards, followed by Germany, Italy, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

“We are pleased to be able to support some of the world’s most outstanding graduate students in the biomedical sciences,” said Galey. “These students have been accepted to prestigious graduate programs in the United States and have demonstrated to the faculty of those programs that they have exceptional talent. We see these students as having the potential to become scientific leaders throughout the world once they have completed their training.”

Junqi Li, a student from Singapore, wants to use that training to improve scientific research in her home country. Li is researching a building block-based approach to small molecule synthesis in the lab of HHMI Early Career Scientist Martin Burke at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. She plans to seek a faculty position at a research university in Singapore after she completes her postdoctoral studies here. “Through the network of HHMI scientists, this award can open up opportunities for international collaborations. This stands to strengthen basic science research in Singapore,” Li said.

Matthew McFarlane, a student from Canada, is investigating the hormonal control of appetite at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, after finishing his undergraduate studies in Boston. He wants to complete a medical residency in the U.S. after he finishes his fellowship. Ultimately, he would like to become a physician-scientist. But he isn’t sure if he’ll ultimately work in Canada. “You never know where life will take you. While I miss Canada deeply, I have been in the U.S. for eight years now, and I consider it my second home.”

Sixty-three Ph.D.-granting institutions were eligible to nominate their graduate students for the fellowships this year. The 400 students who completed the application process were reviewed by a panel of top scientists and graduate educators. Only institutions currently hosting at least one HHMI investigator or the recipient of a current HHMI graduate training grant were allowed to nominate candidates and host fellows.

Like all graduate students, the fellows are mentored by senior scientists for the duration of the three-year fellowship. “I hope to catalyze her burgeoning transformation from a highly gifted student into a future leader of our field,” said Li’s mentor, Martin Burke. “She is a truly exceptional young scientist, and I am confident that she is going to maximize this extraordinary opportunity. Looking back at my own experience as a graduate student, I was fortunate to have an amazing mentor that believed in me and created an environment in which I was only limited by my own talents. It is now my goal to pass these gifts on to Junqi,” he said.

The International Student Research Fellowships build on HHMI’s commitment to funding international scientists. Earlier this year, HHMI selected 28 International Early Career Scientists to help talented individuals who have trained in the U.S. establish independent research programs in 12 countries where funding for scientific support is scarce. In collaboration with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, HHMI has also founded the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV, which is dedicated to using basic science to find better treatments and diagnostics for TB and HIV.

Meet the 2012 International Student Research Fellows

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The Howard Hughes Medical Institute plays a powerful role in advancing scientific research and education in the United States. Its scientists, located across the country and around the world, have made important discoveries that advance both human health and our fundamental understanding of biology. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research. For more information, visit www.hhmi.org

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