A new fellowship program from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) will enable 48 exceptionally talented graduate students from 22 countries to devote their full attention to research at a critical time during their professional development as scientists.
Offered for the first time this year, the International Student Research Fellowships will support science and engineering students during their third, fourth, and fifth year of graduate school.
“HHMI’s educational training program is about finding the best talent, regardless of where the students are from. Not only is this program international, but it goes after students who have already shown they have potential as researchers.”
“HHMI’s educational training program is about finding the best talent, regardless of where the students are from,” says HHMI President Robert Tjian, who first conceived of the new fellowship. “Not only is this program international, but it goes after students who have already shown they have potential as researchers.”
HHMI chose to start this program—a $2 million commitment in its first year—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 education and training grants, state scholarships, or other stipends that are reserved only 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.
HHMI originally planned to give 35 fellowships worth $43,000 a year 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 pre-existing relationships with HHMI were eligible to nominate between one and ten graduate students for the fellowships, depending on the size of their graduate programs. The 385 students who completed the application process were reviewed by a panel of top scientists and graduate educators.
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 countries such as Turkey, Zimbabwe, Slovenia, and Colombia are also represented. The new fellows represent a wide variety of disciplines, including physics, chemistry, and engineering, in addition to the biomedical fields that HHMI has traditionally supported.
“We let the merits of each student stand on their own, and we are excited by the results,” says William R. Galey, who heads HHMI’s graduate and medical education programs. “The program is meant for students who are exceptionally talented researchers, and we think these students are among the most outstanding graduate students in the country.”
When Tjian first considered reestablishing a fellowship program for graduate students, he reflected on his own experience as a professor and HHMI investigator at the University of California, Berkeley. The school would receive applications from dozens of exceptionally talented international students, but the university would only be able to support one or two each year. “We hope this will be a catalyst to encourage universities to take the risk on the best international graduate students,” Tjian says. HHMI has committed to continue funding the program for the future, and planning for next year’s competition is already under way.
The International Student Research Fellowships build on HHMI’s commitment to funding international scientists. This fall, the Institute will select up to 35 International Early Career Scientists to help talented individuals who have trained in the U.S. establish independent research programs in 18 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. HHMI has committed $60 million to the project, including a building that is currently under construction on the campus of UKZN’s Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine in Durban, South Africa.
Meet the 2011 International Student Research Fellows
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