HHMI: Catalyst for Discovery
HHMI places big bets on excellent scientists – giving them generous resources and letting them decide what to study. We believe this unusual “people, not projects” approach is the surest path to new knowledge. Our scientists open doors to research fields, treatments, and a better future for all of us.
Here’s what we’re doing:
- We increased the HHMI Investigator term from five to seven years and standardized Investigator research budgets.
To commit to the kind of rigorous, open-ended research that HHMI expects, our scientists need generous, flexible, and long-term support. We continually monitor the research environment in which our scientists operate so we can recognize and respond to their needs.
- We shifted to supporting up to three major research areas at once, each for 15 years.
We provide the conditions for Janelia’s experimentalists, theorists, and toolmakers to collaborate in a concentrated fashion in order to catalyze progress in a research field. To maintain creative agility, we’ve developed a plan for the regular turnover of primary research areas. The first of the new areas, Mechanistic Cognitive Neuroscience, is being established by consolidating, refocusing, and extending our neurobiology programs to explore questions about how the brain enables cognition. Across this work, we’ve renewed our emphasis on recruiting outstanding scientists to Janelia, including early career scientists who may be right out of graduate school.
Scientific research is a collaborative endeavor, and diverse perspectives increase the odds of success. For more than 15 years, HHMI has supported scientists and students from diverse backgrounds in science. Today, in addition to that work, we are turning more attention toward institutional and systemic equity and inclusion – in the lab, college classroom, and office. And we are taking steps to make HHMI a more inclusive organization.
Here’s what we’re doing:
- We are building learning communities of college and university leaders.
We have reinvested in our Inclusive Excellence Program, which currently includes 57 colleges and universities, whose designated faculty are examining undergraduate experiences on their campuses to sustainably improve culture. We’re also launching a new program, Driving Change, that aims to build upon the success of our support of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Meyerhoff Scholars Program, which fosters tight-knit learning communities of high-achieving students.
- We strive to equitably support today’s scientists – and the next generation.
We recently established and communicated a salary scale for the lab heads whom HHMI employs. In addition, we have focused resources on two programs for early career scientists: Hanna Gray and Gilliam fellowships. The Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program supports early career scientists from diverse backgrounds for up to eight years, from postdoc training to independent faculty positions. Since 2017, 45 Hanna Gray Fellows have received our support. The Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study provide awards for up to three years to students and their dissertation advisers, who are selected for their scientific leadership and commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion in the sciences. Since 2004, more than 200 Gilliam student-adviser pairs have received our support.
- We are evaluating our workplaces to identify ways to become more inclusive.
We’ve launched a long-term effort to examine and improve HHMI’s culture and practices. Among early activities, we’ve conducted surveys and focus groups with employees at our headquarters in Maryland and our Janelia Research Campus in Virginia. By listening to our employees about their experiences working at HHMI, leaders are developing a shared vision of how to cultivate diversity, equity, and inclusion through everyday practices.
- We are ensuring that we offer inclusive HHMI meeting environments.
HHMI regularly hosts meetings of scientists, educators, and students. We want these exchanges to be vibrant, open, and welcoming to all. To ensure that’s the case, we’ve developed practices for communicating our expectations for behavior at HHMI and what to do in the case of incidents involving harassment, discrimination, bullying, or intimidation.
- We continue learning.
HHMI is working with the National Center for Professional & Research Ethics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to create a professional development curriculum for HHMI lab heads and staff around leadership, ethics, and research excellence in scientific labs. We believe this work will serve to keep HHMI labs at the forefront of science. As an example of continuous learning, groups of employees at HHMI meet for dedicated reading about current studies and issues in diversity, equity, and inclusion.
We need future scientists. We need voters who support science as a public good and healthcare consumers who trust good science. We need decision-makers who understand how science works and why it matters. And to achieve any of this, we need a scientifically informed public. That’s why HHMI supports high school and college classroom experiences, journalism, and creative storytelling that brings science to life.
Here’s what we’re doing:
- We’ve expanded our media partnerships to deepen coverage of science, including the fate of our biosphere.
Our growing list of partners includes the Associated Press, The Atlantic, Science Friday, and the Pulitzer Center.
- We are bringing science stories to people all over the world.
Through our Tangled Bank Studios production company, we are working with original filmmakers to craft science films for broadcast, theatrical, and digital distribution. Recent titles include Inventing Tomorrow, The Serengeti Rules, Backyard Wilderness, and the Emmy Award-winning The Farthest: Voyager in Space. This popular content extends HHMI’s long-standing commitment to more formal storytelling, which our BioInteractive Program brings into high school and college classrooms through free multimedia resources for teachers.
Science is a group endeavor. We believe today’s most successful scientists think broadly, engaging with others and recognizing the impact of science on our lives. We are working to foster open science and more effectively recognize scientists for the quality of their research and contributions to the scientific community.
Here’s what we’re doing:
We are promoting a scientific culture and systems that emphasize quality work, open discussion, and mentorship over quantity of output or publishing in select journals. By cohosting workshops with Wellcome, ASAPbio, the American Society for Cell Biology, the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, and others, we are challenging researchers, funders, and publishers to consider new models. Erin O’Shea, president of HHMI, and Bodo Stern, our chief of strategic initiatives, lead conversations on these critical issues. In 2019, they published a perspective piece in PLOS Biology.
- We are leading by example.
We are evaluating a policy approach toward open science for HHMI scientists. We continue encouraging experimentation through open-science advocate and nonprofit publisher eLife, which we launched in 2012 in partnership with Wellcome and the Max Planck Society.