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Up to 15 new HHMI professors will receive $1 million over five years to develop innovative approaches to teaching undergraduate science.
Up to 15 new HHMI professors will receive $1 million over five years to develop innovative approaches to teaching undergraduate science.

Over the past 14 years, the HHMI Professors Program has helped launch a number of innovative, bold projects that aim to improve undergraduate science education. Now, with its newest competition under way, the program is searching for the next set of scientists who will take science education into their own hands, drawing inspiration from their research to develop and enhance undergraduate science education. HHMI will select up to 15 awardees who will each receive a five-year, nonrenewable grant totaling $1 million.


“These scientists are highly engaged and at the top of their respective fields,” says HHMI President Robert Tjian. “By integrating the same creativity and tenacity that they employ in their own research, HHMI professors foster a melting pot of innovation and science that invigorates undergraduate science education.”

Traditional undergraduate science education typically consists of dense text and laser pointer–guided lectures. The HHMI Professors Program invests in promising individuals who want to change that by designing new courses and strategies for improving science education at research universities. The program approaches education through a uniquely science-savvy lens, enabling accomplished scientists to apply the same rigor and innovation employed in their research to important challenges in undergraduate science education. Through sustained investment in the HHMI Professors Program, the Institute is hoping to change the culture of research universities so that innovation in teaching is as highly valued as innovation in research. HHMI seeks scientists whose research careers have armed them with years of valuable experience and an ambition not only to share their skill and knowledge with students but also to become a model for other faculty members, both inside and outside their home institution. The professors design and conduct science-centered curricula, projects, or in-the-field experiences that immerse students in hands-on science and leave them hungry for more.

Eligible applicants are:

  • full-time, tenured faculty members of a baccalaureate degree-granting natural science department (biological/life sciences, chemistry/biochemistry, physics, earth/geosciences, astronomy) at one of the eligible research universities. Applicants from non-natural sciences will also be considered if their research has a direct impact on a natural science field;
  • faculty with a full-time appointment in their current home department for at least three consecutive years;
  • teaching undergraduates regularly as part of the responsibilities of a faculty appointment in the home department; and
  • principal investigators of one or more active, national, peer-reviewed research awards of at least three years duration.

Interested scientists must submit an Intent to Apply by July 1, 2016, prior to the application. Applications are due by October 6, 2016. All materials can be found on the competition website.

Recipients of the award will join an active community of 52 HHMI professors who continue to conduct excellent research and undergraduate science education. For example, professors have created ways for undergraduates to engage in authentic research, developed programs to improve the persistence in science of students from underrepresented groups, and assumed national leadership roles in science. 

With the addition of geology- and astronomy-centered programs in HHMI’s last cohort of professors, the program continues to grow and diversify to include a broader selection of disciplines in the natural sciences. Although the program has historically focused on individual grants, this year’s competition offers a new feature: up to two scientists from the same institution can submit a joint application. If chosen, the collaborative pair will receive a total of $1.5 million in support. The addition of this feature reflects the importance of collaborative research and signals that collaboration can be a powerful way to address different kinds of educational challenges.

HHMI values professors who strive for creativity and set ambitious goals. For example, Graham Hatfull established a bacteriophage discovery project that resulted in a scientific paper authored by thousands of students; and Joseph Jez developed a program that helps students build relationships between science, business, and technology. Rebecca Richards-Kortum, current chair of the bioengineering program at Rice University and recipient of an HHMI Professors grant in 2002, created a program at Rice that enabled students to approach some of the world’s most compelling health issues as bioengineers. Richards-Kortum and her students developed new technologies, including an inexpensive incubator for a neonatal ward that promises to improve the care of newborns in Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi.

Susan McConnell, a 2014 awardee and biology professor at Stanford University, advocates for stronger communication between the scientific community and the public. While research is her first priority, McConnell strives to expand lines of communication beyond the lab by telling stories that demonstrate the excitement and significance of scientific discovery. With the HHMI Professors grant, she’s created two new courses for Stanford undergraduates: “Personal Essay in Biology” and “Senior Reflection in Biology,” classes that teach the integration of science and narration to inform and engage society.

“We aim to fill a very important niche with this competition,” says Sarah Simmons, senior program officer in HHMI’s science education department. “We seek accomplished scientists who believe it’s their responsibility, as practicing scholars, to ensure the upbringing of the next generation of scientists through high-quality education.”



The Howard Hughes Medical Institute

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute plays a powerful role in advancing scientific research and education. 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. HHMI is headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland.