HHMI, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Simons Foundation launch Faculty Scholars Program to give promising early-career scientists a boost.
- In the last two decades, the U.S. has witnessed a dramatic decline in the National Institutes of Health research award success rate for scientists.
- The career trajectory for early-career scientists has become much less certain as competition for grant support has intensified.
- The new Faculty Scholars Program provides critical resources to encourage early-career scientists.
Three of the nation’s largest philanthropies, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Simons Foundation are announcing a new partnership to provide much needed research support to outstanding early-career scientists in the United States.
Through the new Faculty Scholars Program, the philanthropies will invest a total of $148 million in research support over the program’s first five years. They will award up to 70 grants every 2.5 years to promising scientists who have great potential to make unique contributions to their field. This is the first collaboration between HHMI, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Simons Foundation.
Awardees will receive a five-year, non-renewable grant whose size will be based on several factors, including the amount of external funding the scientist has at the time of the grant. The grants will range from $100,000 to $400,000 per year for direct costs. The awardee’s institution will be given an additional 20 percent of the yearly grant for indirect (or administrative) costs. Faculty Scholars are required to devote at least 50 percent of their total effort to the direct conduct of research.
The career trajectory for early-career scientists has become much less certain as competition for grant support intensifies. In the last two decades, the U.S. has witnessed a dramatic decline in the National Institutes of Health research award success rate for scientists, as well as a striking increase in the average age at which an investigator receives his or her first R01-equivalent grant.
“There is no doubt the downward trend in research funding in the United States is hitting early career scientists very hard,” said HHMI President Robert Tjian. “We need to identify, nurture and support our best scientific talent. With this new program, HHMI, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Simons Foundation will provide funding, mentoring opportunities and other critical resources to encourage early-career scientists.”
“The Simons Foundation is pleased to collaborate on this important initiative,” said Marian Carlson, Director of Life Sciences at the Simons Foundation. “We have a tremendous opportunity to help catalyze progress in the sciences by supporting outstanding early-career scientists.”
The Faculty Scholars competition is open to basic researchers and physician scientists at more than 220 eligible institutions who bring innovative approaches to the study of biological problems. Scholars will apply molecular, genetic, computational and theoretical approaches to fundamental problems in diverse areas of biology. Among those particularly encouraged to apply are scientists conducting research at the interface of the biological and physical sciences as well as physician scientists and others studying biological questions emerging from and applicable to global human health problems, including malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, and other diseases that disproportionately affect individuals living in low resource settings. Women and minorities underrepresented in the biomedical sciences are also strongly encouraged to apply.
“Scientific innovation is the engine that underpins the discovery and development of new vaccines, drugs, diagnostics and other interventions needed to address global health inequities that stand in the way of seeing that all individuals, no matter where they live, have the opportunity to live healthy, productive lives,” said Chris Wilson, Director of Discovery & Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Early-career scientists fuel this innovation engine in unique ways. Through this collaborative endeavor, the Foundation together with HHMI and the Simons Foundation aim to identify and support such scientists in the United States.”
In today’s constrained research funding environment, many early-career faculty find it difficult to establish and develop their research programs. They often launch their own labs with start-up funds from their host institution. That support is provided with the expectation that the scientist will establish his or her own research program with independent funding.
The creativity and energy that researchers bring to starting their own labs can quickly be sapped by the time-consuming and often frustrating quest for grant funding. Within a few years of a new faculty appointment, a researcher's institutional start-up funds typically come to an end. Pressure to secure federal grant money may lead to “safe” grant proposals. As a result, creative and potentially transformative research projects may fall by the wayside.
“We spent a good deal of time examining what kinds of new programs would have big impact,” said HHMI Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer Erin K. O’Shea. “We received a lot of feedback from scientists about what’s most needed, and there was strong agreement that early-career researchers are facing significant challenges.”
In order to be eligible to compete for a Faculty Scholar award, candidates must meet the following criteria:
- PhD and/or MD (or the equivalent).
- Tenured or tenure-track position as an assistant professor or higher academic rank at an eligible U.S. institution, or, if at an eligible institution that has no tenure track, an appointment that reflects a significant institutional commitment. Federal government employees are not eligible.
- More than four, but no more than 10, years of post-training, professional experience. To meet this requirement, the applicant’s post-training, professional experience must have begun no earlier than June 1, 2005, and no later than July 1, 2011.
- Principal investigator or co-principal investigator on at least one active, nationally competitive grant with an initial term of two or more years at some point from April 1, 2013 through July 1, 2015. Career development grants qualify. Multi-investigator grants may qualify.
Scientists who wish to be considered for this competition must submit their completed application by July 28, 2015, at 3 p.m., ET. Candidates will be evaluated by distinguished scientists on their potential for significant research productivity and originality, as judged by their doctoral and postdoctoral work, results from their independent research program, and their future research plans. Final selections will be completed by July, 2016.
Scientists who are interested in applying are encouraged to complete the application eligibility section at http://www.hhmi.org/research/application/fs2016. Individuals who appear to meet the eligibility criteria will have access to the full application.
Detailed information about the competition – including the list of eligible institutions and access to the secure application site – may be found at www.hhmi.org/faculty-scholars.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute plays an influential 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.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people – especially those with the fewest resources – have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.
The Simons Foundation
The Simons Foundation was established by Jim and Marilyn Simons in 1994. Its mission is to advance the frontiers of research in mathematics and the basic sciences, and the foundation sponsors a range of programs that aim to promote a deeper understanding of our world. Its life sciences division supports research on fundamental questions in diverse areas of biology.