A scientist doing research in the lab

HHMI’s Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program, announced earlier this week, will fund up to 15 early-career researchers from underrepresented backgrounds.

Credit: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

New fellowship aims to increase diversity in the life sciences

A new program aims to launch the careers of diverse life scientists—including women and members of other underrepresented groups—by providing up to 8 years of support, covering both the postdoctoral training and junior faculty stages. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI’s) Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program, announced 19 September, will award up to 15 recipients with $60,000 of salary support and $20,000 in flexible funds paid to their institutions for each of up to 4 years of postdoc training. Fellows who obtain a tenure-track position at a U.S university that offers a doctorate in their field will then receive $250,000 of annual research support and $20,000 in flexible funds for up to an additional 4 years.

“A lack of diversity at the faculty level is an enormous problem in biomedical science, so I applaud HHMI's efforts to support junior scientists from underrepresented backgrounds,” writes Jessica Polka, president of the Future of Research board of directors, in an email to Science Careers. “The long duration of the award provides stability during a career phase that can otherwise be precarious.” Moreover, notes Rescuing Medical Research Director Christopher Pickett in an email to Science Careers, providing “ample funding for the first years as a young faculty member will significantly reduce the burden on these scientists to obtain funding, and allow them to focus on developing creative and innovative ideas.”

This “very exciting program,” however, “does not solve all of the problems around representation,” Pickett adds. “Serious problems persist in bias in grant peer review and the need to provide an inclusive environment, for example. But this is certainly a very important step toward solving some of the most complex scientific and cultural issues we are confronted with today.”

The fellowship competition is open to U.S.-based postdocs from the targeted demographic groups who have a Ph.D., M.D., or both; no more than 12 months of postdoc experience; and are conducting basic research in biomedicine and the life sciences. There are no citizenship restrictions. The HHMI statement announcing the program also notes that, “[i]n keeping with HHMI’s long-standing approach to support ‘people, not projects,’ fellows will have flexibility to change research focus and follow their curiosity during the duration of the award.”

The fellowship’s namesake, historian Hanna Holborn Gray, is a former president of the University of Chicago and a founding trustee of HHMI; she served on the board for 28 years and was its chair from 1997 to 2010. Her tenure was marked by efforts to broaden the pool of candidates from which the institute selects the researchers it supports.

Applications are due 15 February 2017. The first fellowship recipients will be announced by late September 2017 and grants will begin between November 2017 and January 2018.

Update, 21 September, 4:22 p.m.: This article has been updated to clarify that women are eligible for the fellowship.

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