Philanthropies partner to support
early-career faculty members

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Simons Foundation recently launched a new Faculty Scholars program to invest in early-career scientists at the forefront of biological research. The program aims to support researchers as they transition from institutional startup funds to independent research funding, allowing them to explore transformative research and take more risks.

In a press release, HHMI Vice-President and Chief Scientific Officer Erin K. O’Shea discussed the motivation for creating the program: “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.” These challenges over the past few decades include increased competition for a stagnant amount of federal R&D funding, a significant decline in the success rates for National Institutes of Health research awards and an increased average age at which researchers receive their first NIH R01 grant.

The Faculty Scholars program will provide five-year, nonrenewable grants of $100,000 to $400,000 per year for up to 70 scholars each funding cycle. These scholars also will have access to the HHMI community, mentoring and career development support. Open proposals will be accepted from researchers who use creative approaches to conduct basic research of biological importance. Cross-disciplinary research at the interface of the biological and physical sciences and research that addresses fundamental biological problems surrounding global health issues in low-resource countries are considered high priority. As the HHMI model is to invest in people, applicants will be reviewed on their past accomplishments, innovative approach to studying complex biological questions and potential to make significant contributions to their field.

The creation of the HHMI program reflects a broader trend toward private sources of funding to compensate for reduced federal funding. Such programs also may strengthen the competitiveness of scientists by encouraging transdisciplinary research, which diversifies their potential funding opportunities. President Obama highlighted the program during the 2015 White House Science Fair as part of his Educate to Innovate initiative, calling upon the private sector to help improve STEM education and support innovative scientists.

The Faculty Scholars program is open to tenure-track assistant professors (or those in equivalent positions) and physician scientists who have four to 10 years of professional experience beyond postdoctoral training and an established independent research program as principal investigator or co-PI on at least one active, nationally competitive research grant. Scholars will devote at least 50 percent of their time to research, and the funds can be used to support up to $70,000 in faculty salary for up to three months annually.

Applicants should complete the online eligibility section early to gain access to the full application. Women and minorities underrepresented in the biomedical sciences especially are encouraged to apply. There is no restriction on the number of applicants per institution. Applications are due by July 28, with finalists selected the next summer and awards made by November 2016. Find out more here.

Donna Kridelbaugh Donna Kridelbaugh is a communications consultant and founder of ScienceMentor.Me. Her mission is to create an online field guide to self-mentoring in science careers. She offers writing, editing and marketing services for early career professionals who are ready to advance their career to the next level.