International Student Research Fellows Announced

For international Ph.D. students in the United States, finding funding for graduate school can be disproportionately difficult compared with their American counterparts.

International students are not eligible for many federal education and training grants, state scholarships, or other stipends. However, a new HHMI program is relieving that burden for 48 students from 22 countries in its pilot year.

Chawita Netirojjanakul, who is from Thailand, had searched for fellowships to pay for her graduate education at the University of California (UC), Berkeley, with little luck.

When she learned about HHMI‘s new International Student Research Fellowships, which support international students during their third, fourth, and fifth years of graduate school, Netirojjanakul says, “I was thrilled. It is definitely harder for international graduate students to obtain funding from outside of universities, simply because there are far fewer opportunities.”

Netirojjanakul is the kind of student that HHMI President Robert Tjian had in mind when the program was in its formative stages. “In a typical year, we‘d get 50 applications from outstanding foreign students into UC Berkeley‘s Ph.D. program, and if we were lucky, we‘d admit one,” says Tjian, who maintains an active laboratory at the university.

HHMI prioritized funding the third to fifth years of graduate school because by that time, most students have shown their ability to be successful researchers and have chosen a research advisor and thesis project. Only 35 fellowships were planned for this pilot year, but because the program‘s directors were so happy with the quality of the candidates, they extended the number to 48, a $2 million commitment.

“The applicant pool was spectacular,” says Sean B. Carroll, HHMI‘s vice president for science education. “We hope, through these fellowships, to identify future scientific leaders.”

The first International Student Research Fellowship awardees come from 25 research universities across the country and from a broad distribution of countries, from China to Colombia, Turkey to Taiwan. They also represent diverse disciplines, including chemistry, physics, and engineering. Sixty research institutions that have previous relationships with HHMI were eligible to nominate graduate students for the fellowships.

HHMI has committed to continue funding up to 50 fellowships per year for the future, and next year‘s competition is already under way. “We hope this will be a catalyst to encourage universities to take the risk on the best international graduate students,” Tjian says.

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