Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is in many ways the opposite of the picky helicopter foundation—the kind that hovers over the projects it's funding, hungry for “progress reports.”
For starters, its whole organizational model is built around the mantra "People, Not Projects," which is a clever way of saying the institute backs brilliant scientists who are apt to continue doing brilliant things throughout their careers—rather than backing only a scientist's specific project or initiative. By allowing grantees the freedom to "follow their instincts," HHMI gives them not only the stability to take risks but also a big vote of confidence. It hands over the money and stands clear.
HHMI’s idea is to create a vibrant, relaxed community of brilliant scientific minds, sharing information, bouncing ideas off of each other, and creating the synergy that leads to breakthroughs. And who gets to be part of that community? Well, HHMI just announced its 2015 crop of HHMI Medical Research Fellows—68 medical, dental, and veterinary students chosen to receive a year of financial backing for their research.
In an interesting twist, eight of the fellows will be funded by HHMI’s six partner organizations: the American Gastroenterological Association, Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy, the Foundation Fighting Blindness, the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation, and the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. Five program alumni will serve as mentors to new fellows, while 22 of the recipients will work in the labs of HHMI investigators themselves, and one student will work at the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV, an independent research institute established in Durban, South Africa. How exotic.
"Medical school curricula alone do not equip students with enough basic biology to find answers that promote health and combat disease," said HHMI investigator Vivian Cheung, who will mentor a fellow in her lab at the University of Michigan. "The HHMI Medical Fellows Program fills this gap and is a model for educating physicians who will be 'fluent' in basic science and therefore bridge discoveries to health."