Victoria McGovern, Burroughs Wellcome Fund

TITLE: Senior Program Officer

FUNDING AREAS: Career guidance, infectious diseases, and population and laboratory-based sciences

CONTACT: vmcgovern@bwfund.org, 919-991-5100

IP TAKE: A scientist, academic, and literature fan, the multitalented and ever-optimistic McGovern is committed to developing the next generation of talent in the medical research community by investing in postdocs and their scientific work.

PROFILE: Victoria McGovern isn't just the sort of person who can write a novel in three days; McGovern believes that "anyone" can. This belief makes a few things apparent about her: McGovern is bright, and she sees immense possibility not only in herself but also in others.

McGovern puts her boundless capacities for work and optimism to use at the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, where her belief in the potential of young minds guides investments toward the work and professional futures of scientists. McGovern's role at the fund is to oversee millions of dollars a year in grant money to (1) help disease-focused scientists, particularly postdocs, develop lucrative and meaningful careers in their field, and (2) assist academic institutions in funding scientific research, including that performed by the postdocs.

As any postdoc can tell you, times are lean in funding for academic scientists these days. Public funding for the sciences is relatively scarce, so private support for postdoctoral students pursuing careers in the sciences is of particular importance in furthering American economic competitiveness and in simply getting our scientists the support they need to do their work.

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund is the American offshoot of a British charity (as you might have guessed from the peculiar spelling) called the Burroughs Wellcome Trust. The trust reports that it is among the world's largest foundations devoted to the biomedical sciences. The stateside fund is no philanthropic slouch itself. The U.S. charity boasts more than $681 million in assets, with about $30 million in annual grant spending.

McGovern's portfoliosinfectious diseases and population and laboratory-based sciencesare principally concerned with training and preparing emerging scientists. Through Burroughs Wellcome's infectious diseases program, applicants (typically assistant professors/postdoctoral students) can apply for $500,000 over a five-year period to study how human hosts handle disease and the multitude of surrounding medical issues. The population and laboratory-based sciences program, meanwhile, funds projects (also at $500,000 over a five-year period) that "bridge the gap between the population and computational sciences and the laboratory-based biological sciences." The idea behind both of these programs, and the other medical research programs the fund operates, is to develop a cadre of young medical researchers who can have productive careers beyond their postdoc years of indentured servitude. As the National Postdoctoral Association characterizes the philanthropic outfit, "The Burroughs Wellcome Fund has been a leader in providing support to postdocs making the transition to independence."

McGovern comes to the Burroughs Wellcome Fund with plenty of experience in academia, so she's well aware of the struggles that up-and-coming scientists face in, well, becoming independent. She has a PhD in biochemistry, and her own research centered around chromosome structure and infectious diseases. McGovern also has taught biochemistry in university settings, including at Birmingham Southern College, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and Davidson College. And, as alluded to above, McGovern has a literary affection. In addition to that novel she wrote in three days, she also has a bachelor's degree in English.