OVERVIEW: The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is one of the wealthiest foundations in the United States, and it funds biomedical research and science education. HHMI supports promising scientists through substantial long-term funding, including salary, benefits, and a research budget.
IP TAKE: HHMI funds highly competitive contests for individuals. Winners can earn multi-year grants that allow flexibility and cover all personal and research expenses.
PROFILE: The Howard Hughes Medical Institute functions differently from other science research foundations. The institute disburses hundreds of millions of dollars yearly. Most of that funding goes to science researchers and facilities in the United States, with a smaller portion dedicated to science education. HHMI investigators are often highly accomplished, and many are Nobel laureates and/or members of the National Academy of Sciences. HHMI runs competitions for the best and brightest academics and puts them on the institute's payroll. The institute believes that by investing in the scientists “rather than awarding them grants for specific research projects […] provides its researchers long-term, flexible funding that gives them the freedom to explore and, if necessary, change direction.”
In the HHMI Investigator Program, awardees stay at their academic institutions but are entirely funded by the institute, including salary, benefits, a research budget, and permission to spend a portion of time teaching and otherwise benefiting their universities. They are hired for an initial term of five years, which may be renewed. HHMI funds over 300 researchers and periodically invites proposal submissions to account for attrition. Applicants must currently work at one of the eligible research institutions, hold a Ph.D. or M.D., and have between 5 and 15 years professional experience. To see the full set of requirements and competition announcements, see this link.
HHMI is joined by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Simons Foundation for its Faculty Scholars program, which offers five-year grants ranging from $600,000 to $1.8 million to support faculty scholars in the early stages of their careers.
Finally, HHMI funds international research, committing five years of support to individual scientists abroad. Early career awardees receive $650,000 in support towards “establishing independent research programs,” while “senior research scholars” are provided $500,000 in funding to conduct biomedical research.
In 2006 the institute started its own campus, Janelia Farm Research Campus in Virginia, which focuses on neuroscience and imaging. At Janiela, “Group leaders [...] lead small research teams working together to address some of science’s most challenging problems” in a wide range of areas including neuroscience, evolution and genetics, and theory and computational science. The campus also offers graduate research fellowships for advanced students.
While HHMI states that it is uncommon to fund unsolicited grant proposals, it does maintain an Open Competitions list that is worth reviewing for upcoming opportunities.
As one might imagine, the competition for HHMI support is extremely competitive. But for those whose work and interests line up with HHMI’s priorities, the benefits of this funder’s support are hard to ignore.
Erin O’Shea, President, HHMI
Gerald Rubin, Executive Director of Janelia Farm Research Campus