As the President of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), Erin O’Shea feels she is facing a major problem in the pool of Life Science research professors for the future.  With a shrinking list of possibilities, O Shea is looking to help the Life Science field grow by investing in diversity, which currently has zero “minority professors in life science departments at many of the top U.S. research universities.”  In an effort to do this, HHMI has committed $25 million a year to support postdocs from underrepresented groups.

The HHMI recently announced its inaugural 15 winners of its Hanna H. Gray fellowships, with five African Americans, eight women, two Asians, and five white.  According to O Shea, women received slightly more than half of all PH.D’s in the field of Life Science within the US but although “women may start out at parity in grad school…we lose them at every stage after the Ph.D.” Women constitute only a quarter of those who are full professors.

Of the 35 finalists of the Fellowship, had the program been bigger, O’Shea believes that almost all would have been funded. “As a consolation prize, each of the 20 runners-up received $10,000 to use for professional development.”  The program which looks to help grow diversity in the industry also offers mentoring and career support. “The fellows will be attending HHMI-sponsored meetings with the goal of building networks that will improve their odds of success.”

HHMI expects to fund at least three more cohorts and is looking for outside support to extend the program. Applications are due in January for the 2018 cohort, and HHMI has tightened eligibility to those who received their Ph.D. or M.D. degrees at U.S. institutions.