Tuesday, March 31, 2009

HHMI early career scientists

HHMI has announced a new list of anointed ones (HHMI News: HHMI Gives 50 Early Career Scientists a Jump on Their Next Big Idea).

A few comments.

First, it is really really surprising that they are so low on females here (41 men, 9 women by my count). Given that this is for early career scientists and that women have on average sometime more challenges in the early career than men, it would have been nice to see this the other way around.

That being said, they did pick some good people in this list (shocking, I know). Here are a few I want to highlight as they are related to things I tend to write about here:

Rob Knight
, at U. Colorado at Boulder who has been developing computational methods to study microbial diversity and has developed lots of cool methods.
Harmit Malik, FHCRC, who does some great stuff on genome evolution.
Michael Laub, MIT who works on Caulobacter development.
Martin Cohn, U. Florida who has done some very cool work on evolution of development in vertebrates.
Neil Hunter UC Davis. UCD's first HHMI awardee. And a good one to pick. He does some cool work on recombination.
Molly Przeworski, U. Chicago, who works on population genetics on a genome-wide scale.
Aviv Regev, Broad Institute, who has done some interesting work on regulatory networks.

I love the idea of finding people not projects. Too bad there is not more of this type of thing from Federal Agencies. We would probably save money in the long run --- review people once every few years and give them some money to do work. Not that competitive grant programs should be eliminated, but funding people more would reduce the # of grant proposals and panels and would probably save $$ in the long run by allowing people to focus on doing work.


  1. Mike Laub was one of my collaborators on the Hyphomonas genome; nice to see him there.

  2. HHMI does a terrific job at funding excellent work, but I gotta disagree with you on this comment, Jonathan: "I love the idea of finding people not projects.Too bad there is not more of this type of thing from Federal Agencies."

    ...because that's exactly what DARPA does, and it's pretty much what all the DoD funders (Navy, Army, Air Force research offices) do. They give a huge amount of discretion to their program officers - who aren't necessarily good scientists - and fund people. What's happened in the computer science world (which I partially inhabit) is that an extensive "good old boys" network has developed, and it has funded a lot of, well, crap. (And yes, I know that DARPA created the Internet, but that was in the 1970s - how many decades do they get to coast on that one success?)

    So at least some Federal Agencies have done a lousy job when it comes to funding people rather than proposals. (And the DoD agencies do require proposals, but it's not clear if they get any external review - so I realize this is a bit more complicated.)

  3. Yes, you are right Steve. Got carried away with the dream of being an anointed one.

  4. For those interested, there is a long long discussion of the female: male ratio in this program at DrugMonkey . Included in there is a comment from Sean Eddy saying that the gender ratio is close to what was in the applicant pool.


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