Sep 17, 2015
Medical Student
I've been thinking about applying for a year long HHMI medical fellowship for this upcoming cycle and after much lurking I decided to come out and ask some of the relevant questions I've been having. My research interests are more oriented towards computational research in things like robotics, neurobiology, and imaging. I was wondering how HHMI looks upon these types of research projects. Do they consider such projects to be HHMI material and "feasible" in the year long span?

I know that that their Janelia compound is really focused on neural circuitry/design which got me super excited but after looking at past awardees it seems like they only accept 1-2 applicants there a year? Can anyone speak to the competitive aspect of their Janelia program? Is it only a few participants because few people apply or is it incredibly difficult to get in?

I was also curious about how much they emphasize our mentor being and HHMI mentor? I think there may have been a thread a while ago where it was mentioned that this wasn't mandatory but I was wondering if this has been validated or was it one person's opinion. I've been trying to contact the PIs on the HHMI page that say they are interested in taking on students but I haven't gotten much of a response. With that I'm thinking about pursuing an application with my PI I've been working with at my home institution in his field of rehabilitation/motor leanring robotics. I have some concerns about this: he is not an HHMI investigator, he is very well known in his field but currently is funded by 1 RO1 (is this considered well-funded by HHMI standards?), and his field seems to be very different than anything I'm seeing on the HHMI investigator page.

My last concern is related to my own competitive appeal for the grant. I've been involved in research from early in my undergraduate career but I've never been able to get more than a few poster presentations and a conference even though I had two summers of funded research in addition to my research during the school year. Currently, I'm working with my PI to churn out a paper or at least its abstract by the end of the month but do you think that my lack of solid published product will count against me heavily. I'm worried that this combined with a non-HHMI mentor in an unusual field may be frowned upon.

I would be grateful if you could address any of the many questions! Thanks for the help.


7+ Year Member
Aug 26, 2012
Resident [Any Field]
Hey Yogafire,

Great choice- I would recommend that you be persistent and try to find a professor from an Ivy league school at least if not HHMI. If you look at the list of accepted students there is a trend in taking students from prestigious schools or at least those completing the fellowship at prestigious schools.

Make sure you apply for other types of fellowships if possible in the field you are interested - Sarnoff (Cards), RPB (eyes), and AOA - short term but still good.

message me if you would like more info.


7+ Year Member
Jun 14, 2010
Medical Student
Hi Yogafire,

Speaking from experience, the HHMI med fellows program is a great experience that has truly been transformative in terms of my approach to both clinical and research problems - I highly recommend you go for it. It is not a problem if your mentor is not affiliated with the HHMI so long as they are well known in their field and are well funded (as you mentioned). There are many students in the current HHMI Med Fellows class who are working with non-HHMI affiliated faculty.

To echo what you Bluesclera said in different words, it is important that the PI has an established track record in their field in terms of both scientific discovery and mentorship, which is a key aspect of the grant. The PI needs to be able to lay out in clear terms in the training plan how they will mentor you and what their goals are for your year in the program. These PI's tend to be affiliated with the Ivy leagues and institutions of similar caliber, BUT, this is not necessary as long as the application clearly sings out the above requirements.

Regarding funding, I can't be entirely sure. I do have doubts that a single R01 would be sufficient because i think that if you select a faculty member who is not HHMI, the review committee would at least expect that the PI has HHMI level funding (which is in the ballpark of ~1 million/year, way beyond an R01). A way you may be able to get around this is by including a well funded (and well known) co-mentor on your application, who states in his/her training plan that they will also cover research costs and mentor you in specific ways.

Anyways, feel free to PM me if you have any more questions, and good luck! The program is well worth the (significant) effort required to apply.
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