Whitehead Fellows Program

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A woman sits at a lab bench wearing a white coat.

Kristin Knouse in the lab.

Credit

Gretchen Ertl/Whitehead Institute

 

At the heart of Whitehead Institute’s educational mission is the Whitehead Fellows Program—an initiative that has helped cultivate an extraordinary cadre of scientific leaders.

The Fellows program provides talented scientists a rare opportunity: the chance to set up research programs of their own as an alternative to traditional post-doctoral positions. Recent Ph.D. and M.D. graduates with proven excellence in research are given the necessary resources to work as principal investigators, free from financial constraints and distraction by formal teaching responsibilities. As their research program matures, Fellows are able to attract funding from federal grants or other sources.

The program emerged from the notion that nurturing young scientists during their most creative years will yield a new generation of leaders more rapidly than traditional programs. Fellows are given the space, resources and support needed to run their own labs and pursue an independent research agenda. However, unlike traditional faculty positions, the Fellows do not have teaching responsibilities. Fellows are appointed for a three-year term with the expectation that it will be extended to five years.

The Fellows program is an integral part of Whitehead Institute’s mission and emerged from the notion that nurturing scientists during their most creative years will yield a new generation of leaders more rapidly than traditional programs. Fellows sometimes have training outside the traditional areas of biological research, which fosters interdisciplinary and innovative research. Fellows take advantage of the Institute’s state-of-the-art research facilities, as well as the collegial and supportive environment of Whitehead Institute and the neighboring Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“The Fellows Program was critically important to my development as an independent scientist,” says Bruce Tidor, now a professor of bioengineering and computer science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “It gave me the freedom to pursue my own research directions unfettered by the usual academic responsibilities of a faculty member, while surrounding me with all of the wonderful science, stimulating ideas, and outstanding role models that have always been the hallmark of Whitehead Institute.”

This kind of support and freedom enables the Fellows to use their time at the Institute to concentrate solely on building a strong research program. In addition, Fellows have the unique opportunity to establish and maintain an independent laboratory, something that many researchers don’t experience until later in their careers.

The late MIT biology professor Angelika Amon—one of the world’s most respected biomedical researchers—considered her experience as a Whitehead Fellow to have been a cornerstone for her highly accomplished career in science.  “The discoveries I made as a Whitehead Fellow—and the experience I gained in managing a lab—were fundamental to the career that followed,” Amon recalled in a 2018 interview. “It was, in many ways, the most rewarding experience I’ve had as a scientist. It reinforced my confidence as a researcher and provided a level of visibility within the scientific community that was a key to my being offered a faculty position at MIT.”

Candidates for a Whitehead Fellowship must be nominated by their research advisor, mentor, or other distinguished scientist from the applicant’s field or institution. The Institute is especially seeking nominations of candidates from historically underrepresented communities.

More information on how Fellows are selected: selection process or  e-mail  fellowsprogram@wi.mit.edu.