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HFSP: Helping researchers make bold career moves

Ankita Rathore, Anjana Badrinarayanan & Garima Rani

In this article, part of community voices for our international grants awareness program (iGAP), Anjana and Garima share how the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) played an instrumental role in helping them make bold career moves and transform their research careers.

HFSP: Helping researchers make bold career moves
HFSP: Helping researchers make bold career moves 

Anjana Badrinarayanan: HFSP Long-term Fellowship, HFSP Career Development and HFSP Programme Grant awardee

Since 2013, I’ve been fortunate to receive support from HFSP that has played an instrumental role in my career trajectory. It all started with the HFSP Long-term fellowship that I was awarded to carry out postdoctoral work in the lab of Prof. Michael Laub. The research there, opened doors to numerous fundamental questions about the regulation of DNA repair in bacteria. Building on these ideas, I transitioned to start my independent research group at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, India, thanks to the HFSP Career Development Award. And recently, my team and I were awarded the HFSP Programme Grant, which has taken us in a new direction. The exciting research work we do has been largely due to the generous support from HFSP, which has allowed me to pursue frontier science in a way that would have been very challenging otherwise. 

I highlight a few key points of HFSP programs below: 

  1. Research: One of the unique aspects of HFSP funding is their encouragement to pursue science in new frontiers, including new model systems. This has allowed my lab to establish new models to study genome maintenance, which has opened up exciting avenues for scientific pursuit.
  2. Collaboration: Another aspect that I particularly appreciate about HFSP is their support for collaborative science across disciplines. Through their funding, my lab has been able to collaborate with computational biologists and biophysicists, which has broadened our expertise and enabled us to work on exciting problems outside of our area of specialisation.
  3. Flexible funding: The flexible funding option of HFSP allowed me to make excellent personnel hires, build imaging systems rapidly, and explore new avenues of scientific research. The support has also allowed me to stay connected with the bacterial cell biology community by presenting our work at international meetings.
  4. HFSP meetings. Attending the HFSP annual meetings has been an incredible opportunity for me to broaden my scientific horizons and expand my professional network.
  5. Support from programme officers. I have interacted with various granting agencies, but the HFSP team stands out as fantastic. They have been incredibly understanding, responsive, and supportive throughout my scientific journey.

Garima Rani: HFSP Cross-Disciplinary Fellowship awardee

My interest in bacteria began during my postgraduate studies when I applied physical principles to model their growth laws. During my PhD, I continued to study bacteria using theoretical and simulation-based techniques, but as my work progressed, I became increasingly interested in their biological aspects. To address the issue of antibiotic resistance, which is prevalent in India, I realized the need to learn experimental techniques. This is how my HFSP journey began, with a desire to learn and apply these techniques for transformative research.

I first learned about HFSP from Prof. Anupam Sengupta at a conference, where he suggested that I apply for the HFSP Cross-Disciplinary Fellowship (CDF) to work in his lab. The CDF is unique in that it allows for individuals with non-biological backgrounds to transition into biology research. The fellowship welcomes diverse ideas from fields such as mathematics, engineering, and pure sciences, which I believe is necessary to address global challenges.

For me, the HFSP application process was an immersive experience, taking close to a year to finalise the research plan with Prof. Sengupta. My project focuses on understanding the organisation of cells in bacterial colonies through tracking the dynamics of topological defects using advanced microscopy, machine learning, and theoretical methods. Indeed, it has been an exciting journey and I am grateful to HFSP for this opportunity. 

To prepare for and apply for an HFSP Cross-Disciplinary Fellowship, I recommend the following:

  1. Contact your potential host well in advance: This will give you enough time to have an extensive discussion with them about the appropriate research directions to match your background and skills.
  2. Use the research project as an opportunity to learn a new subject: Conduct a thorough literature review and develop innovative ideas for the potential project.
  3. Propose to use methods you learned from previous research: In conjunction with newer tools and techniques for the HFSP research project, you can also tie in previous research experience with the HFSP research proposal, via methods, techniques and tools you are familiar with. 
  4. Contacting the HFSP team: The HFSP team is very helpful and can be contacted for any questions before, during, and after the application. They are the definitive source of information on the HFSP CD (or any other HFSP) Fellowship.