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Stories from the community: HFSP Fellowship

Shubham Singh

In the fifth article as part of community voices for international grants and fellowships, Shubham shares the to dos, tips and tricks for a successful HFSP application. Shubham is an awardee of 2022 HFSP long term postdoctoral fellowship.


If you are finishing your doctorate, have identified a fundamental problem in biology, the answer to which can be transformative and can bring paradigm shift in current scientific knowledge and overall understanding of the field then Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) long term postdoctoral fellowship offers you the best platform to pursue it. HFSP supports high-risk postdoctoral projects with scientific rigor and innovative hypothesis. It does not need any preliminary data (at application stage) to support your hypothesis neither demands prior training in that field. Instead, HFSP appreciates if you aim to expand your expertise and take up the problem that’s significantly different from your doctoral training. The successful fellowship application needs quite a bit of planning due to its rigorous eligibility criteria. To discuss a few: 

a) You should have a lab ready to host you and support your proposed research at the time of application. 

b) HFSP encourages international exchange and collaboration, so you should not be in the same lab or country for more than a year at the time of fellowship activation. 

c) You should have at least one peer reviewed published (not just accepted) manuscript to make the full application. 

The fellowship application involves two steps: 

a) Fellows need to identify a host lab and submit a letter of intent (LOI) briefly explaining the problem that they want to take up.

b) If accepted (acceptance rate is 15 — 20%), HFSP invites a full application which needs to have details of the problem and your proposed research plans. Prospective fellows must choose their problem and host lab carefully as HFSP evaluates if the host lab is a good fit for the proposed research.

Overall, the fellowship application is a great learning experience. It teaches you to identify problems and come up with right questions, choose the important ones and develop promising strategies to answer or solve them. Below are few things that might be useful to prospective HFSP applicants: 

1. Plan proactively. First phase of HFSP applications (LOI stage) opens in March — April. Start searching for a host lab way before this deadline. One lab can host only one HFSP fellow per year.

2. Make a list of problems that you think you must be working on. This will help finding host labs. Every fellowship has some theme or domain of research to support. As pointed before, HFSP supports basic science projects. Make sure your proposed research falls within the fellowship domain.

3. If possible, write all the questions and problems (may be 1000s) that you identify and you think can be proposed for the fellowship. Take every possible critique on it and refine them.

4. Discuss them with the host lab and based on the discussions, choose one to submit as LOI. HFSP allows only one LOI per fellow per year.

5. Read as many times as possible. Read, Refine, Repeat. If you do not like reading your own proposal, it is highly unlikely that the reviewing panel would like to read it.

6. If LOI is accepted, you will be asked to submit full application sometime around September — October.

7. Full applications need two recommendation letters from PhD and one from the host lab.

8. Make very sure referees know about your proposed research. They need to justify why you are a fit candidate for this.

9. Full applications will need your objectives, justification of why proposed research is at the frontier of science and how will this bring change in the field and beyond the field. Take every effort to justify why host lab is good fit for this and what you will learn during this process. Same rules apply here – Read, Refine, Repeat.

10. Lastly, avoid large scale fishing expeditions and claims that what you fish will decide the next steps. Have a sound, valid, rigorously thought hypothesis (learnings from Bob Farese and Tobias Walther).

Written By

Shubham is a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health - Harvard University. He completed his doctoral training at the Department of Biology (Kamat lab), IISER-Pune, where he had a fantastic opportunity to learn and …