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Becoming ‘a champion of diversity in science’

Student and mentor pair receive training fellowship fostering diversity and inclusion  

November 1, 2019

Molecular and cellular biology doctoral student Samar Mahmoud was recently named Gilliam Mentor Training Fellow by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), an award that will support her early scientific career in the lab of Peter Chienbiochemistry and molecular biology. She will receive funds for a stipend and education costs, while Chien will embark on a year of mentor training from HHMI. The goal is to improve faculty mentoring skills, support new scientific leaders and foster diversity and inclusion in science, the institute points out.


Mahmoud and Chien are one of 44 advisor student pairs awarded the coveted fellowship in 2019. 

Chien says of being chosen, “This is a terrific honor for Samar and I am lucky to be her mentor for this fellowship. She was interested in the Gilliam from the first day she joined my lab, having been a student in the HHMI Exceptional Research Opportunies Program in the past, and she really drove this home. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to advance in my mentoring through these training workshops as well.” 

Mahmoud says, “I’m honored that Peter and I were selected for the Gilliam fellowship. I’m looking forward to being a part of the Gilliam community and to learn how to be a better leader and champion of diversity in science.” 

Samar Mahmoud portrait at scientific poster sessionEach fellow submitted a career statement describing how their personal experiences and training inform their science, and how they plan to make scientific culture more inclusive, organizers explain. David Asai, HHMI’s senior director for science education, says all fellows show promise as scientists, adding, “The Gilliam program is aimed at people who will become leaders in science. We’re trying to change the face of university faculty, so students see leaders of all different backgrounds.” 

For students to thrive, a good training environment is crucial, Asai points out. That’s where the mentoring component comes in. Each advisor-mentor pair receives a $50,000 annual award for up to three years, and advisors participate in a year of mentor training focused on cultural awareness, where activities include online training and two in-person workshops at HHMI headquarters in Chevy Chase, Maryland. 

Over the past four years, more than 130 advisers have taken part. One participant noted that the intensive experience “is not your usual fellowship.” HHMI says the fellowship is designed for “building inclusive environments for students in science by working with faculty to become aware of their own cultural identities, understand the critical role of listening and to feel comfortable engaging across cultures.” 

HHMI created the Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study in honor of the late James H. Gilliam, Jr. A charter trustee of HHMI, Gilliam was a respected business and civic leader who spent his life nurturing excellence and diversity in science and education. 

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