By Elena Shao
Stanford postdoctoral student Yiyin Erin Chen was one of 15 nationally selected recipients of an up to $1.4 million Hanna Gray Fellowship award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).
HHMI’s program awards each of its fellows, who are researchers in varying biomedical and life science disciplines, with up to $1.4 million each in funding over eight years, granting a total of $25 million for the recipients. The program also offers support from an experienced community of scientists and researchers.
Chen is a dermatologist and scientist who earned her Ph.D. in biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her M.D. at Harvard Medical School. She has since completed her dermatology residency at the University of California San Francisco. As a postdoc at Stanford, Chen studies the genetic makeup of microbes that inhabit the skin and how they interact with the immune system. According to a news report by HHMI, her work could potentially lead to “engineered microbes as a new way to treat skin diseases such as eczema.”
The HHMI selects only “early career scientists” from across the U.S. for the award, meaning all the fellows are recent Ph.D. and M.D./Ph.D. recipients who have no more than 12 months of postdoctoral experience. According to the HHMI, the Hanna Gray Program is intended to provide monetary and networking support during a “critical time in young scientists’ careers, when many leave science for a variety of reasons and don’t come back.”
Another goal of the program is to usher diversity into the biomedical research community by recruiting scientists from underrepresented gender, racial and ethnic groups as well as those with disadvantaged backgrounds. To this end, Chen hails from humble beginnings — when she was three years old, her parents immigrated to America from Beijing with $35. After saving for two years, they were able to bring Chen to America as well.
“[The Hanna Gray fellows] are aiming to be leaders in their fields, in tenure-track faculty jobs — positions that often lack diversity,” wrote HHMI Media Relations Manager Meghan Rosen in an email to The Daily. “Seeing these fellows and hearing their stories could inspire more women, minorities and people from other underrepresented groups to stay in science.”