Raking in the Recognitions: Immigrants in the Sciences

Joanna Wysocka and Pardis Sabeti

The 2015 Vilcek Prize season may have ended, but immigrants are still raking in the recognitions.  The Howard Hughes Medical Institute just announced the 2015 HHMI investigators, a prestigious honor that provides generous funding to biomedical researchers over five years.  This funding allows scientists to “take risks, explore unknown avenues, and embrace the unknown — even if it means uncertainty or the chance of failure.”

The current group of HHMI investigators includes 24 Nobel laureates and 182 members of the National Academy of Sciences.  Newly appointed into such distinguished company are Polish-born Joanna Wysocka and Iranian-born Pardis Sabeti, both former recipients of the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in the Biomedical Sciences.

In addition to our Creative Promise Prize alumnae, at least 12 of the 26* newly appointed investigators are foreign-born — that’s 46%!

Following closely on the heels of the HHMI announcement, the Blavatnik Family Foundation also unveiled the 30 finalists for the 2015 Blavatnik National Awards.  Launched just last year by Ukrainian-born businessman Len Blavatnik, the awards “aim to identify and encourage promising young scientists early in their careers, when they are most in need of funding and recognition.”

Ten finalists each are selected in the categories of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences & Engineering, and Chemistry; one winner in each category will be named later this fall.

Once again, we recognized some familiar faces in the crowd — four out of the ten Life Sciences finalists were past Creative Promise prizewinners!

They include New Zealand-born Rob Knight, Indian-born Harmit Malik, German-born Michael Rape, and Taiwanese-born Alice Ting

Overall, in the Life Sciences category, at least 60% of the finalists are foreign-born.  In Chemistry, we found that at least 30% are foreign-born, and in the Physical Sciences & Engineering and Chemistry categories, this percentage goes up to 90%!*

Finally, the prestigious Sloan Research Fellowships were bestowed on 126 scientists and scholars working in the United States and Canada.  Created in 1955, the fellowships honor early-career scholars who have been identified as “the next generation of scientific leaders.”  Of the 2015 Sloan research fellows, at least 44% of the fellows working in the U.S. were immigrants.

Congratulations to all the winners — we wish you all many exciting discoveries! 

*Not all countries of birth were confirmed.

Photo credit of Joanna Wysocka: Christopher Vaughan

Photo credit of Pardis Sabeti: Chiun-Kai Shih

  • A Message from Jan and Marica Vilcek

    Our founders arrived as penniless refugees over fifty years ago, but with the kindness and opportunity they received in the United States, they went on to accomplish great things in biomedical science and art history. Read their statement on the recent executive order imposing a travel ban.