Frequently Asked Questions



Q. The Foundation accepts applications from candidates who have no more than one year of postdoctoral research experience at the time of the deadline for submitting the application and who have received a PhD (or D.Phil. or equivalent) degree no more than two years before the deadline, or an M.D. degree no more than three years before the deadline.  How are the dates of the Ph.D. and M.D. defined?  What constitutes postdoctoral research experience?
A. We consider the day you defend your thesis as the date of your Ph.D.  The date of an M.D. is the date of the formal awarding of the degree.
If someone stays in their graduate lab after their PhD is granted to finish up papers, etc, then this work is not counted towards the 1-year maximum ‘postdoctoral research experience.

Clinical residencies, military service, parental leaves of absence, etc., are of course not considered postdoctoral research experience.
The Foundation will, at its discretion, accept applications from candidates whose postdoctoral research has extended for a month or two longer than the one-year limit, but in no case will a substantially longer interval be approved.

Q. Am I eligible to apply for the fellowship before I obtain my degree, as I will probably not be able to defend my thesis before the July 1st application deadline?
A. You may apply before obtaining your degree, as long as you will receive your degree before you intend on commencing your postdoctoral research under a Whitney Fellowship grant.

Q. I applied last year and was not awarded a Whitney Fellowship. May I reapply a second time for next year’s deadline?
A. You may apply a second time as long as you don’t have more than one year of post-doctoral experience by the June 30th deadline. Please note that every year a revised version of the online application form is created. If you will indeed reapply, make sure that you use the new one. In any case, you must reapply as if you never applied before, and you cannot simply reactivate your old application.  A word of caution: we get outstanding applications every year.  Unless you believe that your credentials have changed substantially during the past year, reapplication may not be worth the effort.

Q. I am interested in applying for the HHWF fellowship, and am wondering if it can be used at a federal government research institution, e.g. The National Institutes of Health?
A. Yes, you may pursue your proposed research at such an institution. Normally, when we deal with a non-governmental institution, we issue semi-annual stipends directly to the university or research institute in question. With the NIH, however, we pay you directly on a quarterly basis and send you a Federal Form-1099 at the end of the year. The research allowance is paid directly to the NIH.

Q. The Foundation expects that fellowship training be obtained in an academic setting, as opposed to a commercial or an industrial lab. How does the Foundation view a non-profit research institute?
A. Non-profit research institutes, whether supported privately or publicly, are appropriate places for HHWF postdoctoral training.

Q. I intend to pursue my postdoctoral research in a laboratory that already has a Whitney Fellow. Will this hurt my chances of getting a fellowship? I understand that your Foundation does award up to two Whitney Fellows in the same lab.
A. The presence of one Whitney Fellow in the laboratory of your prospective sponsor will in no way adversely affect your application.

Q. After obtaining my Ph.D., I worked at a biotech company. Does my time spent working in biotech count as post-doctoral experience?
A. Your work at the biotech company does count towards your maximum one-year postdoctoral experience.

Q. I am a second-year cardiology fellow interested in continuing my basic research. Because of my residency and fellowship training, I passed the 3-year cutoff after medical school. Do you make exceptions for MD/PhD-graduates?
A. When an applicant obtains both an M.D. and a Ph.D., we go by the most recently obtained degree. Therefore, if you did not obtain your Ph.D. more than 2 years prior to the application deadline or 3 years for an MD, and you do not have more than one year of postdoctoral experience by the application deadline, then you are eligible to apply.


Q. Does the Foundation have an invention/patent policy?
A. The Foundation does not maintain an invention/patent policy. Our only stipulation is that you cite the HHWF in any of your publications or discoveries resulting from your Whitney Fellowship.  Your host institution will have an invention policy, however, which probably applies to you.


Q. I understand that the fellowship is a three-year commitment. Is it possible to start the fellowship in one laboratory and then finish in another?
A. The three-year commitment is for one laboratory only.  If during the fellowship your mentor moves or some other unusual circumstance arises, you may request a transfer to another laboratory, subject to review and approval by the SAC Chairman.


Q. I am wondering what happens to the fellowship if I change my supervisor or lab mid-fellowship(i.e. transfer to different institution)?
A. When we evaluate your application, among the many factors we take into consideration is the supervisor you’ll be working with. If you decide mid fellowship to transfer, in a sense that changes the application and we would therefore have to reevaluate your fellowship. Please note that the bigger the change, the more scrutiny the new application will get. For example, if you simply change universities but your supervisor transfers with you, then there isn’t much of a change. If you change your lab, supervisor, but you maintain the original research proposal, then that modifies the original application a bit more. However, if you change everything, including your research proposal, then for all intensive purposes you’re practically starting from scratch and that would be reviewed very carefully. We expect that when one submits an application, their intention is to stay with their proposed supervisor, host institution, and research proposal throughout the three years, barring any unforeseen circumstances.


Q. I read that no part of the research allowance can be used for overhead. Is this also true for the actual stipend?
A. Yes, our policy of  ‘no overhead’ extends to the fellowship stipend, as well.

Q. What is your policy regarding computers purchased with the annual research allowance – do they belong to the fellow or the institution?

A. Equipment purchased with the research allowance, such as laptops, may be kept by the fellow after they finish their fellowship. However, fixed lab equipment will stay in the lab.


Q. In the application you request reference letters ‘from three of your former professors or supervisors’. I did not work with Dr. _____, but he knows my work through collaborations. Would that be accepted?
A. As long as the referee is closely familiar with you and your work, it is acceptable.

Q. Regarding the 5 page research proposal, I am attempting to balance the importance of background material and discussion of relevance, versus experimental detail. What are your guidelines?
A. There are no rigid guidelines beyond what is in our instructions. You should choose a balance appropriate for your project, assuming that the application will be read by an expert in your field, broadly defined (such as neuroscience, structural biology or developmental biology), but not necessarily by someone who knows the detailed topic of your research.

Q. The instructions state, “Do not include your prospective supervisor as a reference”. My prospective supervisor knows me unusually well, however, as a result of previous collaboration. I think it would be unfortunate not to have him or her recommend my candidacy.

A. Your prospective supervisor may include in their sponsor’s letter anything he or she wishes to comment about you and your work, but because of the potential for conflict of interest, we focus more on the evaluation of the other 4 references . We still require 4 other reference letters, one of which should be from your thesis advisor.

Q. Is it permissible to have two co-supervisors for the Fellowship? My work is interdisciplinary, and my potential supervisors have different but equally relevant areas of expertise. They also have an ongoing collaborative relationship.
A. It is permissible to have two co-supervisors. Put both names down on the application form. Please put your primary supervisor’s full name in the ‘first name’ field, and the secondary supervisor’s full name in the ‘last name’ field.

Q. After I applied for the Whitney Fellowship, I was informed that a paper I cited in my bibliography was accepted for publication. May I submit it to the Foundation?
A. You can email it to us, and we will update your application.

Q. I was wondering if there would be a problem if my reference letters arrive before my application.
A. We receive most reference letters ahead of the application. We keep files on each applicant, and when the application gets processed we attach their reference letters.


Q. I am currently applying for a Whitney Fellowship. At this point I do not have a visa for my intended stay in the U.S. Do I need the appropriate visa before applying for the HHWF, or does it suffice to apply for a visa in time for my intended starting date?

A. It is sufficient to simply state in your application your intent to obtain the appropriate visa documentation in time for your intended fellowship activation date. Include this statement as a separate letter in your application.

Q. What is your policy regarding student visas for foreign students?

A. The Foundation does not specify which visa a fellow must obtain. Our only stipulation is that you comply with whatever the US Immigration laws and your prospective institution requires.
Q. The application form asks me for a social security number. Since I am currently not a US citizen and do not have one, what should write in that field?

A. It is sufficient to enter “NA” for ‘Not Applicable’.


Q. I plan on pursuing my postdoctoral fellowship at Janelia Farm. I would like to apply for the Whitney fellowship because of the opportunities that it would give me to meet other young scientists in similar stages as mine. However, as you might know, Janelia Farm’s policy prevents me from receiving any external funds, and I would have to decline the stipend part of the fellowship even if I get accepted. My question is whether my application would be given full consideration given this situation?

A. Our program does accept applications from candidates pursuing their research at Janelia Farm. Your application would be given full consideration as any other. In the event you are awarded a Whitney Fellowship, then your stipend salary will be paid directly through HHMI. Other than that, you would be considered as any other Whitney Fellow, such as participating in our Annual Fellow’s Meetings.