Sandhya Koushika recipient of International Early Career Scientist Award

Monday, January 30th, 2012

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) have announced their first International Early Career Scientist Awards and Sandhya P. Koushika is one of the 28 recipients. She is the only awardee based in India.

The five-year grant begins in February 2012 and provides each recipient with funds of $US650,000 : $100,000 annually, with $150,000 in the first year for major equipment purchases and other investments. The affiliated university or research institution will receive further supplementary funds. Additionally, the scheme promotes the interaction of awardees and the HHMI's scientific community, most of whom are US based researchers.

“The major criterion was really scientific excellence: what have they accomplished in their young careers; what kind of potential did they have; could they explain their science in a clear way,” says Jack E. Dixon, HHMI’s vice president and chief scientific officer, in a story published on their news site. (You can read the whole story published on the HHMI's website here). The selection process was rigorous: The HHMI received 760 applications. They short-listed 55 applicants after a strict peer-review process, and applicants gave a 15-minute presentation on their work. Scientific reviewers chose the final 28 recipients. The awardees “are the people who, 10 years from now, we expect will be the scientific leaders in their countries,” says HHMI President Robert Tjian.

“The credit for this success goes largely to the hard work of my lab members, to my wonderful collaborators and to the excellent institutional support provided by NCBS in many forms,” says Koushika. Her work currently involves understanding the mechanism of cargo transport in axons, the transport highways of nerve cells, that carry many components and electrical signals. She uses the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans as a model system. “I hope that the HHMI funding will allow me to pursue my scientific program more vigorously,” she says.

But she also hopes that it will send out a larger message that India can provide a good environment to pursue scientific research. “A special feature is that in India one can easily engage in diverse collaborations. I have been fortunate to work closely with many scientists in India, both biologists and non-biologists, at NCBS and elsewhere: Yamuna Krishnan (NCBS), Gautam Menon (IMSc), Sowdhamini Ramanathan (NCBS), Kaustubh Rau (formerly NCBS, currently Rishi Valley), Mahadevan Subramony (IISc) and Venkatraman V. (IISc),” says Koushika.

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