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Financial freedom allows Stanford bioscience graduate students to pursue personal passions

Meet Blair Benhan-Pyle. She's a graduate student in cancer biology studying how cells communicate. As she explains in the video above, she was collaborating with other researchers within her first week at Stanford, rather than searching for funding or hunting for professors who could fund her. Clayton Laroy Brown, a graduate student in biochemistry, also has the ability to focus on reducing the toxicity of chemotherapy, rather than hunting for funding.

All Stanford biomedical graduate students have this creative freedom, thanks to the Biomedical Innovation Initiative, which guarantees four years of independent funding for each student.

The BII’s independent funding model was launched in 2013 to remedy the growing lack of national budget dollars allocated for more inventive biomedical research – for instance, the National Institutes of Health grant acceptance rate has been cut in half since 2003, and grants are increasingly constrained to predictable, low-risk projects with limited gains. Dean Lloyd Minor, MD, has given the initiative his full support:

The pace of biomedical discovery over the last 50 years has been largely fueled by federal grants. And that support is faltering. Careers are spent chasing funding instead of breakthroughs. Brilliant ideas are left unexplored. Our best and brightest are growing disillusioned, and we’re in danger of losing the next generation of American scientists.

Not at Stanford, though. A new report shows the initiative is making a difference: 65 percent of students offered admission this year decided to come to Stanford – the highest student acceptance yield in the PhD bioscience program’s history, and higher than at any peer institutions. In addition, bioscience welcomed its most diverse incoming class ever, with 28 percent of new students from underrepresented backgrounds. Plus, this year 17 percent more bioscience faculty have plans to accept new students into their labs, and interdisciplinary collaboration has jumped by 40 percent as more students choose a thesis lab outside their initial home departments.

As Benham-Pyle says, “We are living in an epic time for science. The possibilities are limitless and we, the future scientists, are going to make it happen.”

Previously: NIH director on scaring young scientists with budget cuts: "If they go away, they won't come back"First-year science graduate students enter brave new worldAn oath of professionalism for biomedical graduate students

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