Show Me the Money—Funding Opportunities for International Graduate Students and Postdocs


pile of moneyPhoto by Nick AresThe current funding environment is proving to be a very difficult hurdle for many. Although the grant situation at the moment is dire for nationals here in the US, it is and has always been a difficult task to get funding as an international student or postdoc. The lack of NIH opportunities for international students/postdocs decreases the chances of getting other grants, and some international graduate students and postdocs have a hard time joining labs because many PIs are looking to hire people with actual, rather than practically non-existent, funding potential.

The scenario may seem bleak, but despair not, fellow international scientists! Here is a secret answer to your funding problems: Contrary to popular belief, THERE ARE FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR INTERNATIONALS! Yes, you read that right (if the CAPS weren’t an indication, it’s a big deal), it just takes more effort to find them. The idea that there are no grants for international students and postdocs is a myth, possibly a result of the failure by schools and grants offices to bring such funding opportunities to the attention of graduate students and postdocs. Now some schools are starting to make an effort in this area. For example, Weill Cornell Medical School has a great calendar for all available funding opportunities and UT Southwestern also provides a list of funding options available for international postdocs (both resources helped me while writing this article).

Here are some of the available funding opportunities that you can look into that will hopefully serve as a stepping stone toward finding the grants for your research. (These grants are open to both American and international applicants, so anyone can apply.)

-American Heart Association Predoctoral and Postdoctoral Fellowships. Grants targeted toward heart and endothelial biology or any research that impacts either. The application system is divided into “affiliates” that encompass multiple states. Between 12%-23% of applicants receive funds, and there are two funding sessions per year (winter and summer). These fellowships provide funds for two years, with the potential to apply for an extension and a third year of funding.

Life Sciences Research Foundation. An interesting concept where applications are reviewed by a panel of scientists, with the finalists (the top 5%, any number from 12-20 applications) are selected by sponsors, funding corporations, institutions, or pharmaceutical companies and funded for a total of three years. This funding opportunity is for postdocs only.

-Department of Defense Funding. The DoD offers a variety of research programs (in breast, prostate, lung and other cancers, muscular dystrophy, autism, and spinal cord and brain injury or trauma) with funding opportunities open to international scholars. This award runs for two to four years.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Provides postdoctoral researchers (with less than two years of postdoctoral experience) with a fellowship for up to three years, on topics related to clinical or basic research into leukemias, lymphomas, or myelomas.

Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation. This foundation funds research relevant to all aspects of cancer studies: causes, mechanisms, therapies, and prevention. Postdoctoral fellowships are awarded for up to three years, and the institute allows third-year scholars to apply for the Dale F. Fry Awards for Breakthrough Scientists to support scholars of exceptional abilities and support their independent research career.

-Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The JDRF offers three year postdoctoral fellowships, with a range of training and career development funding opportunities (for different stages of postdoc career: early, advanced and early career development) available for any Type 1-diabetes related research.

Epilepsy Foundation. Offers one year predoctoral and postdoctoral fellowships that fund foreign and American scientists working on epilepsy-related research spanning neuroscience, but also biochemistry, pharmacology, physiology, genetics, and even nursing.

HHMI International Student Research Fellowship. This HHMI initiative started a few years ago and is available for second year graduate students, providing three years of funding (up to fifth year of grad school). This highly competitive and prestigious fellowship supports research on a wide variety of topics spanning biology, chemistry, physics, math, computer science, engineering, and plant science, as well as any interdisciplinary research (just in case your research does not fall specifically within any of the mentioned categories, or serves to bridge two or more). One downfall is that the application is by invitation, and institutes select within their pool of candidates to nominate a few, who are then allowed to apply for the fellowship. The fellowship is also limited by institutions, so make sure to check the list of institutions on the website.

K99/R00 from NIH. The K99/R00 award is a “Pathway to Independence” award from the NIH designed to guide a transition from a postdoctoral position to an independent faculty position. The funding period is five years, spanning the two phases, and it encompasses funding by a wide variety of NIH institutes to cover a large range of research topics and interests. This is definitely the holy grail of grants for any postdoctoral researcher, and the eligibility for both national and foreign postdocs makes it an option for brilliant scientists seeking an independent research career.

The above list is far from exhaustive; in fact it represents a small selection of funding agencies that provide grants for international scholars, from a much larger available pool. Finding these funding options was possible with help from Dr. Geri Kreitzer and Dr. Brian Lamon from Weill Cornell Medical School, as well as by going through available resources at UT Southwestern and at Cornell Medical School.

If you’re a foreign scholar, your first approach to finding grants is to your own institution, which should have a list of available resources. If such a list is not available, you should get in touch with the international scholar associations and offices at your institute to encourage them to assemble one, as it would prove beneficial for the institute and its trainees’ career development.

Good luck to you all on your applications! And now that I’ve done the search, I should probably go and apply for some grants myself…

About the Author:

Hashem is a Postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Melanie H. Cobb, studying regulation and interactions of WNK protein family members. Email: