Eric and Wendy Schmidt, in partnership with the Rhodes Trust, April 23 announced the 14 members of its inaugural 2018-2019 class of Schmidt Science Fellows, including Princeton doctoral alumnus Yogesh Goyal.
The Indian American and the 13 others were recognized at an event at the Apella Alexandria Center for Life Science in New York City.
"Eric and I have long wanted to find a powerful way to enhance the development of some of our world's most promising scientists and technologists, to help them become our next generation of leaders," said Wendy Schmidt, president of The Schmidt Family Foundation and co-founder of the Schmidt Ocean Institute.
The fellowship is a post-doctoral program focused on scientific leadership and interdisciplinary research aimed at providing the next generation of leaders and innovators with the tools and opportunities to drive world-changing advances across the sciences and society, according to a news release.
"The next frontiers of scientific discovery will be pioneered by those who can transcend the traditional boundaries of science, using techniques from multiple scientific fields to tackle society's longstanding challenges," said Eric Schmidt, technical adviser to Alphabet Inc. and former executive chairman.
Goyal arrived at Princeton in 2012 having trained strictly as a chemical engineer. But his work quickly evolved into a collaboration with departments and labs across the campus, connecting with researchers in molecular biology and genomics. He completed his doctorate degree in chemical and biological engineering in 2017, the university said.
Now Goyal, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, plans to pivot again, applying computational approaches to single-cell biology and phenomena that biologists call rare events, it said.
Goyal, who grew up in a mountainous region of India, attributes his success largely to an organic process of discovering science on his own terms as a child, without the heavy burden of social pressures, the university release said.
“There were no rules for me to do well in school,” he said in the report. “I did end up doing well in school later on in my life, but slowly, because of my interests outside of the classroom.”
The Schmidt Fellows — eight men, six women — represent nine nationalities and 12 universities.
In addition to a one-year placement in a “field-leading lab” outside his or her existing expertise, each fellow receives a $100,000 stipend and attends four global meetings to train in issues of leadership, policy, and the interfaces of science with the public and private sectors.
Along with developing cutting-edge technologies with wide applications, Goyal hopes to use his fellowship year to work directly with artists, Princeton said. He envisions expanding on an unusual two-way process that began in Goyal’s co-adviser Stanislav Shvarstman’s lab at Princeton, it said.
“The processes of thinking in science and art are very similar,” he said. “Getting opinions from artists from different perspectives is very important to me. Now I want to do it much more systematically.”
Through an initial commitment of at least $25 million for the first three years, this innovative fellowship is the beginning of a broader $100 million effort by Eric and Wendy Schmidt to promote scientific leadership and interdisciplinary research over the next decade and beyond.
The experience, conducted in partnership with the Rhodes Trust, home of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarships, will place Fellows in a new research environment immediately following the completion of their doctoral studies, in order to encourage an interdisciplinary scientific mindset, the news release said.
In addition to the post-doctoral placement, the program will also feature five weeks of high-level courses and experiential workshops that will explore a diverse range of scientific advances, conversations with some of the world's preeminent scientific and societal leaders, and immersive leadership experiences that will help Fellows build support for their future work, it added.
The universities will also host Fellows over the course of the program, numerous other leading research universities around the world are also participating by identifying the exceptional candidates that have received the fellowship and hosting the Fellows in a variety of cutting-edge research laboratories for their post-doctoral year, the foundation said.