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Windfall lets Princeton financially support its third-year chemistry grad students

Endowed gift from cancer drug inventor Edward Taylor means students don’t have to rely on grant funds

by Celia Henry Arnaud
February 22, 2016

Photo of students holding signs that spell out “Thank You” and “Ted”.
Credit: Department of Chemistry/Princeton
Princeton chemistry students thank their benefactor, Ted Taylor.

Starting next fall, all third-year chemistry graduate students at Princeton University will receive full fellowships that cover their costs. The awards are made possible by an endowed gift from Edward (Ted) C. Taylor, chemistry professor emeritus at Princeton and inventor of the cancer drug sold under the name Alimta. Neither Princeton nor Taylor will reveal the amount of the gift.

The new fellowships will ensure that chemistry graduate students at Princeton are funded by sources other than research grants for their first three years of graduate school. A typical class of chemistry graduate students entering Princeton has 30 to 35 students. All Ph.D. students at Princeton receive first-year fellowships from the university to cover full tuition and a stipend. In the chemistry department, second-year graduate students earn money to cover their costs by serving as teaching assistants.

In this era of flat research budgets, Princeton’s chemistry department had been looking for means of funding graduate students that don’t involve professors securing grant money, says Tom Muir, chair of the chemistry department.

“I engaged in a series of conversations with Ted Taylor about this possibility,” Muir says. “He immediately got excited about this. He was a practicing scientist in this department for many decades. He understands the challenges and opportunities of academic science.”

Third-year students are “at a critical point in their training when they ought to be free of worries about how they’re supported,” Taylor says. With this endowed gift, “they can devote themselves totally to their research without any financial worries.”

Princeton already had a limited number of fellowships to help third-year students and their advisers. “Those funds can now be pushed into helping people in the later years,” Muir says.

Muir thinks the fellowships will help Princeton’s chemistry department attract and retain both graduate students and professors. For the students, “it provides them a level of financial independence from a mentor that I think can be important,” he says.

For professors, “this takes some of the financial burden off our faculty. Funding graduate students represents a major slice of every grant dollar,” Muir says. “This effectively frees up one year of grant support for doing other things.”

This move to fund students through mechanisms other than research grants is in keeping with a recommendation in the 2012 American Chemical Society report “Advancing Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences.” The report suggested decoupling graduate student funding from professors’ research funding.

What Princeton is doing here—funding all first- and third-year chemistry students with something other than grant money or teaching stipends—is new among graduate programs, says Larry R. Faulkner, chair of the commission that wrote the report. “It does embody the recommendation of the Presidential Commission to separate some portion of student support from project support,” he says.

“There is a move toward endowing graduate education in chemistry to defend against the vicissitudes of funding ebbs and flows,” says David B. Collum, chair of Cornell University’s department of chemistry and chemical biology. “This move by Princeton is a very bold step.”


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