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Sydney Brenner Research Fellowship

photo of Sydney Brenner, 1953The Sydney Brenner Research Fellowship, endowed by the Francis Goelet Charitable Trust in 2006, is one of three opportunities offered by the CSHL Center for Humanities & History of Modern Biology. It offers stipends of up to $5,000 to fund travel and other expenses associated with work on a significant research project in the history of the life sciences. Ideal projects will be advanced and broad in scope, with at least some relevance to collections in the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives. The CSHL collections themselves are very broad in scope, encompassing activity around the world as well as at CSHL and several precursor institutions. Please see descriptions of the CSHL collections at the Archives homepage and consult detailed finding aids on CSHL ArchivesSpace.

Applications must be received by July 31st to be considered for the upcoming Fall-Spring academic year.

Application form (pdf)

Sydney Brenner Research Fellowships are intended to support research and publication (or other exhibition/dissemination) of ambitious, original projects in the history of the life sciences.

Award Benefits

The Sydney Brenner Research Fellowship awards up to $5,000 (USD) to each recipient to support direct costs of completing the proposed project, which should include a period in residence at CSHL. While here, Brenner Fellows will have a work space in the Carnegie Library, complete access to our collections, and support from our team of archivists, librarians, and historians. If space permits, Brenner Fellows will have the opportunity to rent accommodation on campus during their stay.

Who is Eligible?

The fellowship is open to scholars (at any career stage), journalists, writers, filmmakers, and creative artists undertaking substantial research into the history of the life sciences.

How to Apply

The application package must include the following:

  1. A completed application form, including names and contact information for two individuals who are familiar with your work and would be willing to provide letters of recommendation upon request from CSHL.
  2. A research proposal (see below for detailed instructions).
  3. A selected bibliography of titles or collections in the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Library and Archives that are relevant to your research proposal.
  4. A brief budget statement showing the expenses for which support is requested.
  5. A curriculum vitae. Please include education and employment history, dates of study, areas of study, previous publications, and previous or current fellowships, grants, and awards.

Please submit applications electronically via email to Attach all documents in .pdf, .doc, or .docx formats, with a brief covering letter in the body of the email. Please format the subject line of your email as “Sydney Brenner Research Fellowship application [Year] – [Your Name]”

About the Research Proposal

In a maximum of 1000 words, the proposal should explain your research question or objective, the sources you intend to use (both at CSHL and elsewhere), and the significance of the proposed research to your scholarly trajectory and to your discipline or field. Please specify the items or record groups you would use at the CSHL Library and Archives and give a tentative schedule for completion of your project.

Please submit your proposal in double-spaced 12-point font.

Selection Criteria

The Brenner Fellowship committee seeks proposals that are sophisticated, detailed, and original. Relevance of CSHL collections to the project (and vice versa) is an important factor, but the committee’s primary consideration will be the overall quality and significance of the project. If you are still at the initial stages of formulating a project, please consider applying instead for one of our travel grants to visit CSHL.

Announcement of Scholarship Recipients

The Brenner Fellowship committee will notify recipients in August of a given year.

What is Expected of Fellowship Recipients

  • Brenner Fellowship funds must be used during the academic year following notification of the award (July 1 to June 30).
  • If possible, Brenner Fellows will present preliminary results of their research to the CSHL community in a talk.
  • The research findings should also be presented in professional talks or other venues, and culminate in scholarly articles, book(s), or other forms of creative expression.
  • A copy of the final research output is to be donated to the CSHL Library and Archives.

Allowable Expenses

The stipend can be used for any purpose relating to the scholar’s research project, including travel, transportation, daily expenses, and accommodations at CSHL and other relevant archives, over the course of one year. Other types of permissible expenses include those associated with translating relevant primary sources, recording oral history interviews, transcribing oral history interviews, and microfilming archival materials.

Year Awardee Research Product
2023-2024 Francesco Cassata
University of Genoa (Italy)
A “Cold Spring Harbor in Europe”? A History of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO)
2023-2024 Brad Bolman
University of Chicago
The History of Mycology and Plant Pathology
2022-2023 Miriam Lipton
Oregon State University
Bacteriophages and Antibiotics: The History of Cold War Politics of Antibiotic Resistance
2022-2023 Johannes Schuckert
LMU Munich
Value for Money? Cooperation and Competition in the Human Genome Mapping Project (1986-1994)
2022-2023 Nayanika Ghosh
Harvard University
Genes and Gender: Sociobiology and the Emergence of a Political Critique
2021-2022 Nathaniel Comfort
John Hopkins University
A Life of James D. Watson
2021-2022 Robin Scheffler
Genetown: The Growth of Biotechnology in the Greater Boston Area, 1973-2003
2020-2021 Erling Norrby
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Review Delbruck, Hershey, and Luria: Recipients of the Nobel Prize Physiology and Medicine 1979
2020-2021 Daniel Nicholson
Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research, Klosterneuburg, Austria
Rethinking Schrodinger’s Impact on Molecular Biology
2020-2021 Gina Surita
Princeton University
The Currency of the Cell: Energy, Metabolism, and Life in Twentieth-Century Biochemistry
2019-2020 Helen Muller
University of New Mexico
Nobel Laureate H.J. Muller’s Tumultuous Life in 1930’s Russia
2019-2020 Nuala Caomhanach
New York University
The Unfinished Synthesis: The Rise of Phylogenetics in an Age of Climate Change, 1880-1990
2018-2019 Alison Kraft
Max Planck Institute for
the History of Science (Berlin, Germany)
Visiting Scholar, Department I: Structural Changes in Systems of Knowledge
The Walker B. James Lab: a case study of biophysics in the interwar period.
2016-2017 Matthew Cobb
University of Manchester
Professor, School of Biological Sciences
An article and BBC radio program on the collaboration of Crick and Brenner, 1956-1976.
2015-2016 Miriam Rich
Harvard University
Doctoral Candidate, History of Science
Ph.D. thesis chapter on the scientific concept of defects of development.
2014-2015 Erika Langer
University of San Francisco
Doctoral Candidate, History of Health Science
Molecular Ferment: The Rise and Proliferation of Yeast Model Organism Research (2016), University of California, San Francisco, (Doctoral Dissertation).

Dr. Langer says of the Sydney Brenner Research Scholarship and her time at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory:

My visit to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory deepened my understanding of my subject matter, not only through the Archives’ preservation of rich source materials relevant to my project but also through the direct experience of the Laboratory setting–its architecture, environment, and celebration of living history. The Archives offers scholars excellent open access to its digitized collections, but I am indebted to the Sydney Brenner Research Scholarship for the unparalleled experience of an in-person visit with the superb help of onsite staff.”


2013-2014 Lijing Jiang
Princeton University
Postdoctoral Fellow
A book on the history of cell death and aging research.
2012-2013 Gregory J. Morgan
Stevens Institute of Technology
Associate Professor, Philosophy
A book on the history of tumor virology.
2011-2012 Judith Cuddihy
Acquisition and Developmental Editor
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press
An exhibit showcasing the life of scientist Calvin Bridges (1889-1938).
2008-2009 Marsha Richmond
Wayne State University
Associate Professor, History of Science
Examination of CSHL’s visual collections for the history of women’s role in early genetics.
2007-2008 James Schwartz
Harvard University
Visiting Scholar in Molecular and Cellular Biology
image of In Pursuit of the Gene: From Darwin to DNA book coverIn Pursuit of the Gene: From Darwin to DNA (2010), Harvard University Press. (book)

The mystery of inheritance has captivated thinkers since antiquity, and the unlocking of this mystery—the development of classical genetics—is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. This great scientific and human drama is the story told fully and for the first time in this book.

Acclaimed science writer James Schwartz presents the history of genetics through the eyes of a dozen or so central players, beginning with Charles Darwin and ending with Nobel laureate Hermann J. Muller. In tracing the emerging idea of the gene, Schwartz deconstructs many often-told stories that were meant to reflect glory on the participants and finds that the “official” version of discovery often hides a far more complex and illuminating narrative. The discovery of the structure of DNA and the more recent advances in genome science represent the culmination of one hundred years of concentrated inquiry into the nature of the gene. Schwartz’s multifaceted training as a mathematician, geneticist, and writer enables him to provide a remarkably lucid account of the development of the central ideas about heredity, and at the same time bring to life the brilliant and often eccentric individuals who shaped these ideas.

In the spirit of the late Stephen Jay Gould, this book offers a thoroughly engaging story about one of the oldest and most controversial fields of scientific inquiry. It offers readers the background they need to understand the latest findings in genetics and those still to come in the search for the genetic basis of complex diseases and traits.

2006-2007 Robert Olby
University of Pittsburgh
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
image of Francis Crick: Hunter of Life's Secrets book coverFrancis Crick: Hunter of Life’s Secrets (2009), Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. (book)

“This engrossing biography by one of molecular biology’s foremost scholars reveals the remarkable evolution of Francis Crick’s scientific career and the shaping of his personality. From unpromising beginnings, he became a vital contributor to a remarkably creative period in science. Olby chronicles Crick’s life from his early studies in biophysics, to the discovery of the structure of DNA, to his later work in neuroscience and the nature of consciousness. This account is woven together with insights into his personal life gained through access to Crick’s papers, family, and friends. Robert Olby’s book is a richly detailed portrait of one of the great scientists of our time.”

Review from Human Genetics:

Crick could have wished for no more suitable biographer than science historian Robert Olby, who knew him for almost 40 years and who has had full access to family members and documents…Olby gives a vivid account both of Crick’s work over a period of 60 years, and of his life, and there is much in this book that will prove to be unfamiliar, perhaps especially to geneticists…For exploring and documenting all these and other aspects of Crick’s life in a readable, sensitive and not uncritical manner, readers from all backgrounds have much to thank Robert Olby for. His story will help to confirm Francis Crick as one of the key people responsible for the transformation of our understanding of life and its processes.”