While an undergraduate at Princeton University, Darren Orbach found himself faced with a dilemma. He had always envisioned being a physician, yet at Princeton he had also become fascinated by theories about the mind, which led him to an interest in investigating the workings of the brain's visual cortex. But how was he to pursue a career in basic research and be a physician, too? Like many aspiring researchers who feel a pull in the clinical direction, Orbach chose to enter a joint M.D.-Ph.D. program, applying to Cornell University.

Typically, students accepted into an M.D.-Ph.D. program are committed from the start to one particular institution for their doctoral work. But thanks to a $1 million grant from the New York-based Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to Cornell, Orbach has a choice of three institutions, in essence tripling the advantages of an M.D.-Ph.D. program. Using the Mellon funds, Cornell teamed up with...

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