Varela Mentorship Program

In hopes of helping more young contemplative scholars produce competitive Varela Award applications, we are pleased to announce our new Mentorship Program for Varela applicants. The intended goal in providing potential Varela applicants with a pool of available mentors is to assist in improving the methodology, rigor, and contemplative studies focus of the applicant’s initial submission or revision of a previously unfunded application. Suitable mentors will possess interests and expertise that align well with the interests and goals of a prospective Varela applicant.

The pool of mentors available to prospective Varela applicants is comprised of more senior members of the MLI community (MLI Fellows; mentors of current and former Varela awardees; Summer Research Institute faculty) as well as peer mentors (current and former Varela awardees). Although not a guarantee of eventual funding, pairing a Varela applicant with a senior and/or peer mentor is likely to generate more competitive Varela proposals and increase the likelihood of a favorable review.

We expect this program, while entirely optional, will be of benefit to both Varela applicants and mentors. For applicants, we anticipate that participation in this program will result in a more fully developed (& likely more competitive) Varela application, while potentially creating an opportunity for an ongoing collaborative relationship with a mentor in the field. For mentors, the program will help to enrich a young contemplative scholar whose work aligns with their own and the broader mission of MLI, and create an opportunity for a potential collaboration with a like-minded scholar who is serving as the sponsor/mentor of the prospective Varela applicant.

We hope that this unique program will strengthen the existing collegial environment in the MLI community, and lead to stronger and broader collaboration among its growing members.

How it Works

The list of current mentors along with expertise and contact info is provided below. If you are submitting a Varela application and would like to be assisted by a mentor, please feel free to contact any of these scholars. In your email, please mention that you are contacting them in relation to the Mind and Life Varela Mentorship Program. It is up to you and the mentor to work out the details of what is needed, and what help may be provided.

Note that participation in this program is not a requirement for submitting a Varela award – it is only meant to offer additional assistance if needed.


Basic Science

Marieke van Vugt
Areas of Expertise: My main research program revolves around the question of how we decide, and how meditation practice could transform our decisions. I approach many of my research problems by creating computational models of the cognitive mechanisms involved. In addition, I study the neural correlates of decisions, focusing predominantly on brain oscillations.

Assistant Professor
University of Groningen

Fadel Zeidan
Areas of Expertise: The neural and behavioral mechanisms that support mindfulness-based health promotion, as well as the behavioral, pharmacologic, and neural mechanisms supporting mindfulness meditation-related pain relief

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow
Wake Forest School of Medicine,-PhD.htm

Clinical Science

David Fresco
Areas of Expertise: Basic, translational, and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders; meditation enriched psychosocial treatments; clinical trials

Associate Professor
Kent State University

Esther Papies
Areas of Expertise: I am a social psychologist studying self-regulation, health behavior, and processes of behavior change. My research takes a social cognition perspective on health behavior. I am particularly interested in the nonconscious processes underlying the regulation of eating and dieting behavior. I study the psychological mechanisms by which our living environment interferes with the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle, and how these influences can be prevented or changed to our advantage.

Assistant Professor
Utrecht University

Helen Weng
Areas of Expertise: The effect of compassion meditation on neural processing of social stimuli and altruistic behavior, compassion meditation and interpersonal relationships, emotion regulation, fMRI, economic decision-making.

Postdoctoral Scholar
University of California, San Francisco

Social Science

Patricia A. Jennings
Areas of Expertise: As a prevention scientist, to apply my knowledge of the social and emotional dynamics of educational settings to create interventions that enhance teachers’ capacity to provide a supportive and engaging social and emotional context for academic learning. This involves conducting evaluative, efficacy, effectiveness, and dissemination research to determine whether these intervention efforts are effective and sustainable in educational settings.

Associate Professor
University of Virginia

Philosophy & Humanities

Monima Chadha
Areas of Expertise: Buddhist philosophy of mind, Abhidharma texts, Mindfulness in the Abhidharma tradition, Indian philosophy (Nyaya-Buddhist debate)

Senior Lecturer
Monash University

(Stay tuned, more mentors coming soon!)