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FSE Researcher Development

About Applying for Fellowships

An independent Fellowship is the perfect stepping stone for an early career researcher who’s keen to become an academic. These prestigious awards are highly competitive. Our workshop on 1st March 2011 was all about applying for Fellowships, with the chance to gain advice from successful Fellows and senior academics. Here are some notes from the handout, including links to Fellowship schemes, advice on applying and maximising your chances, and a suggested timeline.

You have a good idea for research: how do you turn this into a Fellowship application with good chances of being funded?

Identify which Fellowship

  • Most are specific to particular stages of your career, with restrictions (usually on time since PhD, and sometimes nationality)
  • All are specific to what you want to do:

–        Temporary independent post in the UK leading to lectureship.

–        Experience abroad to build your CV for eventual lectureship

  • Some will require (financial) input from the School or elsewhere
  • Some are specific to particular disciplines or areas
  • Which is right for you? Discuss with your Supervisor, other academics (mentors) and the School Research Administrator

What Fellowship/Award Programmes are available?

EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellowships – You should have between 3 and 10 years postdoctoral research and/or relevant industrial experience by the start date of the fellowship and not hold a permanent UK academic post. This period is calculated from the date of your PhD viva to the start date of the fellowship. Fellows are expected to devote themselves to full-time research for a period of up to five years. See http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/funding/fellows/Pages/default.aspx

A small number of EPSRC Postdoctoral Fellowships in the areas of mathematical sciences, theoretical physics and Cross Disciplinary Interfaces are made available each year. The aim is to help talented young researchers to establish an independent research career, normally shortly or immediately after completing a PhD. (The call papers define the specific maximum time period for applicants after completion of a PhD.) See: http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/funding/fellows/Pages/postdoctoral.aspx

Royal Academy of Engineering/EPSRC Research Fellowships enable outstanding researchers from all branches of engineering to establish an independent research career, normally shortly or immediately after completing their PhD.See: http://www.raeng.org.uk/research/researcher/postdoc/

BBSRC David Phillips Fellowships – Scientists with 2-6 years of postdoctoral research experience who have demonstrated high potential, and who wish to establish themselves as independent researchers. See http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/funding/fellowships/index.html

NERC Postdoctoral Research Fellowships – Early career development awards of up to three years, to provide further post-doctoral experience and to support outstanding environmental scientists as they become independent investigators. Candidates will typically have one to five years of postdoctoral experience. See: http://www.nerc.ac.uk/funding/available/fellowships/

STFC Advanced Fellowships – Awards up to five years for outstanding individuals with > 5 years’ research experience from the start of PhD (usually > 2 years’ Post-doc experience). http://www.stfc.ac.uk/551.aspx

Royal Society University Research Fellowships – aims to provide scientists, who should have the potential to become leaders in their chosen field, with the opportunity to build an independent research career. Those appointed are expected to be strong candidates for permanent posts in universities at the end of their fellowships Five years followed by an extension of three years.

See: http://royalsociety.org/University-Research-Fellowships/

The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 Fellowships – open to candidates in any of the physical or biological sciences, in mathematics, in applied science, or in any branch of engineering. Three-year post-doc fellowships, deadline in February. See: http://www.royalcommission1851.org.uk/res_fellow.html

Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowships – This scheme aims to provide career development opportunities for those who are at a relatively early stage of their academic careers but with a proven record of research. The Trust provides funding covering approximately half of the Fellow’s salary, plus some travel and consumables expenses. It is important to establish the source of the remainder salary in discussion with your School. See: http://www.leverhulme.ac.uk/funding/ECF/ECF.cfm

NERC Advanced Fellowships – Awarded for up to five years, to enable outstanding early/mid career researchers to develop into team leaders of international standing. Candidates must have had at least two years research experience at postdoctoral level, not necessarily in the UK, at the time of application. See: http://www.nerc.ac.uk/funding/available/fellowships/

Wellcome Trust – Funding covers a range of areas with a biomedical focus, from supporting scientific and technological research to helping researchers and other communicators to engage with different audiences about their work. There are a number of specific fellowship awards and small grant awards that are open to post-docs. See: http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/Funding/index.htm

The British Academy – Provides research funding to postdoctoral level scholars in subjects within the remit of humanities and social sciences. Its research funding strategy is focussed on supporting ideas, individuals and intellectual resources, and it delivers this strategic priority through schemes for research grants, research posts, research development, conference grants, individual and joint projects and the facilitation of world-class international research. See: http://www.britac.ac.uk/funding/index.cfm

The Toshiba Fellowship Programme – open to PhD level researchers of EU nationality currently working in a UK academic institution. The research areas vary broadly from year to year in the field of science and engineering. The Programme offers the successful Fellow a generous package including a fixed salary and travel to and from Japan. See http://www.toshiba-europe.com/eur/fellowship/

Royal Academy of Engineering Schemes for Engineers in Research and Development – Research Fellowships are aimed at outstanding researchers from all branches of engineering who are about to finish their PhD or have up to three years Post-Doctoral research experience. The scheme provides funding for five years to encourage the best researchers to remain in the university engineering sector. See http://www.raeng.org.uk/research/researcher/postdoc/default.htm.

Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowships – supports excellent scientists and engineers at an early stage of their career. This is specifically for people who require flexible working (eg caring responsibilities) and aims to support progress to permanent academic positions in the UK. See: http://royalsociety.org/Dorothy-Hodgkin-Fellowships/

Daphne Jackson Memorial Fellowships – aims to help graduates and post-graduates who have had careers in science, engineering or technology (SET) return to similar employment after a career break (typically two years).  The scheme helps to improve employability through the updating and gaining of new skills. See: http://www.daphnejackson.org/

L’Oréal National Fellowships – With support of the National Commissions for UNESCO, these Fellowships are principally destined to enable women at the doctorate level to pursue scientific research in their home country. Go to:  http://www.loreal.co.uk then click “For Women in Science” for the UK site.

Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowships (EIF) – open to EU and Associated State researchers of all ages with at least four years’ professional experience or a doctorate degree. The purpose is to give them the financial means to undertake advanced training through research or to acquire complementary skills at a European organisation most suited to their professional needs. This will give researchers the final boost they need to reach professional independence. Before applying for funding, researchers must find a research team in an EU or Associated State willing to take them on for a one- to two-year stay. http://ec.europa.eu/research/fp7/understanding/marie-curieinbrief/research-development_en.html

Marie Curie Outgoing International Fellowships – Outgoing International Fellowship allow experienced researchers from EU or Associated States to broaden their international research experience by spending time at a research centre outside the EU and Associated States for periods of between one and three years, including a compulsory return phase.

See: http://ec.europa.eu/research/fp7/understanding/marie-curieinbrief/europe-world_en.html

Fulbright Fellows Awards – For UK nationals to spend one year on research in the USA: http://www.fulbright.co.uk/fulbright-awards/for-uk-citizens/scholars-and-fellows-awards/all-disciplines-scholar-awards

Key stages of application

  • Come up with an idea for a Fellowship.

–        Read the literature, listen to keynote lectures at conferences, talk to colleagues, understand your strengths and weaknesses.

  • Identify the correct Fellowship to apply for.

–        Obtain current information about the call and read the rules VERY CAREFULLY.

–        Ensure that YOU are eligible to apply.

  • Discuss your ideas with trusted, experienced researchers.

What has to be in the case

A Fellowship is for YOU – this time it is personal.

Questions you must answer:

  • Why are you the right person to do this work?
  • Why should a significant amount of money be invested in you pursuing your career?
  • How will you become a world-leader in the field because of this fellowship?
  • Why did you choose the host organisation?

Your idea must be interesting to the reviewers so:

  • Do you have a clear image of why, what and how?
  • Is it topical?
  • Is it exciting and adventurous, not just incremental?
  • How is it different from the work of others – especially your mentors?
  • Does it excite your colleagues?

For most Fellowships timeliness and adventure are much more important than feasibility.

Optimise your proposal

  • Have you written a clear ‘layperson summary’?
  • Provide clear answers to all the questions the referees will be asked – TICK THE BOXES!
  • Make the most of your track record and CV (where included)
  • Sell yourself and your special abilities optimally
  • Get effective letters of support if appropriate – some Fellowship applications don’t allow these.
  • Write in plain English
  • Is the aim of your proposal clear?
  • Are the key stages of the programme of work clear?
  • Are the figures attractive and informative?
  • If you are asked for a work plan, take it seriously.
  • Minimise irritating mistakes – spelling and grammar matter
  • Make sure you reference properly – especially potential reviewers

Improve your chances

  • Select referees carefully
  • Look at successful proposals – School/Faculty should be able to help
  • Give people time to help you
  • Give yourself time to write a good proposal. It always takes much longer than you think!
  • Listen to advice – benefit from the experience of others
  • Accept criticism positively

If someone hasn’t understood your ideas, it’s your fault not theirs.


  • Ideally 1 year ahead of the application…

–        Identify suitable Fellowships and check eligibility and deadlines

–        Maximise published papers (“submitted” and “in prep” don’t count)

–        Lectures – speak at a small meeting or collaborators lab

–        Network to line-up possible referees

–        Think about applications for small grants – build a portfolio.

  • < 6 months to go…

–        Begin drafting the proposal.

–        Try out ideas on colleagues.

–        Get your first full draft internally peer reviewed.

–        Talk to your ‘host’ group to get ideas clear and sort out support.

–        Get agreements for additional financial support if needed

–        Tell the School Research Administrator you’re planning a proposal and begin work on costings (~3 months before submission).

  • < 1 month to go…

–        Supporting letters – check Head of School and line manager are aware of what is required.

–        Check Head of School is around near deadline.

–        Check School Research Administrator is around near deadline.

–        Make sure your referees have all the information they need and are available on correct dates. (some Fellowships make getting referees’ input your responsibility)

–        Get “final” draft internally reviewed. AGAIN!!!!!

–        Proof-read carefully or get a friend to proof-read.

  • 1 week to go…

–        Finish your proposal and submit it!

–        There is a checking process whereby the proposal goes back to the School for ‘final’ submission.  This final step can take a few days.

  • After submission

–        Keep an eye on the timeline for decisions to make sure you’re around if you need to comment on anything.

–        Ask for advice in responding to referees if you get the opportunity to make a response

–        If you’re invited for interview, make sure you let your School and Faculty know. They will organise a practice interview.

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