Fellowship applications questions and answers

Is an over-emphasis on collaborators dangerous?

  • This depends on the size of the collaboration. Collaboration in itself is fine but should not be a major component of a fellowship application.
  • Can be good if it brings in a complementary skill or ability
  • How you pitch it can make a difference - pitch it as linking with achieving your objectives
  • Collaboration should be complementary, not dependent
  • Fellowships focus on leadership, so sell the benefits of how any potential collaboration develops your career trajectory
  • If an external collaboration you will need to keep your host organisation at the forefront of your case (in this case UoB).

How does your application relate to the interview?

  • Your application is what gets you through the door, in a sense you ‘start again’ at interview
  • You need to sell yourself as an advocate for the science you are selling
  • You need to grab the attention of the panel, ensure they remember you
  • If you are invited to interview the Research Support Office will arrange a mock interview for you
  • Don’t forget that the presentation at the interview is not the ‘be all and end all’- many have focused on getting through the interview and then come unstuck at the Questions and Answer stage

What common mistakes do you see?

  • Giving away that ‘your’ project is actually a collaborator’s project! You must demonstrate how it is your project.

How do I negotiate risk in my project? The science needs to be exciting but deliverable…

  • Keep the science at the forefront. Most research includes an element of risk. Try to ensure you’ve shown you realise this and have considered how to mitigate, have a ‘plan B’
  • If elements of your work are high risk, try to ensure they come at the end of the project, to avoid the situation where the remainder of your work is dependent on the risky part

Does it matter if I don’t have much postdoc experience?

  • Fellowships have been awarded in the past to those with little postdoc experience
  • A good project with good science and good publications will always be worthy in themselves
  • You may come up against issues with demonstrating independence from past supervisors and having your own unique idea
  • However different funders have slightly different requirements and some are more generous on this than others
  • Funders closer to the humanities spectrum are more open to looking at early career
  • Don’t forget the fellowships are also about future potential

Are there issues with interdisciplinary projects?

  • Many funders profess to want to be interdisciplinary but in practice this can be difficult
  • Interdisciplinary projects may fall between different Research Council’s remits, or even between different panels of the same research council!
  • Leverhulme has been more open to interdisciplinary projects in the past

How important is outreach?

  • Varies with funder
  • NERC fellowship not as impact-driven as others
  • If you are passionate about your research, you should be happy to talk about it!
  • Don’t focus too much on impact if it’s not relevant / doesn’t make sense with your topic or research method

How should I go about ‘selling myself’? How do you balance ownership with arrogance?

  • Agreed that the balance can seem tough
  • Get as much practice as possible and you will become more authoritative
  • Prepare well for questions that you may be asked as many people fall down on this
  • Those that are arrogant disadvantage themselves too as they completely overblow the importance of their work
  • Ultimately the thing being assessed is your science - remembering this may help you. Try to get your passion for the science across and focus on that. This may help you feel less nervous
  • Mock interviews are extremely helpful. They are likely to be painful but worth it.
  • Think about what you admire in other confident speakers and why they come across well.
  • Don’t undersell yourself. If you get invited to interview you will already have done incredibly well.

Can it ever be ‘too late’ to pursue a fellowship? Does working outside of academia put you at a disadvantage?

  • Package your experiences as helpful to the fellowship/research
  • It is likely that you will have developed useful extra skills
  • If you have a look online many of the funders have released case studies of people they have funded. Many of these have non-standard career paths.

How can independence be demonstrated?

  • The panel will take a contextual view of your career trajectory, and will review what you have done post PhD and assess from this.
  • Emphasise your career vision, your desire to realise your ambitions in terms of what your project will deliver, and also equally importantly how you will develop in terms of self.

Can you talk us through the practicalities of shortlisting applications?

  • The summary section of your application is very important. Often this section can be read first. Make it convincing, concise and understandable to non-specialists. If a reviewer does not understand the title they will likely go to the summary section first. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the summary is least important as it comes last.
  • If the Case for Support section reads well it promotes confidence in the candidate before you have even met them. This is a very important section of the application.
  • Sell the science you are putting forward!
  • Structure your application well. Use the same headings/terminology (when talking about the same items) to make it easy to cross-reference sections across the document
  • Try to make it as easy as possible for the reviewers- they see many applications and have limited time.