Fellowships vary in the criteria, purpose, eligibility and career stage they are aimed at. You need to understand the requirements of the scheme you are going to apply to, to understand if it’s the right fit for you. Follow the guidance on this page to get started and learn about what to expect throughout the process.

Please note that some of the files on this page link to Imperial College London branded documents as they have kindly made their resources available for Liverpool staff to use.

The University’s Research Support Office intranet provides information on planning stages, costing, checklists and other useful institutional information.

How do I know when I'm ready?

There will never be a perfect time, although that isn’t to say that you can’t start doing your research! 

In preparation to help you know if you are ready, reflect on these key points:

  • What has been your contribution to the field?
  • What are your academic achievements and successes?
  • Think about your key achievements regarding research outputs, independence and leadership, impact (academic and non-academic), funding and external recognition – See document for more details.

Talk to others

  • Speak with your PI or PhD supervisor – discuss what your future career aspirations are during your PDR
  • Speak with current fellows, other postdocs, an academic mentor.

How do I come up with a fellowship idea?

A fellowship is an opportunity to embark on your own independent research towards your research vision and academic career path.

You need to decide what space you want to occupy in your field based on your unique skills, experience and expertise - use these to develop your innovative/novel idea/proposal.

To help you develop your fellowship idea and research vision use the questions on the research vision tip sheet (PDF 164KB).

A fellowship is often a pathway to independence and the opportunity for you to be the PI, to pursue your own ideas and to lead your own research agenda.

Consider what is the best next step for you: another postdoc? be named researcher on a grant? or applying for a fellowship?

Is my publication record good enough?

This is a commonly asked question with no easy answer. It very much depends on your discipline, the role you are applying for, and how many years postdoctoral experience you have.

The best people to answer this question are your peers. You should ask your PI, senior colleagues or collaborators for their opinion.

Many organisations have signed The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), where they move away from using journal-based metrics, such as journal impact factors (JIFs), in assessing the research achievements of staff or candidates, and you should also be aware of it. 

Do all fellowships have 'years' post PhD as an eligibility criteria?

Check your eligibility carefully in the funder’s website and guidelines. If you have any questions, contact the funder.

Some funders have removed ‘years post PhD’ and instead have moved to ask the applicant to consider their skills and experience (relevant to their career stage) against what is expected for the different schemes or fellowships. For example:

In all cases, you need to evidence your achievements and successes and showcase your upward career trajectory.

How do I know which fellowship to apply for?

Fellowships vary on career stage and purpose (based on the funders mission/values).

You need to research which is the best fit for your research vision and whether you are eligible. Check the priority areas, themes, and the categories funders list on their websites. What is their current remit and how do you fit? If in doubt, check with the funders for clarity.

Please note you can have multiple applications being developed, written and submitted at the one time, but check with the funder if there are any restrictions on submitting parallel applications. It is your responsibility to notify funders on outcomes of other funding applications.

Things to consider in order to narrow down your choices:

  • Don’t listen to myths – do your own research
  • Look at the eligibility criteria – check carefully it can change
  • Speak to PI/peers/current fellows - use your network
  • Discuss in your PDR
  • Have a look at a list of current or past fellows in your department to see what fellowships have previously been sponsored 
  • Speak to Head of Department / Sponsor / Mentor
  • Check with the funder.

Funder Guidance

Some funders provide guidance related to which schemes are available at different career stages:

How do I choose and approach a potential sponsor?

Some fellowships will require you to have a sponsor or mentor at your host institution.

It is your responsibility to find a sponsor to support your application and mentor you through your fellowship. Consider the following points when starting to think about your sponsor:

  • What is the role of the sponsor for that specific call? Different funders have different expectations of the sponsor within the sponsor-fellow relationship. You should be aware of these.
  • What do you want/need from a sponsor? This will vary depending on your individual fellowship i.e. you maybe choose your sponsor based on their research area, your training needs, availability of equipment/data, their network, their mentoring approach, their reputation in the field or for mentoring early career researchers.
  • What kind of working relationship will you expect? The choice of sponsor has been cited as one of the pivotal relationships for career success. 

It is important to have a conversation with your potential sponsor about yours and their expectations and your future working relationship.

Can I stay at the University of Liverpool?

Some fellowships/funders will require you to move group/department/host institution/country -you should always check the guidelines.

Mobility is great evidence of independence. If you choose to remain in the same host group/dept, consider how you can evidence your independence and how your research is significantly different from your PhD supervisor or your former/current line manager.  In a fellowship, you are required to justify your choice of host. Whether you stay at the same institution or you move to a new host institution, you will need to evidence that it is the best place for you to hold your fellowship and potentially start to build your group.

The 3 Ps – Person, Project, Place tip sheet (PDF 219KB) offers guidance on things to consider when choosing the place to be holding your fellowship.

Can I hold my fellowship on a part-time basis?

Yes, this is possible, however, you need to talk early with your sponsor about part-time and flexible work arrangements and contact the funding body if you have queries regarding this.

Most of the funders consider applications for fellowships on a part-time basis if this has been agreed with the host institution and the sponsor. Usually, at least 0.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) must be dedicated to the fellowship, and the length of the fellowship is extended accordingly.

Some funding bodies will accommodate changing your fellowship to part-time, you will need to discuss this with both your host institution and the funding body.

There are specific fellowships for researchers that require part-time and flexible working, for example, the Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship scheme from the Royal Society.

This scheme offers a recognised first step into an independent research career for outstanding scientists and engineers who have a current need for flexible support (i.e. need to work part-time).

I left academia for a career break/change. Can I apply for a fellowship?

Yes, there are specific re-entry fellowships designed for you to re-establish your research career after a career break.

Different funders will have different eligibility criteria, so we advise you to always check the funders' websites and guidelines.

Some re-entry fellowships include:

Can I teach during my fellowship?

In general, fellowships protect your time from teaching commitments, however, it is possible to teach if this has been checked and agreed with the funding body and your host institution.

As an illustrative example, UKRI fellowship holders may spend up to six hours a week (pro-rata for part-time applicants) on other commitments and related activities which will enhance their career development (for example, teaching, demonstrating, peer-review, other funded projects or business-related activities).

Discuss opportunities, your time allocation for the duration of the fellowship and expectations from your host early on to protect your dedicated research time and to build in time for career development opportunities.

How long will it take to submit my application?

It is never too early to start. From experience, it takes a minimum of 6 months from initial idea to submission of an application.

Importantly, you need to know the submission process:

  • Are there internal deadlines – at department level or institution-wide?
  • What are the funder submission deadlines?
  • Do you need to submit an Expression of Interest (EoI) or preliminary application before submitting a full application?
  • What documentation is required for the application?
  • What supporting documentation is required i.e. letters of support, a letter from the Head of Department?
  • Who signs off your application? Is it your sponsor, the Head of Department or the Research Support Office?
  • How do you submit your application? Do you use a Funding Management System (i.e. Je-S)? Do you submit the application or does the Research Support Office submit on your behalf?
  • Do you need to submit your application to the University Research Support Office prior to final submission i.e. for final approval and institution authorisation?

Please note you can have multiple applications being developed, written and submitted at the one time, but check with the funder if there are any restrictions on submitting parallel applications. It is your responsibility to notify funders on outcomes of other funding sources.

If you are working on multiple applications at the same time – do not cut and paste – tailor each application to the specific scheme/call/funder.

Blog about the application process

Read Katerina Kandylaki’s (Imperial College London) application story – ‘Road to grant: 1. The proposal’

Who can help me with developing the budget?

A fellowship application will require a budget; you should check the guidelines for eligible costs (i.e. salary, staff, consumables, travel, outreach, open access publication fees, equipment). You will often be asked to include a justification of resources in your application with a rationale of your costs.

We recommend you:

  • Speak with your host department
  • Speak with the Research Support Office at your host institution
  • Check HR for pay scales and the Research Support Office on how to factor salary increments.

When do I apply for ethical approval?

Our University provides guidance on Human Research Ethics here. 

Speak with your line manager, sponsor or department colleagues and check with the funder to clarify any concerns around Research Ethics.

It’s important to also ensure you are up to date and complying with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the UK Data Protection Act 2018. Our University has dedicated Data Protection web pages to support you with queries and a GDPR website with all the latest information.

How long will it take from submission to receiving the award and starting my fellowship?

The timeline from submission to award to starting your fellowship will vary depending on specific schemes and institutional processes, check funder webpages, funders sometimes share the process timeline – i.e. peer review timescale, prioritisation panel, shortlist dates/period, interview dates/period, outcome dates/period and expected start date for fellowships. Use this information to plan your submission – it could be a year from submission to being awarded the fellowship.

The period of time between the announcement of the award and your actual starting date will vary based on the funder. Sometimes you will be informed of the outcome but there will be an embargo on sharing this news. Between the announcement of the award and actual start date, you will need to sign a contract and go through any institution processes.

Blog about the application process

Read Katerina Kandylaki’s (Imperial College London) application story – ‘Road to grant: 2. The agreement preparation’

How do I respond to reviewers' comments?

Be polite, take a breath and don’t get offended.

Don’t rush your response, this is your opportunity to clarify any areas of confusion or weakness within the application, highlighting the importance, the significance of the project and also of you as a candidate.

UKRI provides guidance on how to respond to reviewers comments.

Interview preparation

Fellowship interviews will vary according to the funders. Your invite letter should explain what is expected of you, as well as logistics such as time and location. Read the invite letter carefully.

The time between receiving your invite letter and actual interview will vary according to the funder. Some funders will publish interview dates in advance – when applying make a note of these dates so you can plan accordingly.

Interviews will vary on: focus, panel size, time, presentation request and question type.

For interview questions they may focus on the technical aspects of your proposal or more on you the candidate, your motivation and career aspirations, it’s important to prepare yourself for a range of questions.

How to prepare:

  • Re-read your application 
  • Have a technical mock interview with your department
  • Practice your presentation – make sure it addresses what you’ve been asked to present and runs to time!
  • Speak with current fellows – ask them about their experience of fellowship interviews

Dealing with rejection

Fellowships are competitive, and as with all funding in academia, success rates can be below the 20% mark.

Therefore, as with your scientific publications, some fellowships will be rejected. It’s important to acknowledge that this is part of a scientist’s role and that all researchers will have experienced a fellowship, grant or paper being rejected at some stage in their career. For fellowships, it’s important to make use of feedback and use it constructively in future applications and at future interviews.

Some funders will provide feedback at the application stage, although it is less common. You may get reviewers comments if your application gets to peer review stage. If you don’t get feedback from the funder on your application, ask your sponsor, line manager and colleagues for feedback to strengthen the application for next time.

At the interview stage, you may receive reviewers’ comments and feedback from the funder. If you are rejected at the interview stage, you can ask for feedback from the panel (unless the funder clearly states that feedback won’t be provided). Discuss this feedback with your sponsor, line manager and colleagues.

Real-life examples

More and more academics are sharing their career paths, including the successes and failures – it’s important to understand that it’s unheard of for someone to secure every fellowship or grant they apply for.

With acknowledgments to our colleagues in the Postdoc and Fellows Development Centre, Imperial College London.

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