What Is a Research Fellowship?

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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 19 January 2019
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A research fellowship is a usually temporary academic position which provides an academic with funding so that she can complete an agreed-upon research project. In many countries, these positions are offered across the full spectrum of academic disciplines. Unlike many academic positions, a research fellowship usually does not involve teaching, allowing the fellowship holder to devote most or all or her time to her own research. Those considering a research fellowship should keep in mind that competition for these positions is generally quite intense, and that application procedures can be time-consuming and arduous.

The purpose of a research fellowship is to provide an academic with funding so she can complete a specific research project agreed upon at the time the fellowship was awarded. Often, this type of fellowship is awarded to academics who have recently completed a PhD or other advanced degree and are just entering the career field, although this is not always the case. In many countries, these positions are offered across most or all academic disciplines. The nature of the research carried out by an academic during a fellowship can vary widely, often depending on one’s discipline. A fellow in the medical sciences may be awarded funding to develop a new drug, for instance, while a humanities academic may use her fellowship period to research and write a book or a number of articles.


Many academics regard research fellowships as coveted positions. This is largely because these posts provide a fixed period, usually ranging between one and five years, during which a fellow can carry out research free from the teaching obligations attached to a great many academic positions. Consequently, the fellow can focus solely on her research, an opportunity which many find leads to increased productivity and, in turn, a stronger research record.

Those considering a research fellowship should keep in mind that as these positions are limited in number, competition for them is generally quite intense. Successful applicants are usually those who have a demonstrated history of success conducting research in their chosen field, as measured by such tangible factors as the number of scholarly articles one has published. Additionally, fellowship application procedures can be extremely time-consuming and complex. To strengthen one’s chances of receiving a research fellowship, it is helpful to begin the application process well in advance of the deadline, and to seek application feedback from trusted colleagues within one’s chosen academic field.



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