What is a Senior Fellowship?

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  • Written By: Brenda Scott
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 March 2020
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In the United States, fellowships are funding programs for graduate students. In Europe, a fellowship refers to a senior member of the board or staff of a college or university. A senior fellowship almost always refers to a funded position for an experienced, post-graduate candidate involving a period of independent research in a particular field. While most senior fellows are members of an academic staff, they may also be attached to an academic society, such as the British Academy.

Senior fellows are generally individuals who have not only completed their graduate studies, but have also had extensive experience in their field. In most cases, the fellow is required to have a doctorate, have research or clinical experience, have a body of published work, and be capable of leading an independent research team. In medical arenas, a senior fellow is required to have completed their medical training, residency program, specialty training, and extensive experience in their field.

In the United States, a senior fellowship may be funded by universities, private foundations, think tanks, or government organizations for work specific to that agency. Government-based programs can range from a few months to a year in duration. An example of this is short-term fellowships offered by the Smithsonian Institute.


In the UK and other localities, a senior fellowship may receive government funding. In Britain, for example, some government programs provide partial funding for senior fellows, associated with universities, to advance research in a particular field. The university receives partial funding to cover the cost of the professor. The senior fellow is then freed from most of his teaching duties, and puts together a research team. He is expected to lead the team and interface with any related professional organizations that will benefit from the research results.

In these cases, the university also benefits from the prestige accompanied by the presence of the research program and any published results. These programs often allow the senior fellow to spend some time working on other projects which will attract additional funding to the school. A senior fellowship may focus on medical research, engineering, or any other academic or labor-related field, depending on the nature of the funding requirements. Other funding programs allow a short-term, often one year, leave of absence from teaching to enable a professor to complete a specific research project.

A number of organizations, such health organizations or those involved in international research, offer a short-term senior fellowship in order to gain research expertise in specific areas. These may involve work in a variety of fields, such as HIV prevention and treatment, West Nile virus, the spread of pandemic disease, or cultural issues. Such programs are beneficial to all parties involved. The university and senior fellow receive professional recognition for the work accomplished, the sponsoring organization is able to obtain expert research without the associated cost of hiring long-term professionals, and research in their particular field is advanced.

Applicant requirements for a senior fellowship are similar regardless of the locality. Most require the professional to have completed his doctoral work, have a number of years experience, and be recognized as an expert in the associated field. Information for those interested in a senior fellowship program is available through universities, professional organizations, and the internet.



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