Harman Patil (Editor)


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A fellow is a member of a group of people who work together in a fellowship pursuing mutual knowledge or practice. There are many different kinds of fellowships which are awarded for different reasons in academia and industry, often indicating an advanced level of scholarship.


Research fellowships

The title of research fellow is used to denote an academic research position at a university or a similar institution and is roughly equivalent to the title of lecturer in the teaching career pathway. Research fellow is also used to refer to the holder of a research fellowship. These are often shortened to the name of the programme or organisation, e.g. Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow rather than Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow, except where this might cause confusion with another fellowship, e.g. Royal Society University Research Fellowship).

In the context of graduate school in the United States and Canada, a fellow is a recipient of a postgraduate fellowship. Examples include the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Rosenthal Fellowship, Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship and the Presidential Management Fellowship. It is granted to prospective or current students, on the basis of their academic or research achievements.

In the UK, research fellowships are awarded to support postdoctoral researchers such as those funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). At ETH Zurich, postdoctoral fellowships support incoming researchers. The MacArthur Fellows Program (aka "genius grant") as prestigious research fellowship awarded in the United States.

Teaching fellowships

The title of (senior) teaching fellow is used to denote an academic teaching position at a university or similar institution and is roughly equivalent to the title of (senior) lecturer. The title (senior) fellow can also be bestowed to an academic member of staff upon retirement who continues to be affiliated to a university in the United Kingdom.

The term teaching fellow or teaching assistant is used, in the United States and United Kingdom, in secondary school, high school and middle school setting for students or adults that assist a teacher with one or more classes.

Fellowships as a prize and honour

Fellowships can be awarded as a prize in their own right, e.g. the Fellowship of the Royal Society (FRS) and Fellows are often the highest grade of membership of many professional associations or learned societies, for example, the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators or Royal College of Surgeons. Lower grades are referred to as members (who typically share voting rights with the fellows), or associates (who may or may not, depending on whether "associate" status is a form of full membership). How a fellowship is awarded varies for each society, but may typically involve some or all of these:

  • A qualifying period in a lower grade
  • Passing a series of examinations
  • Nomination by two existing fellows who know the applicant professionally
  • Evidence of continued formal training post-qualification
  • Evidence of substantial achievement in the subject area
  • Submission of a thesis or portfolio of works which will be examined
  • Exclusive learned societies such as the Royal Society have Fellow as the only grade of membership, others like the Faculty of Young Musicians (now defunct) have members holding the post of Associate and posts Honoris Causa. The Management and Strategy Institute has two membership grades titled Fellow and Senior Fellow. Examples of Fellowship in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada include:

    Appointment as an honorary fellow in a learned or professional society can be either to honour exceptional achievement and/or service within the professional domain of the awarding body or to honour contributions related to the domain from someone who is professionally outside of it. Membership of the awarding body may or may not be a requirement.

    Ancient university fellowships

    Colleges of the ancient universities at the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, and Trinity College, Dublin, fellows, sometimes referred to as University dons, form the governing body of the college. They may elect a council to handle day-to-day management. All fellows are entitled to certain privileges within their colleges, which may include dining at High Table (free of charge) and possibly the right to a room in college (free of charge).

    At Cambridge, retired academics may remain fellows. At Oxford, however, a Governing Body fellow would normally be elected a fellow emeritus and would leave the Governing Body upon his or her retirement. Distinguished old members of the college, or its benefactors and friends, might also be elected 'Honorary Fellow', normally for life; but beyond limited dining rights this is merely an honour. Most Oxford colleges have 'Fellows by Special Election' or 'Supernumerary Fellows', who may be members of the teaching staff, but not necessarily members of the Governing Body.

    Some senior administrators of a college such as bursars are made fellows, and thereby become members of the governing body, because of their importance to the running of a college.

    At Harvard University and some other universities in the United States, "fellows" are members of the Board of Trustees who hold administrative positions as non-executive trustee rather than academics.

    Medical fellowships

    In US medical institutions, a fellow refers to someone who has completed residency training (e.g. in internal medicine, pediatrics, general surgery, etc.) and is currently in a 1 to 3 year subspecialty training program (e.g. cardiology, pediatric nephrology, transplant surgery, etc.).

    Industry and corporate fellowships

    The use of Fellowships to award individuals in academia and education has been copied outside of the Ivory towers:

    Fellowships in commercial organisations

    Large corporations in research and development-intensive industries (IBM, Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, Google or Apple in information technology, Bell Labs, Northrop Grumman or L3 Technologies in telecommunications, and Boston Scientific in Medical Devices for example) appoint a small number of senior engineers and scientists as Technical Fellows. Technical Fellow is the most senior rank or title one can achieve in a technical career, though some fellows also hold business titles such as vice president or chief technology officer.

    Nonprofit and government fellowships

    The title fellow can be used for participants in a professional development program run by a nonprofit or governmental organization. This type of fellowship is a short term work opportunity (1–2 years) for professionals who already possess some level of academic or professional expertise that will serve the nonprofit mission. Fellows are given a stipend as well as professional experience and leadership training.


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