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Selection

Guidance

Resources for applicants to Schmidt Science Fellows 2023

We aim to provide all nominated applicants to Schmidt Science Fellow with the information required to demonstrate their ability and potential for a Fellowship.

For the 2023 Selection process we held three regional webinars in April 2022 to share insights and guidance with prospective candidates. The webinars included presentations from our Admissions Team and a Q&A session with a panel of current and Senior Fellows.

Further detailed Guidance Notes are made available to all nominated candidates within the online application, and we advise candidates to read these carefully.

The slide presentation from the webinar is available below.

We have collected all of the questions asked during the webinars and summarized these, with answers, below.

If the Guidance Notes and Q&A resources here and elsewhere on the Schmidt Science Fellows website do not answer your questions, please contact nominations@schmidtsciencefellows.org

Q&A from webinars

The Application Process

When do I have to have finished my PhD by to be eligible for the 2023 cohort application and selection process?

Candidates applying for our 2023 cohort must complete, or expect to complete, all the requirements for the conferral of their PhD, including a successful defense, between 01 June 2022 and 30 July 2023. It is worth noting that you do not necessarily have to have attended your graduation ceremony, so long as all requirements for conferral of doctoral status have been met within this timeframe.

Do I need to be nominated by my institution?

Yes, nominated candidates will be issued an authorization code by their nominating university to enable them to access the online application portal. We do not accept self-nominations or have an open route for applications.

Can I apply next year?

You may be able to apply in a future year if you are eligible for that year’s intake (for 2024 this will mean your PhD is awarded between 01 June 2023 and 30 July 2024) and your awarding institution agrees to nominate you as a candidate.

Is there any preference for the disciplines in which candidates should complete in their PhD or for Fellows to conduct their Placement research?

There is no preference and candidates may have conducted their graduate degree in any of the natural sciences (Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Earth Sciences), Engineering, Mathematics, or Computing, including all sub-disciplines within these and may pivot to any other discipline they choose. Candidates may choose to pivot to a social science field during their fellowship research placement if they can make a strong argument that doing so would help advance scientific discovery.

Can we edit our Preliminary Information during the application?

Yes, but we recommend you do not alter fields such as your PhD discipline after 01 June 2022 unless absolutely necessary as we collect this data at that time and use this to help determine the overall composition of our Academic Review panels.

Are we allowed to upload supporting documents and figures in our application?

You are allowed to upload transcripts, CVs and manuscripts. However, the application is a text-only format so figures or graphics may not be included. You may include references. However, please note these will count towards the word limit so we recommend you select a succinct style if you choose to include them in your proposal. Please refer to the Guidance Notes made available via the application portal for further instructions.

Are there word or page limits within the application?

Yes, word and page limits are clearly communicated both in the online application form and in the associated guidance notes, please pay close attention to these.

Can you provide me with an example of a good application to use as a template?

We do not provide examples of ‘good’ applications because the best application for you is the one that is personal to you and your scientific objectives. Your application should be your own work, be personal to you, and reflect your achievements and future plans. Applications based on other candidates’ applications or applications from previous years will not stand out during the review process and you may inadvertently fail to address requirements specific to this year’s process.

Can I update my application (e.g., my publications or CV) after I have submitted it?

No, we do not permit updates to any part of the application post-submission. We strongly recommend you leave yourself enough time to thoroughly review and check your application before submitting it. Do not leave it to the last day.

Can you give an example of what a pivot is?

The degree of change in research direction you propose is entirely up to you. However, we expect your fellowship research proposal to represent a genuine, and ambitious, change of focus from your PhD studies, with a clear rationale for the change in direction you are proposing.

Technical pivots (developing new skills within a domain related to your PhD) or domain pivots (making a complete switch between disciplines and domains) are both acceptable. However, in all cases you should make a clear case for the genuine development of new skills and widening of perspectives and networks.

If the new area of research is similar to your PhD in any way, you should take care to avoid it appearing incremental. If the new area is far removed from your previous research experience, you should take care to evidence investigation of both the novelty and feasibility of the proposed research.

How risky and novel should my pivot be? Am I expected to be an expert in my new field of study and how much technical detail should be included in the research proposal?

We encourage ambition, innovation, and bold ideas, and we provide an environment where you have the intellectual freedom and support to take this kind of risk.

You do not have to be an expert in the field you are moving into, but you should have researched the area sufficiently well to be able to make a proposal that is both original and which includes enough technical detail to convince reviewers of its feasibility. Proposals that are wholly derivative or that duplicate existing ideas are unlikely to be competitive.

You should be feeling uncomfortable about what you don’t know in the new area. If you have already mastered the majority of skills needed to undertake your Fellowship research proposal, then you are probably not suggesting a strong enough pivot.

We do not set expectations regarding the success of your project or scientific outputs. Schmidt Science Fellows gives you the freedom to make an ambitious leap, but the ambition should be tempered with a clarity of vision for the purpose of making this leap and a thorough investigation into the feasibility of making the attempt.

Can I pivot into the Social Sciences?

We encourage Schmidt Science Fellows to think broadly, deeply, and globally about where they undertake their Fellowship Research Placements. Fellows may undertake their Placements in any laboratory that aligns with the program vision and the individual training needs of the Fellow. We do not encourage pivots into particular research areas or impose boundaries in this regard. The program aims to advance scientific discovery through interdisciplinary research and training, so an argument will need to be made for how a pivot into any discipline will facilitate that scientific advancement.

Does the pivot need to make an impact on society (e.g., solving real-life problems in current situations) or can it just satisfy academic curiosity?

We support bold ideas and that includes fundamental blue-skies academic research as well as applied research. In either case, we recommend you also articulate a vision as to how the proposal may have an impact, in both the short and longer-term, be that in science and/ or society.

I have already started working on my pivot, is that OK?

Even if you have switched disciplines during your PhD, linear or incremental extensions of your PhD studies are unlikely to be considered ambitious enough. We advise that there should at the very least be a new skill set to be learned through the pivot you are making.

Can we make changes to the proposal that we have already submitted to our nominating institution?

Yes, please approach the online application as a new exercise and ensure you address the requirements (and pay attention to the guidance notes) therein. You may draw on your university proposal (if your university requested one), but each nominating institution is likely to have a different internal process, and these do not take precedence over the requirements of our online application.

How can you balance 'big ideas' with a 12–24 month research proposal? What if my idea is more ambitious than that?

We suggest you consider the Fellowship and 12-24 month research proposal as part of the bigger picture, there is no expectation for you to single-handedly solve grand societal challenges within this timeframe. We recommend you focus your research proposal on the 12-24 month period and consider its technical feasibility within that timeframe, but to think of this as part of a longer-term vision. It is worth articulating how the focused learnings you will gain through this period of intensive study will contribute to both your personal/ research goals after the Fellowship as well as commenting on the potential for wider impact in science and society.

How bound and committed are we to the project we propose in our application?

You are not expected to commit to the proposal before the award of a Fellowship.

The research proposal itself is subject to discussion, mentoring, review and approval before the Fellowship commences – we accept that the science may have moved on since your application and also that further mentoring and discussion may reshape things.

I have more than one potential research project in mind, should I write about all of them or just focus on one?

You should focus on creating a single clear Fellowship research proposal. We are looking for Fellows to pivot into a new discipline and go through an intense period of learning to embed themselves fully in a new research area. Approaches proposing shallower learnings across multiple disciplines are less likely to be competitive.

Is it ill-advised to mention why I’m pivoting away from my current field? e.g. frustrations regarding our current research or supervisor.

You should give a clear and positive rationale for the pivot you are proposing, what impact and benefits this will have and why you are passionate about this. Focusing on escape from a negative situation is unlikely to make for a compelling justification.

I already have a post-doctoral position lined up, is this a problem?

We recognize that some candidates will have already secured a post-doc position prior to commencing the Fellowship placement. However, candidates should not assume that any pre-existing position will be automatically approved or that it will be automatically denied.

We are not a traditional post-doc program and encourage ambition and risk-taking. We recommend you think deeply about how any pre-existing position may meet the requirement of widening your skills, perspectives, and networks through this Fellowship.

ALL placements are subject to the same review and approval process – this is entirely focused on making sure that you find the best lab in which to achieve your ambitious Fellowship goals. We recommend you keep your options open and have a flexible mindset about where you may eventually carry out your Fellowship Research Placement.

Can you choose to be placed at a non-academic institution for your postdoc?

The majority of placements are hosted by academic institutions. However, Fellows have been placed at non-academic institutions like National Laboratories. In these instances, Fellows are required to have an academic affiliation if they are placed at a non-academic institution (to ensure access to an appropriate and supportive scientific community and help maintain a breadth of longer-term career options). All placements, regardless of being at an academic or non-academic institutions must be discussed with and approved by the Academic Council who will be ensuring that the environment you select is the best possible one for your research, pivot, and professional development.

Can I do my Fellowship placement in the lab where I am currently studying for my PhD?

No. Selected Fellows are required to pursue a Fellowship Research Placement in a different lab/ department to that of their PhD. Candidates should view a potential Fellowship Research Placement as an unrivalled opportunity to go anywhere in the world to acquire new skills in a new discipline and to experience a different research environment. We encourage you to think broadly and globally about this and how this may enable both your current project and future career and to make the most of this opportunity.

How do I identify potential labs, and do I need to reach out to potential PIs? Are well-known institutions or senior PIs looked at more favorably for the placement option?

We recommend you investigate which labs and organizations are generating interesting outputs and publications in the area you wish to move into in the first instance. We recommend you also look into the culture of the lab, how it is structured and the track record of the PI to see if you think they could provide the training environment and resources you would need, and if you feel you would ‘fit’.

You do not need to secure a position at this stage or contact potential PIs, but you may do so if you wish. This will not affect your application.

The options for placement section of the application is about better understanding your approach to the pivot. Nothing here is binding and there are no institutes or PI’s who are looked on more favorably than others. It is about demonstrating that you have thoroughly considered the support you will need to develop skills in a new area and what may be the best environment through which to obtain this support.

You are not expected to join or commit to any one option before the award of a Fellowship. Indeed, it is advised that you wait if you can, to have the full benefit of the mentoring of our Academic Council, before making any commitment.

Am I allowed to be co-supervised by multiple PI’s during my Fellowship Research Placement?

Fellows must have one named and responsible PI. This does not preclude formal collaboration with other scientists or groups but is to ensure the PI is accountable and responsible for providing scientific guidance, resources, and a conducive training environment.

Can you provide examples of what you mean by relevant activities outside of the PhD research?

Relevant activities outside of research may be anything you choose to include. However, we recommend you discuss activities which may provide reviewers with additional insight relevant to our selection criteria, e.g. activities where you may have had a leadership role, volunteered for an organization of interest to you, or which demonstrate a sense of curiosity or wider engagement in science and/ or society.

In my application, should I mention past outreach and advocacy activities, or my vision for this in the future?

Yes, if relevant to you, this type of content is well worth mentioning in your Personal Statement.

Who should I ask to write my letters of recommendation? Can a group leader of a potential laboratory where I would like to carry out my research be a referee? What about someone who could only write a personal recommendation?

Your referees do not all have to be senior faculty, or even academics. However, we recommend you ideally choose people senior enough to have the experience and perspective to talk about your current abilities (academic and character) AND your future potential. In all cases it is essential they know you well enough to talk compellingly to our selection criteria when writing their letters.

We do not recommend choosing friends or colleagues at the same career stage as referees.

You do not need to have engaged with potential PIs for your placement at this time and we recommend you think very carefully about how well a potential future group leader really knows you before asking them to write a letter for you.

If I do not have a good relationship with my supervisor, can I suggest someone else as a referee.

One of your letters of recommendation must come from your primary supervisor, if you feel this letter will not be positive then try to balance this by seeking out other referees who you know will spend the time to write a good letter for you and securing up to the maximum (5) number of letters of recommendation if you can.

Should there be extenuating circumstances you wish to discuss you my raise these issues for the attention of the Program Team in the Notes section at the end of the application or contact the Admissions team directly.

What is the expectation regarding the number and quality of publications?

You should be able to evidence a clear record of achievement and productivity relative to your field of study.

Published outputs, where your contributions are made clear and peer-reviewed, are very useful when evaluating academic excellence and we recommend you try to get your publications out wherever possible. We also recommend that you provide a persistent identifier (e.g. ORCID) to enable reviewers to track outputs that may be published later in the year.

However, there is no one simple answer to this question as outputs vary significantly between disciplines, as does the impact factor of journals associated with different subject areas. Our Academic Review is carried out by experts in different disciplinary areas and they will take these factors into account.

Will Final interviews be in person?

No, we intend to run interviews virtually as we have successfully done so over the past three cycles.

Are submitted/under-review papers able to be included in the application? What about other kinds of output?

Yes, you may include three types of publications ‘Published Research’, ‘Articles in Press’ and ‘Articles in Preparation’. You may also include Patents, Book Chapters, etc. in the Other Outputs section of the application form.

How does the Academic Review work? Are there interviews?

There are no interviews for the Academic Review process. At this stage of the process, a review panel of three to five senior academics (all broadly expert in the area of your PhD research) review your application materials independently ahead of convening as a panel to discuss each application and to arrive at a consensus set of recommendations and rankings.

The Fellowship

How competitive is Schmidt Science Fellows?

We are unashamedly competitive; Schmidt Science Fellows is a transformative opportunity for exceptional individuals who meet all our Selection criteria to a high degree. We expect to select 36 Fellows for the 2023 cohort and the size of the candidate pool is not yet known. Typically, our success rate (of nominees already pre-screened and selected from their PhD university) is just under 10% based on completed applications.

How many institutions or universities nominate to Schmidt Science Fellows?

Candidates must be nominated by a designated official or coordinator from their PhD host institution. Over 100 of the world’s leading universities and research institutes are invited to make nominations each year.

What is the earliest start date for a 2023 Fellowship?

Most 2023 Fellows are expected to begin their Fellowship Research Placements in July or October 2023, with July being the earliest start date.

Can I hold another Fellowship at the same time, or do I have to defer it?

We do not permit deferrals (unless related to sick leave or family leave) and we do not normally allow Fellows to receive any awards or remuneration from other organizations concurrent with the Fellowship. Supplementary funding for research and other professional development (such as travel grants) is allowed and encouraged. With program approval, Fellows may also retain the title of another fellowship during the Fellowship Year if personal remuneration is not accepted and as long as there are no compulsory requirements that could hinder full participation in our programming (e.g., full attendance at Global Meetings and engagement with Mentoring), or effective engagement with the Fellowship Research Placement.

Does the Schmidt Science Fellows program provide additional funding for research costs and support staff?

Stipends are intended to support personal costs and should not be used to pay for research costs or consumables. Your host organization is required to provide the project resources necessary to meet your placement objectives.

For Fellows travelling internationally for their placement are relocation expenses covered?

We provide support for visa and flight costs for those traveling to a new country for their Placement.

Does the Fellowship cover taxes?

Fellows receive a personal stipend and are responsible for ensuring compliance with any applicable tax laws in both their home and placement countries as relevant.

Could you clarify what the placement process looks like?

New Fellows are encouraged to pause to fully consider their options and work together with our Academic Council to agree on their research plan and host lab. The process consists of an initial consultation stage where Fellows discuss research plans, explore best options for Placement, and can get advice on their project and plans, followed by Fellows contacting prospective PIs to discuss their needs and research proposal to ensure there is a mutual fit. Following this discussion, Fellows submit their research proposal to the Program team for review and formal approval from a sub-committee of the Academic Council. Once confirmation of support from the host PI/ university is in place, the Fellow and PI (in consultation with the Program) agree on a start date.

Should I opt for a 12 or 24 month Placement, and what is the process if I want to do more than 12 months?

The proposed duration of the Fellowship Research Placement does not factor into the assessment process. Individuals should consider what is best both for their proposed research and intended career path. Any Fellow wishing to continue their Fellowship Research Placement beyond 12 months will be expected to complete a light-touch review at the ten-month point. There is no requirement to have met set scientific objectives, but there will be an expectation to outline what the Fellow has been working on, obstacles encountered, any changes in direction or focus, and a proposed plan for the remainder of the Placement. Your PI will be asked to submit a letter outlining your work so far and reconfirming their commitment to support you through the intended full duration.

Can the Fellowship be extended beyond 24 months?

Currently, the Fellowship allows for a 12-24 month Research Placement. A program of alumni activities follows on from this, but we do not envisage further extensions of the Placement.

Is it possible to do a postdoc in more than one lab?

We expect our Fellows to have one primary host lab and PI to support them during their Research Placement. We have found that when Fellows have more than one co-PI, they do not always receive the professional mentorship they need because no one PI is responsible for their development. We do, however, encourage collaboration and it may be appropriate for a Fellow to hold a secondary affiliation with another institution or lab. We just require each Fellow to have a single responsible lead PI and an institutional ‘home base’ for their Placement.

Can I change my pivot partway through the Fellowship?

Your host PI will be your primary academic support during your Research Placement, any changes of direction should be discussed both with them and your Academic Council mentor. Schmidt Science Fellows allows you the academic freedom to fail and learn from this to pivot. Again, we do not have set expectations or requirements for scientific output that would force you to stay on an unproductive path.

Does the Schmidt Science Fellows program have any requirements relating to intellectual property we generate whilst undertaking our Fellowship?

No, Schmidt Science Fellows does not make any claim to the intellectual property arising from your research during your Placement.

Do you have any expectations or requirements for what sorts of career paths Schmidt Science Fellows should pursue after their Fellowship Placement?

While it is our hope and expectation that Senior Fellows will continue to work toward advancing interdisciplinary discovery to benefit the world, there are many ways that can be achieved and Schmidt Science Fellows are free to pursue any career path they wish following their Fellowship Research Placement.