You are here

Frequently Asked Questions

Get answers to common questions about Beckman Center fellowships.

Jump to:
Life at the Institute | The Beckman Center Application | Visas for International Fellows

Life at the Science History Institute

What sorts of projects does the Science History Institute fund?

Though some fellowships require specific research interests, in general our fellows’ research projects cover a wide variety of subjects. Fellows studying the history of 16th-century alchemy will find themselves next to someone researching the history of 20th- and 21st-century semiconductors or pharmaceuticals. Learn more about the research interests of our current and former fellows.

Will I have to be in Philadelphia all the time?

Beckman Center fellows are required to be in residence throughout their fellowship tenure. While you may leave for short periods (e.g., conference travel), extended periods of absence are only permissible for medical emergencies or other special circumstances. In those cases your stipend and fellowship may be suspended or even canceled. It is important that you contact us immediately in case of an emergency so that we can decide the best course of action.

How do I find a place to live?

The Science History Institute does not assist with housing placement for fellows. That said, we do have an ever-growing list of housing options that previous fellows have used. Many fellows have also successfully found housing using online listings like and

Once you have been named a fellow, we will send you some housing suggestions. We also maintain an online message board, which you can use to coordinate with other fellows if you want to share housing.

How will I be paid, and to where?

You will be paid throughout your stay in regular installments (once a month for Beckman Center fellowships, usually twice a month for other fellowships). It is very easy, even for non-Americans, to open a local bank account (free of charge), and your stipend will be paid directly into your U.S. bank account. Your stipend can also be wired to an account abroad, but it is not recommended.

Am I expected to keep set hours?

Our fellows do not keep set hours, though we like to have them around during the workday as much as possible. Long-term fellows have keys to the building and can also work before or after hours, including on weekends. We do ask that you attend weekly lunchtime lectures, weekly check-in meetings, and our biweekly writing-group series.

What hours do fellows have access to the library?

The Othmer Library is open for fellows Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Most of our books are in closed stacks, so you need to request books to check out. The process is easy, and books are made available quickly. Reference books are accessible in our reading room for everyone but cannot be checked out. All fellows also receive a card that grants full access to the University of Pennsylvania’s libraries, online journals, and databases.

I am someone who requires accommodations for a disability. How will the Institute meet my needs while I am a fellow?

The Science History Institute is committed to ensuring that everyone can experience our collections, research, and facilities. You can read more about our efforts on our accessibility page. We invite you to share how we can be more accessible to you while you are here as a fellow. Please email or call 215.925.2222 with requests, questions, or feedback.

What latitude do I have for attending conferences and colloquia?

We encourage our fellows to attend conferences and colloquia and engage with local academic communities. All Science History Institute fellows should identify themselves as such in any presentations made during the academic year in which they hold their fellowship, though if you have another affiliation, listing dual affiliation is entirely appropriate.

What should I know for my first few days as a fellow?

On your first day you are introduced to the Institute through orientations about our building, library, computer procedures, and so on. You also receive advice on opening a bank account, amenities in the area in which you live, and answers to any other questions you might have. We provide you with printed guides to the Institute and do everything we can to make your transition a smooth one. (Please note that since we enroll several staff members in your orientation, it is vital that we know the exact date of your arrival at the Institute and that you arrive promptly at the scheduled time.)

Will I be able to use the University of Pennsylvania’s library system?

Once in residence you will be able to apply for a PennCard, with visiting student/scholar status, which will allow you to use the Penn libraries and make use of other Penn facilities.

Will I have an opportunity to work with other parts of the organization?

Yes! We think it is important to connect ongoing scholarship to audiences beyond academia. Though we do so directly through weekly lunchtime lecture talks and regular public lectures like Fellow in Focus, we also encourage fellows to take part in the Institute’s broader public offerings, both as facilitators and visitors. We see doing so not only as a public service and an important part of a scholar’s life but also as a great way to develop or enhance public speaking, teaching, and multimedia skills—all of which are becoming increasingly important to working both inside and outside the academy.

Past fellows have developed public programs, given lectures, taken part in online Twitter chats, written for the Institute’s publications, and more. For more information about outreach opportunities for fellows, contact Rebecca Ortenberg at

The Beckman Center Online Application

How do I apply for a Beckman Center fellowship?

Beckman Center fellowships require an online application. We do NOT accept paper applications. If you are having trouble with the online application, please contact us at

When will applications be available?

Beckman Center applications usually become available by the fall preceding a fellowship year. For example, you can expect applications for 2020–2021 fellowships to be available in October 2019.

When are successful candidates notified?

Once the application deadline passes, a peer-review committee convenes to evaluate the applications as soon as possible. You can expect to hear from us within 8 to 12 weeks of submission, regardless of the outcome of your application.

How are references submitted?

In the application form you will provide the names and contact details of two referees. We will email your references, instructing them on how to submit the letter through our website. Please inform them that you have planned to use them as a reference and that they should have a letter ready to submit. Your referees will be asked to submit their references within two weeks of the application deadline.

Help! The online application isn’t working! What do I do?

When too many people are trying to submit applications at once, applicants sometimes receive an error message when submitting. This is especially common on the day of the application deadline. If you are having trouble, try again in a few minutes or a few hours. Another common problem has to do with an applicant’s browser; if you experience difficulty, try clearing your cache, quit and restart the browser, and then try to submit again. If you still encounter problems, you can send your application materials in a PDF or Word document to

Visas for International Fellows (Beckman Center fellows only)

Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to apply for a fellowship?

No, Beckman Center fellowships are open to applicants of any nationality with the necessary academic credentials.

For all other fellowships, applicants must be eligible to work in the United States.

Does the Institute provide visas to international fellows?

Yes, Beckman Center fellows will be provided with visas, which are provided via the University of Pennsylvania Office of International Programs.

For all other fellowship opportunities please email the appropriate contact person to find out if you require a visa and, if so, what kind of visa might be necessary.

How does the visa process work?

If we are providing you with a visa, a staff member will contact you in advance of your fellowship with instructions for obtaining that visa. Once you receive this information, you should begin the process as soon as possible as it sometimes takes several months.

The Science History Institute is able to provide only J-1 visas to international fellows. These visas are intended generally, barring extenuating circumstances, to begin when the scholar’s residence at the Institute begins. The fellow must without exception be in residence for a visa to be active. Absences of more than 30 days will result in a forfeiting of the visa, as per U.S. requirements. We provide visas through the University of Pennsylvania and in compliance with the federal government. We are not visa specialists and recommend that all international scholars read their information for visiting scholars and contact their office directly with specific questions.

What are the language requirements?

Excellent spoken and written English is essential: once at the Institute, fellows are full members of the Science History Institute community, participating in writing groups and discussions, and use English daily. The University of Pennsylvania has adopted new requirements for proof of competency in English, which can be satisfied with an interview, TOEFL scores, or educational or work experience in an English-speaking university. We will contact you with specific instructions for verifying competency after you have been awarded a fellowship. Please contact if you have questions or concerns.