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Guide for Applicants

Strengthen your Beckman Center fellowship application with this guide to the application process and selection criteria.

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Eligibility of Candidates | Collections | Review Process and Criteria | 80/20 Postdoctoral Fellowships | Preparing Your Application | Application Timeline

Eligibility of Candidates

The eligibility of candidates varies according to the fellowship. You may not apply for multiple kinds of fellowships at the same time. If you are unsure about what kind of fellowship to apply for, please write to us at and we will advise you.

  • 80/20 Postdoctoral Fellowships
    Must be on track to defend the dissertation by the end of July 2021 or have earned the doctoral degree within the last five years.
  • Dissertation Fellowships
    Doctoral dissertation proposal must have been accepted by the applicant’s university department.
  • Short-Term Fellowships
    Open to all scholars and researchers irrespective of career stage, including doctoral students, who plan to work closely with the Institute’s collections on an independent research project.
  • Distinguished Fellowships
    Open to tenured professors and academics at the rank of senior lecturer or above; established scholars in independent research libraries or museums; and independent scholars with a commensurate record of scholarly achievement, whose research in the history of chemical or molecular science, broadly construed, would benefit from access to our collections. N.B. These 4-month fellowships must be taken up between September–December 2021 (fall semester) or for a 4-month period between January–May 2022 (spring semester).

It is possible that these conditions can be waived if, for example, you have had a career break or illness. In cases such as these, we invite you to write to to explain the circumstances prior to applying.

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The Institute’s primary collections focus is the history of chemistry, chemical engineering, and the modern life sciences. Our materials range chronologically from the 15th century to the present and include more than 6,000 rare books, significant archival holdings, thousands of images and other graphic materials, memorabilia of various kinds, oral histories, scientific instruments and artifacts, and a substantial fine art collection, supported by over 100,000 modern primary-source volumes and journals.

Within the collections there are many areas of special strength of interest to historians of art, business and labor, and the environment, as well as historians of science, technology, and medicine and scholars in science and technology studies.

Our collection strengths include

  • Corporate Records
    We possess the corporate records of chemical companies and senior business and scientific figures within them. These include the historical collections of the Dow Chemical Company, Rohm & Haas, the Aldrich Chemical Company, and Arnold O. Beckman and Beckman Coulter, Inc.
  • Scientific Organizations
    Our archives hold the records of major international scientific organizations such as the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Chemists, The Chemists’ Club and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. We also hold the records of the Gordon Research Conferences.
  • Immigration and Exile
    Our oral history collection documents scientists’ experiences throughout the twentieth century as they fled Cuba, Hungary, South Africa, China, Turkey, and Germany. Archival collections include the papers of Gabor Levy, Ernest Ludwig Eliel, and most recently Georg Bredig and his son Max.
  • Food Science
    We possess substantial collections documenting and analyzing the production, packaging, and marketing of food, including advertisements, printed ephemera, recipe books, and photographs. Subjects represented in the collection include food additives and adulteration, flavoring essences, and safety standards, as well as food-adjacent topics such as sugar, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and margarine.
  • Information Science
    We hold the papers, oral history, and extensive works of Eugene Garfield, as well as oral histories of several early information scientists and historical materials including punch cards, card punching equipment and documentation of the patenting of LCDs.
  • Materials Science
    The Othmer Library holds substantial resources on materials science topics across six centuries, including inorganic and organic chemistry, mineralogy, mining and metallurgy, geochemistry, and astrochemistry.
  • Modern Bioscience and Medicine
    Our library and archives have broad primary and secondary source collections covering molecular biology, biochemistry, biotechnology, physiology, pharmacology, toxicology, balneology, and agriculture.
  • Women in Science
    In addition a range of materials related to prominent female chemists (listed  under “chemists” below),  our collections also include oral histories of women in the chemical industry, images of women working in a variety of laboratory and industrial settings, nineteenth and twentieth century women’s laboratory and lecture notes, and numerous historical materials and objects related to women's health.
  • Chemists
    Our Archives hold the papers of numerous notable polymer chemists, such as Carl Marvel, Daniel W. Fox, and the Nobel laureate Paul Flory. Other Nobel laureates in the archival collection include Sir John Pople, Alan MacDiarmid, Paul Lauterbur, John Fenn, Robert Bruce Merrifield, Johann Deisenhofer, and Richard Smalley. Additionally, our library collections contain a range of materials related to prominent female chemists including Marie Curie, Irène Joliot-Curie, Bettye Washington Greene, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, Stephanie Kwolek, and Rosalyn Yalow.
  • Alchemy
    Our rare books collection includes a world-class collection of hundreds of manuscripts and published sources relating to Renaissance and early modern alchemy, as well as books of secrets.
  • Fine Art
    Our fine art collection contains more than 500 works of art including oil paintings and portraits, prints, sculpture, multimedia works, and nontraditional media.
  • Color
    The practical applications of materials science in the world of color are well represented across our collections, including home and industrial dyes and dyeing, pigments, enamels, gunpowder and pyrotechnics, and color theory.
  • Science Education
    Pedagogical materials in our scientific instrument collections include chemistry sets, molecular models, and science kits used for both instruction and play, primarily from the mid-20th century. Related archival documents include lecture notes, such as Louis Pasteur’s on stereochemistry, as well as letters between scientists concerning the state of scientific education, and the library holds an extensive collection of scientific textbooks.

More information about all of our collections can be found at The library and archival collections can be searched at and the digitized collections at A number of more detailed subject guides and information on how to navigate the Othmer Library holdings can be found at For information on our museum holdings please submit a reference request.

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Review Process and Criteria

All fellows are selected by an independent review committee consisting of an international panel of five leading scholars. Its members are chosen to represent a diversity of

  • institutions in which scholarly research is pursued
  • time periods and potential topics
  • historiographical approaches

The committee will draw up a ranked shortlist of candidates for each type of fellowship, and the Director of the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry will then match this selection to the available named fellowships according to the terms of our endowments and available named fellowships. Candidates do not need to select from among these named fellowships themselves. The committee may also recommend the award of a short-term fellowship to distinguished fellowship candidates.

The main criteria for selection are as follows:

  • Scholarly Achievement and Potential
    The panel will base this assessment mainly on the clarity, insightfulness and originality of your scholarly project(s) as displayed in your cover letter and research proposal, your reference letters, and your publication record.
  • Collections Usage
    The extent to which your project draws upon the Institute’s collections, whether rare books, archives, modern materials, or museum artefacts. Candidates can also make a case that they would derive exceptional benefit from our secondary sources.
  • Engagement Potential (Postdoctoral Fellows Only)
    We will additionally consider the fit with the engagement component of the fellowship. The committee will look for evidence of commitment and potential, as displayed, for example, through exhibits curated, oral histories conducted, popular articles written, and so on.

Other important factors in the selection of long-term fellows are the feasibility of realizing goals set by the end of the fellowship, which the panel determines by scrutinizing the objectives you set as part of your research proposal, and whether your expertise might contribute to other research or public outreach projects in progress at the Institute.

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80/20 Fellowships

These fellowships reflect the Institute’s commitment to providing a career-launching platform for recent PhDs and its support for the career diversity initiatives of the American Historical Association and affiliated scholarly societies. Postdoctoral fellows of the Beckman Center have the opportunity to build skills and experience relevant to work both within and outside the academy. We encourage applications from scholars aspiring to library, museum, and public history careers, as well as those targeting the tenure track.

Our postdoctoral fellows are presented with the option of spending roughly one fifth of their time working closely with Institute staff mentors on “engagement” projects related to their research and based loosely in one of three concentrations:

  • Rare books
    Identify an area for development in our rare book collection based on your expertise, assist in the acquisition and accessioning of one of more books in this area, and carry out related research to enhance our digital collection.
  • Museum
    Conduct secondary and primary source research for Institute collections and museum exhibitions; generate digital content; contribute to exhibit content development (identifying possible exhibit objects from Institute and outside collections, identifying visual assets, crafting exhibit text).
  • Oral history
    Learn how to conduct an oral history interview as a method to create a permanent archival record and digital transcript of a renowned scientist’s life and work; identify and develop an interview pool of 4–6 interviewees that complements our current collection; conduct interviews; process transcripts for online access.

Once their projects have acquired sufficient momentum, under the guidance of staff mentors postdoctoral fellows begin to develop (additional) public-facing content in a range of media for the Institute’s public audiences, including for our digital magazine and podcast, Distillations.

We can also tailor our postdoctoral program to applicants who wish to focus more directly on scholarly publishing and public outreach via Distillations and other in-house opportunities. This option is designed to appeal to those committed to university careers, but is not exclusive to them.

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Preparing Your Application

To apply for a Beckman Center fellowship, you will need to use the appropriate online form and submit the following documents:

Cover Letter

Your cover letter, apart from introducing you and your project(s), should explain why the Science History Institute is a suitable host institution from a scholarly perspective. In addition, in the cover letter for a postdoctoral fellowship, applicants should:

  • describe how you think an 80/20 postdoctoral fellowship will further your career aims;
  • explain what kinds of skills you are interested in developing during your fellowship.

Postdoctoral fellows should also select their main area of interest for the 80/20 engagement project on the online form (rare books, museum, oral history). Applicants who wish to focus on scholarly publishing and public outreach via Distillations and other in-house opportunities should select “none.”

A maximum of two pages is allowed for the cover letters of long-term fellowship applicants, and one page for short-term fellowships.

Research Proposal

Your research proposal should incorporate the following elements:

  • a detailed description of your research project, its scholarly rationale, and your research objectives during the fellowship.
  • an account of your research project draws upon the Institute’s collections.

A maximum of four pages is allowed for the research proposals of long-term fellowship applicants, and three pages for short-term fellowships.

Additional Supporting Information

The remaining elements of your application consist of

  • abstract of up to 150 words
  • CV (four pages max)
  • one piece of sample work (e.g. a published paper, dissertation chapter, or Masters thesis), preferably of not more than 10,000 words (long-term fellowships only)
  • contact details of two referees unaffiliated with the Science History Institute

You should consider the selection criteria carefully when drafting these documents. One key point: we do not expect candidates to score highly on all the criteria. The review committee will look more favorably on applications that recognize and emphasize areas where the fit is good than those which strain credibility. Further advice can be found in the FAQs.


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Application Timeline


Application Deadline

January 25, 2021

Deadline for upload of referee letters

February 8, 2021

Meeting of review committee

Early April 2021

Candidates notified of decisions

April 20, 2021


We will contact you on at least three occasions during this process:

  1. To confirm that your application materials were uploaded successfully (usually immediate)
  2. To confirm that your two reference letters have been uploaded successfully
  3. To notify you of the outcome.

We will also contact you if we anticipate any delays, if we need further information concerning your eligibility, or if you referees have not uploaded their letters by the deadline.

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The information contained in this guide was last updated on January 14, 2021.