You are here

Guide for Applicants

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

Jump to:
Eligibility of Topics | Eligibility of Candidates | Collections | Review Process and Criteria | 80/20 Fellowships | Preparing Your Application

Eligibility of Topics

The Science History Institute’s primary focus is chemistry, chemical engineering, and the modern life sciences from a historical and humanistic perspective. These fields are interpreted flexibly in order to allow for their complex historical evolution and changes in meaning over time, but note carefully the variation in the chronological and thematic scope:

  • Chemistry
    This encompasses all the chemical sciences and other fields that engage with chemical and molecular matters, from ancient times to the present day. Examples include but are not limited to alchemy, chemistry, biochemistry, geochemistry, astrochemistry, catalysis, mineralogy, and materials science.
  • Chemical engineering
    This is interpreted broadly to include all forms of chemical technology and their application, from antiquity to the present day. Examples include but are not limited to industrial chemistry, nanotechnology, mining and metallurgy, dyeing and bleaching, distilling and brewing, and pyrotechnics.
  • Life sciences
    This embraces those areas of the life sciences that specifically deal with the chemical and molecular studies of life, from the 18th century to the present day. Examples include but are not limited to molecular biology, biotechnology, physiology, pharmacology, toxicology, agriculture, and health science.

We require minimally that your main object of inquiry relates to these fields or their products in some meaningful way; you need not be writing disciplinary history. We place no limitations on the historiographical approaches that may be adopted or the sites and spheres that may be addressed. For illustrative purposes only, examples of historiographical approaches include biographical, institutional, material, cultural, pedagogical, disciplinary, constructivist, global, and postcolonial. Examples of the sites or spheres include the laboratory, field, classroom, textbook, factory, clinic, and home.

Candidates whose work draws upon the Institute’s collections (see below) need not be restricted to the fields indicated above. Previous fellows, for example, have self-identified with the history of art, East Asian studies, and science and technology studies, to name but a few.

Candidates who have any doubts about the eligibility of their topics are encouraged to write to the director of the Center for Historical Research, Daniel Jon Mitchell, at

Back to top


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; the online form will allow you to indicate which type of fellowship you are applying for.

  • 80/20 postdoctoral fellowships
    You must have a PhD in hand by July 2020 and have earned this degree within the last five years.
  • Dissertation fellowships
    PhD dissertation proposals must have been accepted by the candidate’s university department. Candidates outside of the United States in dissertation- or thesis-only programs will be entering a fourth year without funding.
  • Short-term fellowships
    These are 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.

If your circumstances are unusual, it is possible that these conditions can be waived. For example, if you have had a career break or if you self-funded your thesis-only PhD program and are nearing completion, you might be eligible. In such cases contact the director of the Center for Historical Research before applying.

Back to top



The research collections at the Institute range chronologically from the 15th century to the present and include 6,000 rare books; significant archival holdings; thousands of images and other graphic materials; memorabilia of various kinds; oral histories; and a large artifact and fine arts collection, supported by over 100,000 modern primary-source volumes and journals. Within the collections are many areas of special strength, including alchemy, mining and metallurgy, dyeing and bleaching, balneology, gunpowder and pyrotechnics, gas-lighting, books of secrets, inorganic and organic chemistry, biochemistry, food chemistry, and pharmaceuticals.

We would particularly like to draw attention to our recent acquisition of the personal papers of the Jewish-German émigré scientist Georg Bredig (1868–1944) and his son, Max (1902–1977). The sizable collection consists of correspondence, books, photographs, and scientific notes smuggled out of Germany during World War II. A founding figure in physical chemistry and catalytic research, Bredig became a target for persecution by the Nazi regime owing to his Jewish background and liberal political beliefs. The archive bears witness to Bredig’s significant scientific contributions and his family’s struggle to survive the Holocaust.

We are currently processing the collection and preparing a finding aid, and we anticipate opening the archive to scholars for consultation in spring 2020. We strongly encourage those with relevant historical interests to apply for short-term fellowships in order to explore its contents with the aim of developing a more substantive research program. We also invite scholars who believe that their existing work would be enhanced by materials in the Bredig collection to apply for short- or long-term fellowships.

The library collections can be searched online at A number of subject guides along with information on how to use the library can be found at You can also explore a number of our digitized collections at

Back to top


Review Process and Criteria

The selection of the fellows is made by an independent review committee consisting of an international panel of five leading scholars. Its members are chosen to represent the diversity of

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

The committee will draw up a ranked shortlist of candidates for each type of fellowship: 80/20 postdoctoral, dissertation, and short-term. The director of the Center for Historical Research will then match this selection to the available named fellowships according to the terms of our endowments and available funds (for details, see named fellowships). Candidates do not need to select from among these named fellowships themselves.

The criteria for selection are as follows:

  • Scholarly potential of the individual and the project
    The panel will base this assessment mainly on the clarity, insightfulness, and originality of your scholarly work as displayed in your cover letter and research proposal, your reference letters, and your publication record.
  • Institutional “fit”
    This refers essentially to the mutual benefit to be derived from your presence at the Institute. Here the relevant factors are the extent to which
    • your project draws upon access to the Institute’s collections;
    • your project lies in our core areas of focus stated in “eligibility of topics” above;
    • our research, library, and museum staff can offer you relevant expertise; and
    • your own expertise might contribute to other research or public outreach projects in progress at the Institute.
  • Feasibility of realizing goals set by the end of the fellowship
    The panel determines this by scrutinizing the plan you provide as part of your research proposal and any relevant comments by your referees.

For 80/20 postdoctoral fellows the “fit” criterion is applied additionally with reference to the engagement component of the fellowship (rare books, museum, oral history, or public programs). The committee will assess this mainly through the three supplementary questions on the application form. They will look for evidence of commitment and potential rather than for the finished article, as displayed, for example, through exhibitions curated, courses taught to nonspecialists, popular articles written, or oral histories conducted.

Back to top


80/20 Fellowships

These fellowships reflect the Institute’s commitment to providing career-launching fellowships for recent PhDs and its support for the career diversity initiatives of the American Historical Association and affiliated scholarly societies. The 80/20 postdoctoral fellowship program will enable the Beckman Center’s postdocs to build skills and experience that can enhance their opportunities outside the academy or their work within it.

During both of the two years fellows will spend on average one day a week working closely with Institute staff on “engagement” projects related to their research in one of four 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 or 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 to 6 interviewees that complements our current collection; and conduct interviews.
  • Public programs
    Research and develop public-facing content in a range of media for the Institute’s public audiences.

You can select a preferred concentration on the application form. The rest of the time fellows are expected to take advantage of the Institute’s considerable resources to develop and publish their own research. In addition, each 80/20 fellow will give one of our two annual flagship Fellow in Focus public lectures, either in the fall or the spring. There will also be an opportunity to coorganize a two-day workshop in the Institute’s state-of-the-art conference center on a topic determined collaboratively by the fellows.

Back to top


Preparing Your Application

To apply for a Beckman Center fellowship, you will need to fill out the online application and submit the following documents:

  • cover letter (two pages maximum), which apart from introducing you and your project(s), should explain why the Science History Institute is a suitable host institution from a scholarly perspective;
  • research proposal (three pages maximum), which should incorporate the following elements:
    • a detailed description of your research project and its scholarly rationale;
    • a timeline of your research while at the Institute, with appropriate milestones and outputs; and
    • (if relevant) a description of where and how the Institute’s collections fit into your research project.
  • CV (four pages maximum);
  • one piece of sample work (e.g., an extract from a published paper, dissertation chapter, master’s thesis) of not more than 10,000 words; and
  • contact details of two referees.

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

Applicants for the 80/20 fellowships will also need to submit answers to the following supplementary questions on the application form (300 words or less for each):

  • What skills are you interested in developing during your fellowship, and why?
  • What relevant experience do you have with respect to the engagement component (20%) of the fellowship?

If you have only a little relevant experience, please describe the kinds of work, service, or organizational experience, whether inside or outside an academic setting, that you might not ordinarily emphasize on an academic CV.

Back to top