In our second feature exploring different aspects of the Churchill Fellowship, we look at Junior Research Fellowships (JRFs) and meet one of our new incoming Churchill College JRFs, Osarenkhoe Ogbeide.
Junior Research Fellowships, now often referred to as early career fellowships, are one of the most important ways in which the College supports research. They have existed since the College’s foundation and their objective is to welcome young scholars who have already made an impact during their doctoral work and who have an independent research agenda which they intend to pursue as they launch their academic career.
One of the first JRFs to arrive at the College was Archie Howie. By midsummer of 1960, some months before the College first opened its doors in October, Teaching Fellows in major subjects were already in place but as Howie recalls, even in those days the selection of Research Fellows traditionally took several months so a crash programme was set up which enabled Howie and three other JRFs to join in at the beginning. As the holder of an I.C.I. Fellowship, Archie Howie was a non-stipendiary JRF, but he recalls enjoying the benefit of ‘luxurious free accommodation’ sharing one of the Sheppard Flats, first with Chris Cottrell and then with John Killen (JRF 1961 in classics) and the ‘interesting discussions over meals in the temporary dining hut with other Fellows and the early Advanced Students’. Professor Archie Howie CBE, FRS went on to become a Teaching Fellow at the College and held many other positions from Dean to President of the SCR alongside his work heading up the Cavendish Lab.
Junior Research Fellowships are awarded on the basis of research excellence and competition is fierce, with around 1000 applications made each year. The College generally aims to award a couple stipendiary Fellowships annually, though this varies somewhat according to circumstance. For example, a number of named Research Fellowships in specific areas are advertised from time to time as and when funds allow.
In early decades there was an age limit, but that is now illegal: what matters is early career, not literal age. The international field of applications is always extremely large. The Junior Research Fellowship provides the most outstanding scholars at an early stage in their careers the time – 3 or 4 years, depending on the fellowship – to advance significant new work in their field. The work undertaken during the JRF must be independent from, but usually grows out of their doctoral project, and the quality and promise of the new post-doctoral project proposed is an important factor in the application. As explained by one of the competition’s past panel chairs, Professor Andrew Webber, such ‘unencumbered freedom to pursue such projects provides a very special opportunity to advance their academic careers to the next stage and this is particularly the case for stipendiary JRFs in the arts and humanities, where there are far fewer funded post-doctoral opportunities.’ The benefits are not just limited to the JRFs themselves, but the research they carry out also benefits the wider Fellowship community:
By sharing their work both formally and informally with members of the College community, our JRFs enrich and stimulate thinking and foster fresh conversations between workers in different disciplines, as well as among specialists in their fields.Professor Andrew Webber
As the competition has become more stiff, and as academic publishing at an early stage has increased, successful candidates are likely to have one or two publications ‘in the bag’. Even so, the chief mode of assessment is the use of two external assessors to judge the quality of a submission, typically a substantial part of a doctoral thesis. Churchill is unusual is not interviewing candidates: for JRFs we are not interested in, for example, teaching skills. The purpose is to provide three years of uninterrupted research.
This opportunity has produced some notable successes including recent JRF Dr Leor Zmigrod (2019-2022) whose work as a political neuroscientist and psychologist has attracted a great deal of national and international interest.
Meet incoming JRF Osarenkhoe Ogbeide
One of this year’s two incoming JRFs is Osarenkhoe Ogbeide, who recently also completed his PhD at the College.
Osarenkhoe (Ozzy) was born in Islington, London to Nigerian parents, specifically from the Edo tribe. Despite starting school in inner London, he completed some of his primary education in Lagos, Nigeria before moving to Harrow, in North-west London. He completed his undergraduate Master’s degree at the University of Leicester in Interdisciplinary Science, later renamed as Natural Sciences. Since the course didn’t have specialisation pathways he continued studying all the sciences at increasing challenging levels. His degree provided the same depth as a single science student but with the breath narrowed to topics experts considered the most important for a scientist today. We met with Ozzy to find out more about his journey to being a JRF at Churchill and plans for the future.
What was your PhD research area?
My PhD research area was on inkjet printable gas sensors made using functional 2D materials. The project served as a way to connect research themes I had previously studied in my undergraduate degree, specifically my third-year project in Atmospheric chemistry and my final year project in Nanoscience, so I felt uniquely suited to this research area and was excited to begin.
What first led you to study at Churchill and what do you like most about the College?
Churchill has a beautiful architecture, with a lot of natural light and vast green spaces. This, coupled with its proximity to the West Cambridge labs meant that it was the best choice for me for both my PhD and the Research Fellowship. I’ve visited a lot of other colleges and I can confidently say Churchill has some of the best facilities for sport, study and leisure. And I think the comparative informality helps foster a lively College community which helps to make College life even more enjoyable.
Why did you decide to apply to be a JRF and what will be your area of research?
I applied to be a JRF because I felt that there was a great deal more I could accomplish in my research area. I had some promising results and fresh ideas so it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to explore that and start my research career. A large part of my application stemmed from the encouragement I received from my supervisor, College Fellow Prof. Tawfique Hasan, and how enjoyable my time at Churchill has been.
My area of research will extend from my PhD and focus on indoor air quality monitoring using nano-engineering.
What inspired you to develop an interest in this subject area?
My interest in this subject area grew gradually over time. I previously mentioned completing projects in my undergrad that paved the way for my PhD research, and now my area of research during the JRF is the culmination of all these years of experience in gas detection and nanomaterial production.
What do you do in your spare time?
In my spare time I work on my comicbook publishing business “New Africa Comics” (or “NAC” for short), where I write, edit, draw and produce stories about African culture, mythology and people. Aside from that I’m an avid chess player, video game fanatic and mixed martial artist. Some of my work will be displayed digitally in the College Buttery as part of an exhibition celebrating Black History Month from Monday 23 – Friday 27 October.
What are you most looking forward to as a JRF?
Being a JRF is a great opportunity to pursue research but I’m also really excited to meet and get to know the other Fellows and listen to their stories and experiences. There is so much I can learn so I’m looking forward to meeting everyone.
What are your career aspirations?
This is an evolving target however currently I aspire to build/develop a lab where I can push industry forward and create usable products while also communicating science more effectively with my art.
Apply for a Junior Research Fellowship
The Joint Application Scheme for Early Career Fellowship (JRFs) 2024
Junior (Early Career) Research Fellowships are open to graduates of any University, who have recently completed their PhD or are close to completion, although there is no formal age limit. A stipend is provided with these Fellowships, and College accommodation is available if required. The normal tenure is three years. The Fellowships are widely advertised in the Michaelmas Term and elections made at the end of the Lent Term.
This year there are ten JRFs on offer across a range of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and STEM subjects from five colleges: Churchill, Clare, Fitzwilliam, Robinson and Trinity Hall. The Vice-Master of Churchill Chairs the Joint Application Scheme and retains oversight of the Churchill College applications who are ultimately approved by the College’s Fellowship Electors Committee.