Case study

Christine KnightSenior Research Fellow, University of EdinburghResearch Fellowships in Humanities and Social Science

Getting Wellcome Trust funding

What attracted you to Wellcome and to this scheme?

The research centre I’d been employed at for five years was winding up and we were all being made redundant. I was looking at various options, but Wellcome was very much ‘Plan A’.

I was still early-career but I was already five years post-PhD. There’s not that many research fellowship schemes which are flexible for someone at that point. 

I was really passionate and adamant that I wanted to get back into doing my own research projects – and also get back to food research which is what my PhD was in. Wellcome enabled me to do all of that. 

What aspects of the Research Fellowship funding are most useful to you?

I love that Wellcome supports you – basically to be a bit eccentric and creative in whatever way suits you best. 

In the course of my fellowship I’ve dropped down to working part time – four days a week. I don’t have children or caring responsibilities but I do have a lot of interests, including hillwalking. I prefer that balance and it’s how I do my best work. A lot of funders wouldn’t allow that, but Wellcome doesn’t bat an eyelid.

There are other ways in which it’s been quite flexible too. I’ve been able to take on a managerial role in my department at Edinburgh and get a no-cost extension on my grant to do that. 

I do quite a lot of fieldwork and that’s covered by my grant which is really important. Wellcome’s conference and travel funding is also generous. It doesn’t have to be predetermined, which again makes it very flexible. 

What do you think about Wellcome’s application process? 

It’s quite full on – challenging but also thorough. Wellcome’s different from some of the other funders because there’s an interview. This is stressful but it’s also valuable to be able to meet people face to face. 

The application forms were very detailed. But it’s meant that I’ve had a good blueprint for the research I’m doing now – I can go back to them to see exactly what I’d planned. 

I completely threw myself into the application and lived and breathed it for several months. To prep for the interview I brainstormed every single question I thought I could be asked and prepared answers. The combination of passion and desperation meant I really did pour everything into it!

I didn’t come out of the interview thinking ‘that’s in the bag’. I came out of it thinking, ‘well I did my best and I have no idea whether my project is going to be funded’. Then I thought of all the things I could have said and convinced myself that I wasn’t going to get it. When I got the phone call I was delighted. 

What advice would you give to other applicants?

Definitely put all the effort in. Even if you’re not successful, you’ll be able to rework your application to apply again or apply somewhere else. It’s not going to be wasted effort. 

Have fun. Wellcome really go for that – I don’t think you have to dull things down.

The night before the interview, my colleague and I sat in our hotel room and sang summaries of our projects to each other in a kind of Gregorian chant. Ridiculous – but you think about it and remember it in a different way.

Career path

Career summary

  • 2013-2017 Wellcome Trust Research Fellowship in Humanities and Social Science, University of Edinburgh
  • 2012-2013 Senior Policy Research Fellow, ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum, University of Edinburgh
  • 2008-2012 Policy Research Fellow, ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum, University of Edinburgh 
  • 2004-2008 PhD, University of Adelaide and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia

What have been the defining moments in your career so far?

Wellcome’s funding was definitely a turning point. Before that, I had quite unusual funding for my PhD. I’d studied English, but was interested in food, cooking and diet. So I approached the human nutrition arm of Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and said I wanted to do a project on popular diets. 

I had to be quite persistent until I found the right person, but getting that funding and support has been completely career changing. 

More recently, getting my first job at Edinburgh was defining because it involved moving from Australia. At the time, a lot of my friends had moved and I was coming up to 30. I thought, if I don’t do this now I’m not sure when I’ll do it. I was lucky I got a job quite quickly. 

Other smaller things have been quite pivotal. There’s a programme that I did here in Scotland called Scottish Crucible. It’s designed to bring people together for inter-disciplinary research – it was brilliant. 

Research and public engagement

What’s the key question you’re addressing?

I’m looking at the negative stereotype of deep-fried foods in the Scottish diet. At the moment, I’m focusing on the deep-fried Mars bar and its significance as a stereotype and icon that has captured public attention. 

How are you going about answering this question?

My project involves media analysis and interviews with experts and stakeholders who work in various fields of Scottish food and nutrition. 

I’m especially keen to interview people who’ve worked in this area over several decades. There’s also a range of other documentary sources – government policy documents, food advertising and various archives. I’m about to start looking at cook books, which will be fun. So, all in all, my project involves quite mixed research methods and sources.  

At the moment I’m writing journal articles and chapters. I’ll be doing a short report for government, policy and stakeholder audiences.  

My ultimate aim is to write a book. I want it to be accessible to non-academic audiences, so that people who have an interest in either food or national identity can read it too. 

What public engagement or outreach work do you do?

I get invited to do quite a few talks and lectures which are a lot of fun and one of the key outputs of the project. 

Every year I’ve been invited to speak at the Edinburgh International Science Festival. They have a really nice food event called SciMart – a farmers’ market with a scientific twist. 

I’m also part of the Royal Society of Edinburgh Young Academy of Scotland. It brings together researchers and professionals from different sectors in Scotland. I’m one of the co-founders of a food and drink group within that. It will be really interesting to see what we can do in the future. 

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