Fellowship of the Royal Society (FRS, ForMemRS and HonFRS) is an award granted to individuals that the Royal Society of London judges to have made a 'substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematics, engineering science, and medical science'.
Fellowship of the Society, the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, is a significant honour which has been awarded to many eminent scientists from history including Isaac Newton (1672), Charles Darwin (1839), Michael Faraday (1824), Ernest Rutherford (1903), Srinivasa Ramanujan (1918), Albert Einstein (1921), Winston Churchill (1941), Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1944), Dorothy Hodgkin (1947), Alan Turing (1951) and Francis Crick (1959). More recently, fellowship has been awarded to Stephen Hawking (1974), Tim Hunt (1991), Elizabeth Blackburn (1992), Tim Berners-Lee (2001), Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (2003), Atta-ur Rahman (2006), Andre Geim (2007), James Dyson (2015), Ajay Kumar Sood (2015), Subhash Khot (2017), Elon Musk (2018), and around 8,000 others in total, including over 280 Nobel Laureates since 1900. As of October 2018, there are approximately 1689 living Fellows, Foreign and Honorary Members, of which over 60 are Nobel Laureates.
Fellowship of the Royal Society has been described by The Guardian newspaper as “the equivalent of a lifetime achievement Oscar” with several institutions celebrating their announcement each year.
Up to 60 new Fellows (FRS), honorary (HonFRS) and foreign members (ForMemRS) are elected annually in late April or early May, from a pool of around 700 proposed candidates each year. New Fellows can only be nominated by existing Fellows for one of the fellowships described below:
Every year, up to 52 new Fellows are elected from the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations which make up around 90% of the society. Each candidate is considered on their merits and can be proposed from any sector of the scientific community. Fellows are elected for life on the basis of excellence in science and are entitled to use the post-nominal letters FRS. See Category:Fellows of the Royal Society and Category:Female Fellows of the Royal Society.
Every year, Fellows elect up to ten new Foreign Members.
Honorary Fellowship is an honorary academic title awarded to candidates who have given distinguished service to the cause of science, but do not have the kind of scientific achievements required of Fellows or Foreign Members. Honorary Fellows include Bill Bryson (2013), Melvyn Bragg (2010), Robin Saxby (2015), David Sainsbury, Baron Sainsbury of Turville (2008) and Onora O'Neill (2007). Honorary Fellows are entitled to use the post nominal letters FRS. Others including John Maddox (2000), Patrick Moore (2001) and Lisa Jardine (2015) were elected as honorary fellows, see Category:Honorary Fellows of the Royal Society.
Statute 12 is a legacy mechanism for electing members before official honorary membership existed in 1997.
Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II is not a Royal Fellow, but provides her patronage to the Society as all reigning British monarchs have done since Charles II of England. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1951) was elected under statute 12, not as a Royal Fellow.
Election of new fellows
Each candidate for Fellowship or Foreign Membership is nominated by two Fellows of the Royal Society (a proposer and a seconder), who sign a certificate of proposal. Previously, nominations required at least five fellows to support each nomination by the proposer, which was criticised for supposedly establishing an old-boy network and elitist gentlemen's club. The certificate of election (see for example) includes a statement of the principal grounds on which the proposal is being made. There is no limit on the number of nominations made each year. In 2015, there were 654 candidates for election as Fellows and 106 candidates for Foreign Membership.
The Council of the Royal Society oversees the selection process and appoints 10 subject area committees, known as Sectional Committees, to recommend the strongest candidates for election to Fellowship.
A maximum of 18 Fellowships can be allocated to candidates from Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences; and up to 10 from Applied Sciences, Human Sciences and Joint Physical and Biological Sciences.
New Fellows are admitted to the Society at a formal admissions day ceremony held annually in July, when they sign the Charter Book and the Obligation which reads: "We who have hereunto subscribed, do hereby promise, that we will endeavour to promote the good of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, and to pursue the ends for which the same was founded; that we will carry out, as far as we are able, those actions requested of us in the name of the Council; and that we will observe the Statutes and Standing Orders of the said Society.
Since 2014, portraits of Fellows at the admissions ceremony have been published without copyright restrictions in Wikimedia Commons under a more permissive Creative Commons license which allows wider re-use.
Research Fellowships and other awards
In addition to the main Fellowships of the Royal Society (FRS, ForMemRS & HonFRS), other fellowships are available which are applied for by individuals, rather than through election.
- University Research Fellowships (URFs) Royal Society University Research Fellowships are for outstanding scientists in the UK who are in the early stages of their research career and have the potential to become leaders in their field. Previous holders of URFs have been elected FRS at a later date including Richard Borcherds (1994), Jean Beggs (1998), Frances Ashcroft (1999), Athene Donald (1999) and John Pethica (1999). More recent awardees include Terri Attwood, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Brian Cox, Sarah Bridle, Shahn Majid, Tanya Monro, Beth Shapiro, David J. Wales and Kathy Willis
- Royal Society Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowships are for scientists who would benefit from a period of full-time research without teaching and administrative duties, supported by the Leverhulme Trust.
- Newton Advanced Fellowships provide established international researchers with an opportunity to develop the research strengths and capabilities of their research group. Provided by the Newton Fund via the official development assistance
- Industry Fellowships are for academic scientists who want to work on a collaborative project with industry and for scientists in industry who want to work on a collaborative project with an academic organisation.
- Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowships are for outstanding scientists in the UK at an early stage of their research career who require a flexible working pattern due to personal circumstances. These fellowships are named after Dorothy Hodgkin.