John Moyes Lessells Travel Scholarships

Funding area: International, Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM)

These Scholarships arise from a bequest from the late Professor John Moyes Lessells, an eminent mechanical engineer who emigrated to the United States of America in 1920. The Scholarships are for Honours Graduates in Engineering from Scottish Universities, who wish to study some aspect of their profession outwith the UK.  All branches of Engineering are eligible for consideration, including computer and software engineering. The Awards Committee would particularly welcome applications for scholars seeking to study in Asia, Africa or South America.

The first award was made in 1985, and since that time over 100 scholarships have been awarded, to allow young engineers based in Scotland to travel and collaborate with their fellow engineers across the globe.

Fund deadline passed

This fund is currently closed for applications.

Fund value

Indicative value is up to £1,250 per month, pro-rata.

Fund duration

Between 2-6 months

Additional Information


  • Applicants should have graduated with an Honours or Higher Degree in Engineering ‎from a Scottish Higher Education Institution and/or be currently pursuing postgraduate or postdoctoral research in ‎engineering at a Scottish University.
  • All branches of engineering are eligible for consideration, including computer and software ‎engineering.‎
  • Applications will also be considered from candidates who have first degrees in related subjects ‎and substantial postgraduate experience in a field of engineering.
  • Applications from candidates wishing to take some time out from industry are welcome.
  • Candidates who hold other awards are not excluded from applying.
  • Applicants who have already obtained a permanent academic position will not normally be considered. Please note that for individuals in employment, funding cannot be used to cover the applicant’s stipend.  In the event of equal quality and limited funds, preference will be given to postgraduates working towards their higher degree (e.g. PhD).
  • The scholarships are not available for ‎activities associated with an MEng, or to pursue activities overseas as part of a first degree.
  • In order that benefit may ensue not only to the Scholar but to the advancement of Engineering in the United Kingdom, acceptance of a Scholarship implies a willingness to spend at least two years in the United Kingdom following the period of tenure.

Applications will be assessed by JM Lessells Committee composed of Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh with specialist expertise in the study and practice of Engineering.

The Society will normally invite shortlisted candidates to make themselves available for interview in Edinburgh in April / May. The successful candidates will be expected to accept or decline the offer of a Scholarship as soon as practicable. To facilitate these arrangements applicants should ensure that the Society is able to contact them during this period.

The committee scores applications on the following criteria:

  • The engineering context of the application
  • Existing or new collaboration (new is preferred)
  • Personal initiative of scholar in making it happen
  • Coherent proposed visit of sufficient length
  • Timing and context of visit in relation to personal development
  • Strong endorsement from host
  • Benefits of collaboration to prospective scholar; to home organisation and to host organisation

Professor John M Lessells was a mechanical engineer who was born in Dumferline on February 5 1888 and who died in 1961. Between the period of 1895 and 1915, he attended Queen Anne School, Lauder Technical School, Heriot-Watt College, and studied for a B.S. in Engineering, University of Glasgow. After graduating, he became an Inspector of aircraft material at the British War Office, and after WWI he worked as a spl. Engineer until 1920 when he emigrated to the USA and took up a job as a Manager in the Mechanical Division at the Westinghouse Electrical & Manufacturing Company.

He worked for Westinghouse up until 1931, and during that time was closely involved in the building of the 200-inch telescope at Mount Palomar, located in North San Diego County, California, which was one of the largest telescopes in the world for 45 years. Lessells became a naturalised US Citizen in 1930, and set up his own business, Lessells & Associates. In addition to owning the company, from 1937, Lessells became Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1925 he co-authored ‘Applied Elasticity’, with Stephen Timoshenko, and in 1954 went on to write ‘Strength and Resistance of Metals’.

It was his wish to give young engineers the opportunity to widen their knowledge and experience, and he wrote a bequest through the Royal Society of Edinburgh, to enable them to travel to other parts of the world, and to bring their knowledge back to Scotland.


Below are top tips for applicants & awardees:

1) LONGER LENGTH VISIT of at least 3 to 4 months is advised as from previous awardees’ experience, the most fruitful research period started after 2 months.

2) BUDGET BUDGET BUDGET! a profound cost analysis should be carried out at the stage of application to understand the difference in daily living costs between two countries and to identify any potential hidden/unexpected costs including visa and its posting costs; departmental, processing, university service’s fees at the destination as well as increased accommodation costs for short-term rental properties. Please also take into consideration the currency exchange rates that might become less favourable at the time of travelling.

3) HEALTH INSURANCE is very important, especially when travelling out of Europe, and should be arranged prior to any travelling taking place.

4) ADDITIONAL FINANCIAL SUPPORT from home and host institutions as well as other funding bodies is highly encouraged to be sought. Candidates who hold other awards are not excluded from applying.

5) NETWORK: collaborating with people around the world will greatly benefit your academic career and provide a variety of fresh perspectives and opportunities.

6) LANGUAGE BARRIERS should be taken into consideration, especially when travelling to a non-native English speaking country, as it can create great difficulties in communicating with the research host group, take longer to gain facilities, booking and use of equipment and as a result could affect your originally planned research outcomes.

7) PhD STUDENTS are encouraged to apply for this scholarship after halfway through their project as it would be more beneficial to visit an institution after you have established the basis of your research and have a few ongoing ideas. You are also encouraged to make early stage preparation ahead of the visit so the collaborations can be more successful to maximise efficiency.

8) ENJOY! we recommend to fully engage yourself in the exchange experience – interact with your research group and join in with social gatherings, join local clubs, perhaps even live with local people who will be able to show you around and discuss the history and culture of the area. Take in as much as you can from the culture and explore the country in your free time!

9) It is advisable to give a SEMINAR/PRESENTATION at the very start of your research visit rather than at the end, which is more common. This will give the perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to the group/department and facilitate discussions that might lead to new research ideas.

10) Advice to applicants wishing to travel to AUSTRALIA: it is important to note the status of staff members at an Australian University – the duration of the project applied for may influence the (student) discounts and/or health insurance(s) available to the applicant. For example, this may be the case if the project lasts for 3 months or longer.


The next deadline for the JM Lessells Award will be in March 2019.

If you have any questions about the award, please contact Rita Vėlavičiūtė, Research Awards Officer.

In the meantime, it may be helpful to read the award Terms and Conditions.