John Moyes Lessells Travel Scholarships

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

Are you interested in carrying out some of your studies outside the UK?

Do you like the idea of collaborating with fellow engineers across the globe?

RSE John Moyes Lessells Scholarships support Scotland-based honours graduates in engineering who wish to study abroad. All branches of engineering are eligible for consideration, including computer and software engineering.

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 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.

The Awards Committee would particularly welcome applications for scholars seeking to study in Asia, Africa or South America.


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

Eligibility criteria:

  • Applicants must have graduated with an Honours or higher degree in Engineering ‎from a Scottish Higher Education Institution and/or be currently pursuing PhD research in ‎engineering at a Scottish HEI
  • The Scholarships are also open to individuals who are pursuing their postdoctoral research and/or are already in employment (please note applicants who have already obtained a permanent academic position will not normally be considered) however, 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)
  • All branches of engineering are eligible for consideration, including computer and software ‎engineering
  • Candidates must devote his/her full to a research or an education course or such combination as may be approved by the Society
  • The Scholarships cannot be used to extend a PhD research
  • Candidates who hold other awards are not excluded from applying however they are required to check the terms & conditions of both to ensure the awards can be held concurrently.
  • Only one application per applicant will be considered

Eligible visits MUST:

  • Be more than two months duration to allow time for the Scholar to adjust to a new setting and to successfully carry out a programme of work. Visits of less than two months will only rarely be considered if the applicant can demonstrate how such a short visit would be useful and productive
  • Commence after having received confirmation that the application has been successful. This includes travel to the proposed location
  • Commence within 12 months of the award date with the successful applicant having travelled to their proposed place of study within this time
  • Be closely related to the applicant’s PhD or post-doc research

Visits NOT eligible:

  • Travel and subsistence to attend conferences are not covered. Conference travel will only be supported if there are additional reasons to travel which will advance the candidate’s career or if the conference visit supplements a larger research project abroad.
  • Activities overseas as part of a first degree
  • Activities associated with an MEng

Visits which MAY be eligible:

  • Visits to more than one institution or country (and planned breaks between visits) may be permitted and additional travel costs may be funded. Candidates should clearly state in the application the reasons for choosing to visit more than one institution and how the visits complement each other
  • Visits involving data collection, testing, fieldwork and knowledge exchange related to the applicant’s PhD or postdoctoral research and/or professional development will be considered.

Applications will be assessed by JM Lessells Committee composed of Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Members of the Young Academy of Scotland 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 the first half of April. 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) 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.

2) 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.

3) 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.

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) It is suggested ensuring personally that all REFERENCE LETTERS have been received by the committee in advance of the application deadline, to avoid the last minute panic if there has been an issue with one of the letters arriving in time.

6) It is advisable to begin your ACCOMMODATION search shortly after receiving the award decision unless prior arrangements can be made with the host institution for housing. It may be best for trips to have a duration of a whole number of months, as in my experience landlords still expect payment for the whole month even if you would be leaving halfway through a calendar month.

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

8) ARRIVING IN ADVANCE, before formally starting the project to familiarise yourself with the new surroundings prior to commencing, is highly recommended.

9) 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.

10) KEEP AN OPEN MIND AND BE FLEXIBLE about the activities and objectives of your stay. It is important to remember that just as a particular set of experiments or the development of a specific model are indeed valuable objectives, they do not represent the only possible outcomes of the experience. It is through collaborating with those around you that new opportunities will present themselves and it is by questioning your own methods that new insights will develop.

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

12) It is advisable to deliver 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.

13) It is also suggested to look to see if any CONFERENCE, SEMINAR, WORKSHOP OR SUMMER SCHOOL relevant to your research is taking place in the host city or country which you would be able to tie in with their visit to make the most of your international visit.

14) 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.

15) 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!

This call is currently closed for 2019. The RSE is currently undertaking a review of its Research Awards Programme and announcements on future funding opportunities are planned for Spring 2020.

If you have any questions about the award, please contact