Case Study: Lessells Engineering Travel Award. Edinburgh – Bethlehem

Rhiannon Grant, Lessells Awardee 2017“In addition to the research and technical experience gained from my time at Lehigh, the scholarship has acted as a catalyst on my CV; allowing me to generate further funding and employment opportunities.”


Rhiannon Grant is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh. Rhiannon received a JM Lessells Travel Scholarship in June 2017 to travel to the Lehigh University, Pennsylvania to carry out a three-month project titled “Development of a novel peptide-polymer conjugate scaffold for liver tissue engineering”.












Photo: Chow group, The Lehigh University

Please can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a multi-disciplinary bioengineer, I recently finished my PhD in liver tissue engineering and am now working as a postdoc in microfluidics at the University of Edinburgh’s Division of Infection and Pathway Medicine. I grew up in Fife, and I did my undergraduate and worked for the NHS in Aberdeen before I started my PhD.

Can you describe your project in no more than 50 words?

Liver cells are highly attuned to their surrounding environment. Currently there is no environment in which they function as they do in-vivo, limiting researcher’s knowledge. My project sought to provide new scaffolds and environments to support liver cells adhesion, growth and function as a tool for researchers studying liver biology.

Did the RSE Lessells Scholarship contribute to the success of your research project? If yes, how did it help?

Without the RSE Lessells Scholarship I would have been unable to attend the specialist research centres provided by Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. The tools provided by Lehigh allowed me to undertake advanced scaffold manufacturing methods unavailable at my home institute; providing me with new skills and knowledge of liver tissue engineering.

Were there any unexpected outcomes?

Some equipment wasn’t working when I arrived, but having to repair it ultimately improved my technical understanding of the process! I also didn’t expect the scholarship to have had such a wide ranging impact on my career; I have been asked about it in every interview I have had since and I sense it has been a contributing factor in the favourable decisions I have received. Equally, other RSE funding recipients will approach me as a fellow ‘family member’ and this provides me with new friends and professional networks!

Did you disseminate your findings to your colleagues (at home and abroad) and/or the general public? If so, how?

I attended TERMIS-AM 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina during my time in the USA to disseminate my results. I have also given a seminar at Heriot-Watt University, and spoken at the Edinburgh International Science Festival about my work since I received the RSE Lessells Scholarship.

What was your favourite part of your time abroad?

My favourite part of my time abroad was the personal and professional challenges presented by the transition to living and working in another country. Pennsylvania has oddly strict alcohol laws – which made ordering the reagents I needed uniquely challenging, and no one understood my accent for about a month after I arrived!

What do you plan to do now that the award has finished?

I am working as a postdoc and applying for further research funding of my own, including from the RSE. I’ve also been back to visit friends I made in Pennsylvania since!

Would you say that the award was helpful in terms of progressing your career? If so, how?

In addition to the research and technical experience gained from my time at Lehigh, the scholarship has acted as a catalyst on my CV; allowing me to generate further funding and employment opportunities. These will continue to bring benefits over the coming years and as an early career researcher will be invaluable to my progression as an independent researcher. Without the support offered by the RSE Lessells Scholarship these opportunities would perhaps have been unavailable. My success in applying for this funding has also boosted my confidence as an early career researcher and encouraged me to apply for further awards and funding.

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of applying for RSE Lessells Travel Scholarship?

Give yourself a few weeks to complete the application, and make sure realistic outcomes and costs are clearly detailed. Make sure you have contingency plans for if experiments don’t work, when all my cells died I had to find an alternative fast. Ask previous awardees for their help if you have access to them – I don’t know anyone not happy to talk about their experience if asked! Finally, don’t underestimate the impact on your CV of a prestigious award like the RSE JM Lessells Scholarship – it really is worth its weight in gold so put your all into your application.

Do you have any other comments that you would like to share?

I would like to thank the RSE, the late Professor J.M. Lessells and his family for their generosity and support. The scholarship has been an incredibly rewarding experience; one that has benefited me tremendously and that will continue to do so in the years ahead.