Community, GROW programme, Post-doctoral, Training

Guest Blog: Learning from abroad and influencing change in the UK: a Churchill Fellowship

Guest Blog: Learning from abroad and influencing change in the UK: a Churchill Fellowship
no comments

Our latest guest blog is by Lizzy Winstone, a senior research associate in epidemiology at The University of Bristol and one of our 2024 GROW cohort members. Lizzy writes here about her plans for her Churchill Fellowship – a non-academic grant scheme that supports UK citizens to travel abroad and bring ideas back to implement in the U. 


Having breathed a sigh of relief on completion of my PhD, my attention turned to next steps. I had a few different ideas for potential postdoctoral fellowships about social media literacy and young people’s mental health, but starting the process of applying felt incredibly intimidating, and a huge time commitment alongside work. I found a couple of smaller schemes to apply for, but my applications weren’t successful and I began to feel pretty disheartened.

Then I came across an advert for the Churchill Fellowship (CF). As a non-academic scheme, this was something a bit different. They were looking for people who are passionate about improving something specific in the UK to go and look at how things are done elsewhere. While preparing my longer fellowship applications on social media literacy, I’d started to zone in on a gap around young people’s understanding of algorithms. Social media algorithms can be responsible for a lack of self-regulation when it comes to social media screen-time, but also things like unintentional exposure to graphic self-harm or eating disorder content online. Despite the potential role of these algorithms in the mental health and wellbeing of young social media users, they are largely absent from the narrative of ‘e-safety’ lessons at school. I want to improve the way young people in the UK are taught about social media algorithms, and make these part of the conversation around healthy social media use. This idea appeared to be well-suited for a CF.

CF is a prestigious and well-connected organisation, with strong links to key policy stakeholders in the UK. This seemed like a great opportunity to have some real, focused impact. There were also different options for the research – you can choose to travel for up to 8 weeks, complete the research entirely online, or a hybrid option. With a young family, having the option to do a small amount of travel but mostly work from home was a major selling point.

having received more rejections from other schemes in the meantime, this was just the boost I needed

The initial CF application form was straightforward – no need for the dreaded WorkTribe costings, just some short paragraphs about the context, aims and potential benefits of what I was proposing. Themes under which you can apply are wide-ranging, including arts and communities, children in care, climate change, disability, equity, diversity and inclusion, housing, mental health, physical activity, prison reform, and suicide prevention. I applied under an education theme, as I felt this would connect me to stakeholders with influence in the school curriculum. I submitted my application and was shortlisted for an interview – having received more rejections from other schemes in the meantime, this was just the boost I needed!

Following shortlisting, I submitted more specific plans and costings. Ahead of my interview, I met with a former CF (Dr Hayley Gorton, who visited North America for her fellowship on ‘Bringing community pharmacy into the prevention of suicide and self-harm’). Hayley’s advice was invaluable – especially to have a really clear plan about influencing change in the UK after the research. Before the interview, I reached out to some key stakeholders to have some preliminary ‘buy-in’. I also made some initial arrangements for experts to visit during my research, but followed Hayley’s advice to build in plenty of time for flexibility and reflection during the research period.

The interview itself was quick and painless, with a friendly panel of experts from the education theme. The advice and preparation paid off, and I found out a few weeks later that I’d been successful! The best part so far has been the ‘Connect and Inspire’ event, where all 2023/4 CFs got together to network. In addition to hearing about rewilding projects and aims to improve prison food, I met people working on reducing deaths by suicide in busy public places; improving teaching of poetry writing and performance as a tool to promote mental health; and developing accessible and culturally competent mental health resources for Black girls.

I haven’t yet started my research. In July this year, I’ll be travelling to Canada for two weeks to meet experts at Digital Moment and Media Smarts, specialists in algorithmic and media literacy. I’ll then have a three-week period of remote research, where I’ll meet online with more experts in Finland, Norway and Netherlands before writing a report of my recommendations. I’ll be one of the last fellows from my cohort to finish, which feels a little daunting, but it’s been lovely to hear from everyone else’s experiences. I’m excited to get going and would highly recommend the scheme to anyone!


If you have had a Churchill Fellowship let us know @MHRIncubator

Newsletter sign up

Newsletter sign up

By clicking sign up I confirm that I have read and agree with the privacy policy