Types of Fellowship
Fellows and Foreign Members
Each year, the Fellows of the Royal Society elect up to 52 new Fellows and up to 10 new Foreign Members.
Candidates must have made 'a substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematics, engineering science and medical science'.
Each candidate is considered on his or her own merits and can be proposed from any sector of the scientific community. Every effort is made to encourage nominations of women candidates and candidates from the emerging disciplines.
Elections are managed through the e-Lect election system.
Other types of Fellowship
Honorary Fellowship is intended for those who have given distinguished service to the cause of science, or who have brought great benefits to science, but who do not have the scientific achievements of the kind required of those who could be elected as Fellows or Foreign Members. Honorary Fellows include Bill Bryson and Melvyn Bragg.
Prior to 1996 there were no Honorary Fellows, but there was a way to be elected to the Fellowship under what were known as 'Statute 12 arrangements'.
Finally, the Council of the Royal Society can recommend members of the UK Royal Family for election to the Fellowship as Royal Fellows.
Each candidate for Fellowship or Foreign Membership must be nominated by two Fellows of the Royal Society, who sign a certificate of proposal. The certificate includes a statement of the principal grounds on which the proposal is being made and is available for inspection by other Fellows. The completed certificate of proposal must be received by 30 September each year.
The President of the Royal Society may additionally encourage suggestions for candidates from Vice-Chancellors of universities and Chairs and Chief Executives of Research Councils. These suggestions must also be received by 30 September each year.
The proposing Fellows are responsible for informing the candidate that he or she has been nominated. The proposers must ensure, in consultation with the candidate, that all information relevant to the nomination is up to date.
There is no limit on the number of new nominations made in any year. For the 2020 elections, there were just over 700 candidates for election as Fellows and around 70 candidates under consideration for Foreign Membership.
Once nominated, candidates remain eligible for election for seven years. If not elected within this period, an individual may be proposed as a candidate again after a break of three years and then remains eligible for election for a period of three years. This three year cycle may be repeated without limit.
The Society does not provide details of the identities of nominated candidates to anybody outside the Fellowship, except those individuals consulted in confidence during the refereeing process.
Fellows who wish to nominate a candidate should use the online election system e-Lect or log into the eFellows Room to download the appropriate forms and guidance notes.
The Council of the Royal Society oversees the selection process. Two Officers, the Biological Sciences Secretary and the Physical Sciences Secretary, are responsible for the smooth running of this process. The Council appoints 10 subject area committees, known as Sectional Committees, to recommend the strongest candidates for election to Fellowship.
Each candidate is considered by the relevant Sectional Committee on the basis of a full curriculum vitae, details of their research achievements, a list of all their scientific publications and a copy of their 20 best scientific papers. Members of the Sectional Committees vote in early March each year to produce a shortlist. Sectional Committees also recommend candidates for Foreign Membership.
The final list of up to 52 Fellowship candidates and up to 10 Foreign Membership candidates is confirmed by the Council in April and a secret ballot of Fellows is held at a meeting in May. A candidate is elected if he or she secures two-thirds of votes of those Fellows present and voting.
Of the up to 52 candidates nominated for Fellowship, a maximum of 18 Fellowships can be allocated to candidates drawn from Physical Sciences, up to 18 from Biological Sciences, up to 10 from Applied Sciences, Human Sciences and Joint Physical and Biological Sciences, and a further maximum of 6 ‘Honorary’, ‘General’ or ‘Royal’ Fellows.
New Fellows are formally admitted to the Society at the Admissions Day ceremony in July, when they sign the Charter Book and the Obligation of the Fellows of the Royal Society.
The Obligation reads as follows:
'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. Provided that, whensoever any of us shall signify to the President under our hands, that we desire to withdraw from the Society, we shall be free from this Obligation for the future.'
Biographies of past Fellows
Find out more about the lives and scientific achievements of former Fellows in our Biographical Memoirs publication. All memoirs are free to access.