Having recently been awarded a Nuffield Farming Scholarship I have decided to document my experiences in a series of blog posts so that future applicants might gain some helpful hints as to what lies ahead. 

It all starts with an application…  Everyone has their own different reasons as to why they have decided to apply for a scholarship.  Some will have considered it for years and others maybe only weeks.  No two experiences are exactly the same so try not to compare yourself with others – the aim is to find people with ideas that can help evolve the farming industry.

I was a slightly older applicant – by which I mean, I was 45 when I applied for my Nuffield – which meant that the pressure was on for me to get a place otherwise next year I would have been too old!  But age brings with it experience so I wasn’t to intimidated by the process.  I don’t think that there is an ideal age to apply – it is all about you and your ideas that count rather than a list of achievements or an extensive CV.  Having worked as a consultant specializing in the food safety of fresh produce I was a little concerned as to whether Nuffield would be interested in my project ideas.  Although there are some who believe that the scholarship should be aimed more towards working farmers, there is plenty of support for other applicants so that collectively a broad cross section of the industry is represented. 

The application is a rigorous process – but that’s only fair, after all you are asking the Trust and its sponsors to in effect invest £12 000 in you and your ideas. 

Top tip 1:  One step at a time

Whatever your concerns, you have got to be ‘in it to win it’ so take the application one step at a time.  Don’t think too far ahead or get too intimidated by the process.  Just focus on what needs to be done now – what is in your control and do the best you can.  Make sure that you give yourself enough time though, the application form is lengthy and unless you are a whizz at writing you will need to work and rework your responses not only to make sure that they flow but also to meet the word count!

Top tip 2:  Who they are looking for

I remember getting a bit frustrated when I wrote my application as I couldn’t find out what criteria I was going to be assessed against.  I knew that Nuffield were ‘looking for a special sort of person’ – but that could mean anything!  The NFST vision and values provide an overview but in summary the Trust is looking for the future leaders of our industry – those who demonstrate integrity and honesty as well as leadership potential and people who want to build knowledge and share ideas to really make change happen.

Top tip 3:  Define your project

Spend most of your time working on your project proposal!  You will need to be really sure in your own mind what your subject is and why you want to research it as well as be able to communicate this effectively.  Be clear what problem it is that you want to solve and where you think you might find the answers.  It doesn’t need to be fully planned at this stage but the idea does need to be robust and stand up to scrutiny.

Top tip 4:  GFP

In your application you will be asked if you want to apply for the Global Focus Programme.  If you think you can afford the time you should do it!  This is the sort of experience that money cant buy – the chance to travel with around 10 other scholars to around 6 countries in 6 weeks gives an incredible international perspective on agriculture as well as its links to finance, politics and economics.  Make sure you put your name down – if circumstances change you can always withdraw your application.                  

Top tip 5:  Proof reading

Ask a previous scholar to proof-read your application to make sure you have got the balance right.  Although your friends and family may be great at this sort of thing, nothing beats getting feedback from someone who has ‘been there and done that’.  I got two previous scholars to read mine and found their input invaluable.

Top tip 6:  Mock interview

If you get selected for interview and are offered the chance to attend the mock interview – take it!  It is invaluable – not only in meeting some of the other applicants, but also in discussing the scholarship with previous successful candidates.  It gave me a clear idea of what to prepare for in terms of the interview so that the process was less intimidating on the day.  (Note – it might be worth changing your preferred radio station to Radio 4 for a little while!)

Top tip 7:  The interview

The interview is a panel interview with the Selection Committee.  You will sit opposite about 5 members of the Committee who will each ask you questions.  The length of the interview is short though – only about 20 minutes, so keep your answers as concise as possible (difficult for me as I have a tendency to waffle!).  My interview was more or less entirely about my project (see Top Tip 3) which was scrutinized from just about every angle!

Hopefully these tips will help guide you through the process but if you are stuck at all and need some help or pointers in the right direction feel free to drop me a line and I will do what I can to help advise you.  Good luck!

Next:  Nuffield blog 2: Meeting the team