Scholarship - OUR MINDS Programme

Programme Overview

Our minds perceive and interpret the world around us. They create knowledge and devise ways of putting that knowledge to use. They have created the arts, the sciences, the structures of our societies and our beliefs. How do they do it, why do they do it, what have they done and what will they do? We are offering funding to reflect, explore and engage with others, in particular the public, on questions such as these.


Historical background 

In the early 19th century, an influential group of people called phrenologists convinced much of the public that you could deduce a person’s personality from the shape of their skull. Scientists debunked this idea as they began to learn more about how the brain works, but not before the phrenologists had left their mark.  

Phrenological societies, including one in Edinburgh, had amassed large numbers of objects that they used as evidence for their beliefs, such as life and death masks and skulls from around the world. The Anatomical Museum at the University of Edinburgh is currently home to much of this collection. Phrenological societies were very wealthy and a relatively small residue of this former wealth is still held in trust by the University of Edinburgh. You can find out more about this history and its relationship to British colonialism, as well as learn about modern evidence for how our brains work and see artwork inspired by these topics, in the online exhibition Mindshift.

We are now using funds left by the phrenologists to enable students at the University of Edinburgh to carry out novel and imaginative 2-month research projects in any discipline on any topic related in some way to Our Minds. A significant portion of each project should be focussed on the development of public engagement activities.  


What we are looking for 

The Our Minds programme is looking to fund up to eight 2-month-long projects exploring some aspect of our thinking, past, present or future. Applicants are invited to propose projects that they would work on. The project should be relevant to questions concerning our minds, such as how it works, why we think the way we do, what we think about, and the outcomes this thinking leads to. For example, you might be interested in creating artwork that explores and questions ideas about the mind, or in exploring the phrenologist’s collection in the Anatomical Museum, you could work in a laboratory studying how the brain works or how it can go wrong, or you might want to tell stories about historical or contemporary issues/challenges related to the mind. These are just a few ideas; the possibilities are endless. As long as your proposal is relevant to the broad theme of Our Minds, we will consider it. 

Applicants are required to approach potential supervisors/mentors at the University of Edinburgh to get their support and discuss their ideas. The mentors need to be willing and able to give you any help you might need with the project, for example with logistics or getting ethical approval (if your project needs it). It is also possible that you know of someone at the University working on a topic of your interest, in which case you could approach them and develop a good proposal together. You are allowed to join a team of people already working on the topic, but the research question you are proposing should be distinct. 

The proposal might be something you have worked on before and want to develop further, or you might come up with a vague idea that needs to be developed in discussion. It will be important for you to establish the practicalities of what you propose, for example if access to university facilities such as archives or collections or workshops is required, or if you need specialized training. You will need to do this before you apply.    

As well as proposing a project related in some way to the theme of Our Minds, you will need to propose how you will engage the public with the outcome of your project. You should be willing and able to meet at intervals with other awardees to help decide on, develop and participate in possible joint activities for the public during or at the end of your project (e.g. public lectures, exhibition, performance etc).    


What we are offering 

We will be offering each of up to eight people the opportunity to work on their idea by providing them with a taxable two-month scholarship of £3,500 in total and a contribution of up to £500 for additional expenses. Ideally, this would be in the spring or summer with many public engagement events in the autumn. If you are a PhD student, you would need to suspend your PhD studies and PhD Scholarship to carry out an Our Minds project.  


Application process 

Our Minds programme has closed applications for 2024. Please check the links below to get a glimpse of the projects that were selected for scholarships. Thank you for your interest.


Successful projects from our 2024 programme: 

Meet the cohort


Our Minds public event 2023 news

Previous successful applications