Archive for April 1, 2011

The Ernest Rutherford Fellowships Scheme

Posted in Finance, Science Politics with tags , , , on April 1, 2011 by telescoper

It seems timely to use the medium of this blog to pass on some important news from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to those who might find it useful.

This week saw the unveiling of a brand new STFC scheme to be called the Ernest Rutherford Fellowships. These will be in some respects similar to the previous Advanced Fellowships in that each Fellowship will last for five years with 12 being offered by STFC each year, and will cover the salary costs of the holder for that period. An important new element, however, is that holders of these Fellowships will be able to bid for “significant additional funds to support their research”.

The announcement of this new programme is sure to be warmly welcomed by the scientific community because the previous Advanced Fellowships have been  a stepping stone to an academic career for many a budding scientist (including myself, in fact). There will however be some restrictions on eligibility that did not apply to previous schemes.

The first new restriction is to bring the scheme into line with the attitudes of Ernest Rutherford, in whose honour the new fellowships are to be named. One of the most frequently-quoted remarks by Rutherford is the following:

Don’t let me catch anyone talking about the Universe in my department

Obviously therefore it has proved necessary to close the scheme to astronomers and cosmologists. This shouldn’t prove too much of a problem, however, as the STFC press statement by John Le Mesurier makes it clear that the only notable recipients of Advanced Fellowships in the past are actually particle physicists:

Previous recipients of Advanced Fellowships include Professor Brian Cox who has done much to popularise/demystify physics through his recent TV series, Professor Ruth Gregory who was awarded the IoP Maxwell Medal for outstanding contributions to theoretical, mathematical or computational physics in 2006; and Professor Brian Foster who was awarded the IoP Born medal (for outstanding contributions to physics) in 2003.

The second new rule is intended to control the number of applications in order to make the selection of the recipients of these Elite Fellowships more manageable. The criteria applied to the previous Advanced Fellowship programme were very flexible, with the result that each round typically generated well over a hundred applications. This made the relevant Panel’s task extremely difficult. STFC has therefore decided to impose a restriction on the age seniority of the candidates in order to streamline the process.

To be eligible for an Ernest Rutherford Fellowship,  candidates must have completed their PhD between 5 years 11 months and 30 days and 6 years of the date of application. This is in addition to the usual requirement of being a white heterosexual male. According to rigorous investigations by STFC staff, this reduces the pool of potential applicants substantially. To one, actually.

The successful candidate (Dr Jamie B’Stard of Oxbridge University) will be eligible to bid for, and be given on the nod, additional ring-fenced funding to support those things that an Elite Fellow needs, both to carry out their research and to feel generally superior to everyone else (e.g. private jet, fleet of Rolls-Royce motor cars, and gold-plated taps in their private lavatory). Never in the history of British science will a physicist have been so generously endowed. The new scheme will allow science to compete in prestige and public acclaim with other forms of employment, such as in the banking sector.

To liberate the funds needed for this initiative it has inevitably proved necessary to make savings elsewhere in the STFC programme. After minutes of arduous deliberation it was decided, as usual, to pay for it by top-slicing the budget for research grants (this time by 95%). Unfortunately this means that no grants will be available for any other research within the STFC remit. However, as a gesture of goodwill, the Chief Executive of STFC has given the instruction that the remaining 5% of the now defunct grants line will be distributed to universities to help cover the cost of making all existing PDRAs redundant.

I hope this clarifies the situation.


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