STFC has introduced a new Fellowship scheme, called the Ernest Rutherford Fellowship scheme, which is essentially just the old Advanced Fellowship scheme with a new name. There will be about 12 Fellowships awarded and the Fellowships will last 5 years. To apply for this Fellowship, the applicant needs support from a particular institution and each institution has a limit (quota) as to how many applicants they can support. In our case it looks like we can support 2 applicants.
A few days ago we discussed the applicants who would like us to support them. There are many more than we can support, and so it is a difficult decision to make as many are very good. Personally, I find the whole quota idea very unsatisfactory. These are meant to be personal fellowships that, ideally, go to the strongest candidates who apply. They do have to have support from an institution and so the suitability of the institution does play a role, but the strength of the individual candidates is (I believe) a primary factor. Having a quota just feels slightly wrong.
I don’t really know why I object to there being a restriction on how many applicants each institution can support. Very rarely will an institution get more than one, so if you support the strongest candidate that you could get, then it doesn’t really affect your chances of getting a Fellow. Also, it would be terrible if a few institutions snapped up all the top candidates without telling them. As far as I’m aware, there is an intention to spread the Fellows around the country so if one institution supports too many strong candidates, some of them may lose out by being the weakest of a strong bunch. Alternatively, too many may go to too few institutions, which would be unfortunate in terms of trying to spread these Fellows through the community. I also seem to be alone in my criticism of this quota.
As I’m writing this, I’m starting to feel that maybe I’m wrong about disliking the quota. Maybe it is better to only allow each institution to only support a few candidates. Maybe it forces institutions to think long and hard about who they’d support and to take it seriously. I think that my objection is based on the sense that the quota is really intended to reduce the number of applicants and hence make the process more manageable and I just don’t like the idea that we may be preventing people from applying simply to make things a little easier. I would be interested in anyone else’s views.