Rutherford Fellowship quota petition

I wrote a post last year about the STFC’s Rutherford Fellowship quotas, commenting on how unsatisfactory I found the idea of there being on quota on how many fellowships any one department could support. However, whenever I’ve criticised the quota, I’ve typically found that very few others agree. In fact, in my earlier post I essentially argued that maybe I was wrong to dislike the quota.

It’s therefore interesting that there is now a petition set up by Bob Nichol from the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation atPortsmouth University asking the STFC to drop the quota system for Rutherford Fellowships. I’m really pleased to see this petition and thought I would highlight it here as it only has 66 signatures and needs quite a few more if it is going to be taken seriously. Promoting it on my blog may, however, not help very much. I gather that someone fairly senior has actually communicated directly with John Womersley (the CEO of STFC) and John Womersley’s response was that the quota system will stay. There are apparently many groups that like it, which to me would seem like a good argument for changing it.

I do find it a little disconcerting that I’ve spent a number of years criticising the fellowship quota to friends and colleagues, rarely finding anyone who agreed and now, all of a sudden, there is a petition against it. I can’t quite work it out why this has suddenly happened. Have I just never met others who disagreed with the quota. Has it changed so that those who used to like it, now don’t. Is it that it suited people in the past, but now doesn’t. Or, is it simply that people are reluctant to criticise a system and would rather just ignore possible issues with how the system works and only start to object when it starts to have a direct impact on them. I suspect it’s the latter, which is a sad reflection on how we behave. Rather than attempting to have an objective view on the best way to provide something (fellowships for example), we simply keep quiet unless it starts to operate in a way that we feel doesn’t suit us. Maybe I’m wrong, but I do seem to continually interact with people who seem more than happy to simply ignore what’s going on around them, unless it’s going to have some direct negative effect on them. In fairness, maybe our lives are complicated enough without worrying about things that don’t effect us directly, but it does seem a little short-sighted and selfish.

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