The British governmental body responsible for funding research and postgraduate training in engineering and the physical sciences, known as the EPSRC, has been getting some bad press recently. But I couldn’t help being impressed by their new fellowship policy, which was pointed out to me by fellow OT blogger Sylvia McLain.
As my regular readers will know, I strongly object to post-docs being judged against arbitrary sell-by dates, which do not allow any wriggle-room for personal situations. In other words, there should be no magic amount of time beyond which not achieving a permanent research position constitutes failure. A person who takes time out to raise a family, for example, might need a bit more time to publish the same amount of papers as a person who is unencumbered – but this does not mean that the latter deserves an academic research career and the former does not. Rather, let each vie in open competition for the same fellowships and be judged on their own merits. In last year’s Science is Vital careers report, we found that many younger researchers objected to being categorized in this manner, and had been personally affected by its fallout. For this reason, we specifically called for “the abolition of eligibility criteria that effectively discriminate against older postdocs or those who have followed a non-traditional career path.”
So imagine my surprise when I read the EPSRC’s new fellowship policy:
Eligibility conditions based on years of post-doctoral experience or permanent academic tenure will no longer apply; as this doesn’t allow for variations of career paths across the EPS disciplines. … A person specification will be used to describe the desired attributes for each career stage, shifting the focus away from eligibility defined by years of post-doctoral experience towards a competency-based approach with an emphasis on the skills and attributes that leaders (and aspiring leaders) need to be able to demonstrate.
I am thrilled to see a research council making a commitment to judging people on their own merits in this way, and I do hope it is the start of a trend that might spread to all the others. Quality comes in many forms, and the most obvious candidates are not automatically the best.