Category Archives: EPSRC

‘there will be a short multiple choice knowledge test’

vintage_louis_wain_cat_school_dunce_card-r055681a5c3314ceabc4e5d66e2d2e25b_xvuat_8byvr_512Dear Professor Totaro,

As you may be aware from recent correspondence EPSRC has been working to update and revise the [Peer Review] College online training course we provide for members.

We believe this training provides valuable information on EPSRC and our strategies and priorities, and essential guidance on best practice on reviewing proposals as well as training on roles and responsibilities for being part of an EPSRC peer review panel. For this reason we are making this training a mandatory requirement for all college members.

This updated training course is now ready for use and we would therefore ask you to complete this training at you earliest convenience. You should find this course to be engaging, informative and interactive but most importantly it will provide you with valuable and important information on best practice for reviewing and panel membership. The course will take approximately one hour to complete. Your progress will be saved so you can complete it in convenient sections, the course is available on all commonly used browsers and on tablet devices and includes tools to takes notes and provides links to pages on the EPSRC website as well as relevant documents for your reference.

The course is available via the EPSRC website and will require you to log in using the details we have set up for you below:

Your username is : XXXXXXXXXX

Your password is: XXXXXXXXXX (this password is for your first log in only and you will be prompted to change this to a password of your choice).

The details we have used to set up your account on our training portal are all anonymous and do not include any personal information such as your email address, name or organisation.

‘As the training is provided by a third party we need to ask your permission to pass your contact details on to the training company to comply with the Data Protection Act (1998). The company that will be providing the training is Safron Interactive and details of how to update your profile details are listed below. If you decide to update your profile details on the site, in doing so you give your express consent for these details to be held by Saffron Interactive for the sole purpose of managing your training account.’

Updating your profile on the site will provide you with certain benefits. These include the ability to receive reminder emails if you forget your log in password and the ability to take part in and receive emails relating to a college member blog which will enable discussion between college members and information from EPSRC. It is recommended that you do update your profile information on the site but as stated above this decision is up to you.

Instructions for updating your profile details:
1. Log on to the site using the username above and your password.
2. This will take you to the home page for the training site
3. Click on your username at the top of the page where it says “You are logged in as xxxxxx (Logout)”
4. This will take you to your profile
5. Click on the “Edit Profile” tab
6. You will then be able to update your profile details. It is recommended that you change the following details; First name, Surname, email address, City/Town and select a country. You can also add a user description and a user profile picture of yourself if you wish to.
7. Click “Update profile” at the bottom of the page.
8. Lastly click “Home” to return to the training site homepage.

The training course comprises of three modules at the end of which there will be a short multiple choice knowledge test of five questions. You will be required to correctly answer at least four out of the five questions in order to pass each test. Once you have completed the training and successfully passed the tests you will be sent a certificate to the address listed on the Je-S system to acknowledge your successful completion of the training.

We are constantly looking to improve the services we provide and would very much like to know what you think about the new training course. In order to facilitate this we have put together a short survey which we would appreciate you taking the time to complete. This is available via a link on the home page of the training site.

If you happen to encounter any problems accessing this site or have any questions related to the training or any aspect of college membership please don’t hesitate to contact us at:

Kind regards
Senior Peer Review Integrator


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EPSRC postdoctoral fellowships (finally)

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Council announced this week that mathematical scientists at all levels (Postdoctoral, Early Career, or Established) who do “Intradisciplinary Research” can apply for fellowships. Intradisciplinary Research means any research which brings together techniques from different areas of mathematics. The best mathematical research does exactly that, and so I strongly advise mathematicians in the UK (or mathematicians interested in coming to the UK) to apply for these fellowships.

From July 2011 until this week, EPSRC only allowed applications for postdoctoral fellowships in one of its 12 subareas of the mathematical sciences. The new policy is a big step toward the goal which scientists have argued for: funding the best research.

Some details: EPSRC’s web page says that the decisions on fellowships will be made twice per year, in January/February and in July. They say you need to apply at least 4 months ahead of those dates, to allow time for your application to be refereed; so (as I read this) you should apply by the end of September 2012. Applicants can be of any nationality.

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EPSRC: Communication in several episodes, #3

Some time after Arieh Iserles, Richard Thomas and I organized the letter to the Prime Minister signed by 25 prominent UK mathematicians, criticizing EPSRC’s July 2011 decision to take applications for postdoctoral fellowships only in statistics and applied probability, Philippa Hemmings of EPSRC wrote to us to say that she hoped she would meet us some time in the course of EPSRC’s efforts to engage with the mathematical sciences community.

We decided to take the opportunity to propose a scheduled meeting at which we’d have a genuinely open conversation about what would be best for the mathematical sciences, and what would constitute the best way to use public money. We promised to be as helpful and constructive as possible.

Philippa took this up without hesitation, and we all met at Imperial late in December 2011. Arieh, Richard and I felt the meeting went well. Philippa was interested in our views and candid about how things work at EPSRC.  I don’t know whether we accomplished much, but we did learn things we wanted to know — in particular, who made the November 2011 decision that hardly broadened the subjects eligible for fellowships at all. (See paragraph 3 of section 1 below.)

Episode #3: Meeting of Philippa Hemmings (EPSRC, Theme Leader, Mathematical Sciences) with Arieh Iserles, Richard Thomas, and Burt Totaro, at Imperial College London on 20 December 2011

Notes by Burt Totaro, with clarifications/corrections from Philippa Hemmings [P.H.]

1. Shaping Capability and EPSRC Fellowships in the mathematical sciences 

The EPSRC Postdoctoral Fellowship is the topic which has roused the greatest anger among the UK mathematical community. In July 2011, EPSRC announced that mathematical scientists from all areas other than statistics and applied probability were ineligible to apply for EPSRC Fellowships, until further notice. EPSRC’s decision was criticized in public letters by all five UK learned societies in the mathematical sciences, by the International Review of the Mathematical Sciences panel (commissioned by EPSRC), by 25 leading mathematical scientists, and by over 300 young mathematical scientists. These groups argued that postdoctoral fellowships play a more important role in mathematics compared to other subjects, and that shutting down EPSRC fellowships in most of the mathematical sciences cuts the pipeline which allows the very best young mathematicians to develop their research between the PhD and a permanent position in the UK. 

In October 2011, EPSRC’s Strategic Advisory Team (SAT) argued repeatedly that EPSRC fellowships are particularly important for young researchers in pure mathematics. There was unanimous support for opening EPSRC fellowships much more widely at least at the postdoctoral level. Some possibilities considered were to open postdoctoral fellowships to all of pure mathematics, or to all of the mathematical sciences. 

Mathematicians were therefore surprised by EPSRC’s November 2011 announcement that EPSRC Postdoctoral Fellowships would still be restricted to statistics and applied probability, whereas EPSRC Early Career and Established Fellowships would allow certain other topics such as Intradisciplinary Research. Philippa Hemmings said that this decision was taken directly by the EPSRC Executive, meaning David Delpy, John Armitt, and Lesley Thompson. Hemmings said that she had sent the SAT’s recommendations to the EPSRC Executive, but that she also told the Executive that the SAT’s recommendations were not compatible with what she described as EPSRC Council’s policy of Shaping Capability. [It would be more accurate to state that the SAT’s most preferred options for fellowship support in the mathematical sciences were not compatible with Council’s new Fellowship Framework. The SAT also discussed and endorsed other options that did fit with this framework. (The above is influenced by shaping capability but there are other reasons for the changes to the more focused approach). – P.H.]
Totaro asked whether Hemmings could send the minutes of the EPSRC Executive meeting which explained how they went from the SAT’s advice to their decision. She said she would try to send those minutes, if she could get permission to do so. 

In an effort to do something about the pipeline for young mathematicians, EPSRC is expanding its PhD Plus program, now renamed the EPSRC Doctoral Prize, which will allow mathematics departments to keep the best of their EPSRC Doctoral Training Grant students for up to 2 years after the PhD. Hemmings understands that the funding of DTGs is being increased by 20 percent in order to pay for this. 

Iserles, Thomas, and Totaro argued that although the EPSRC Doctoral Prize has some value, it cannot replace the EPSRC Postdoctoral Fellowship, which attracted some of the very best young mathematicians from the UK and around the world to the UK rather than to the US or other countries. In the same way, Thomas explained that EPSRC Programme Grants allow a researcher to hire some young mathematicians for a specific project, which has some value, but makes it impossible to hire the very best young mathematicians. The very best need to develop their own ideas, and they have the option of doing so by going to other countries, at a huge loss to the UK’s science base. 

David Delpy defended EPSRC’s fellowship decision to the House of Lords science and technology committee by saying that “EPSRC funds 10 postdoctoral fellowships for mathematics each year”, whereas there are “at least 370 fellowships available to the mathematics community. We are not a major player in that space anyway, so I would not say that we are excluding a substantial fraction.” (29 November 2011). 

Hemmings sent the 1-page document (with two pie charts) which EPSRC sent to the Council for Mathematical Sciences (CMS) to explain these figures. Iserles, Thomas, and Totaro explained that EPSRC’s document shows the comparison between 10 and 370 to be completely disingenous. To start with, EPSRC has told Penny Davies that the number 370 was a mistake for 310. Next, 39 percent of the supposed 370 fellowships are ERC Starter Grants, which are simply not postdoctoral grants (they can only go to researchers 2 to 12 years past the PhD). 

Most important, the supposed 370 “Generic UK individual post-doctoral schemes open to mathematics” include all sorts of postdoctoral fellowships for which mathematicians can apply, even if they are open to people from any subject, so that only a tiny fraction in fact go to mathematicians. For example, EPSRC’s document lists the Royal Society’s Newton Fellowships per year as 16 percent of the supposed 370 places, which would be 59 people; but in fact only 40 Newton Fellowships are awarded each year, and only 1 of the 40 awarded in 2011 was in a mathematical science department. 

The realistic comparison, from EPSRC’s document, is with “Individual postdoctoral awards in mathematics”, listed as 30 places. With the ERC Starter Grants removed from those 30, that means that EPSRC has been funding about 40 percent of the UK’s postdoctoral fellowships in the mathematical sciences. That is something EPSRC should be proud of, not dismiss as unimportant. Hemmings agreed to communicate these points to Delpy. 

Thomas proposed that EPSRC introduce a new program of EPSRC Fellows in the mathematical sciences, which would be aimed specifically at attracting and keeping the very best postdoctoral mathematicians in the UK. It should match the simplicity of the application procedure for the top US postdocs: just a 1-page application form, a research statement, a CV, and three recommendation letters. It should fund 10 people per year. Hemmings saw the appeal of the idea, and agreed to explore the idea of how EPSRC might best support excellent individuals.

Hemmings explained that the fellowships in Intradisciplinary Research, which EPSRC introduced in November 2011 for Early Career and Established researchers (though not for postdocs), would be interpreted broadly. Any mathematician of the right career stage whose work combines two different areas of mathematics in an exciting way can apply for these fellowships. EPSRC deliberately did not specify in advance what counts as different areas of mathematics for this purpose. 

2. One size fits all: is EPSRC willing to treat mathematics differently from other sciences?

Iserles, Thomas, and Totaro argued that EPSRC had never given any explanation of why Shaping Capability was necessary for mathematics. Shaping Capability means increasing funding for some parts of a science while cutting it for others, with funding the best research across the whole science not an option. Since mathematics does not require big, expensive laboratories, Shaping Capability seems to be purely damaging for mathematics, with no compensating benefit. The only justification has been that EPSRC is applying this policy to other sciences, and so it must do the same in the mathematical sciences. Is EPSRC capable of treating mathematics differently from other subjects when appropriate? 

As evidence that EPSRC is willing to acknowledge the differences between mathematics and other subjects, Philippa Hemmings mentioned that workshops, networks, and institutes such as the Isaac Newton Institute play a different role in EPSRC’s mathematical sciences program than in other parts of EPSRC. In addition, EPSRC’s Doctoral Training Centres in the mathematical sciences must be in one university, whereas DTCs in other subjects can be in more than one university. The reason for this policy was not clear to anyone at the meeting, however. Perhaps DTCs in the mathematical sciences should also be allowed to be in more than one university. 

Iserles mentioned that David Harman and Vivienne Blackstone, formerly of EPSRC’s Mathematical Sciences program, had told him that a mathematician could not be a PI on a proposal to a different part of EPSRC such as Engineering. Hemmings said that that was not true. She agreed to write on EPSRC’s web page for the Mathematical Sciences program that mathematicians are also free to apply as PIs to other parts of EPSRC

Hemmings explained that the 2010/11 EPSRC Annual Report gives an erroneous figure for the funding of “Mathematical Sciences and Public Engagement”. She promised to send Totaro the correct figures for the Mathematical Sciences Programme over 2010/11 and the past few years. Following previous EPSRC Annual Reports, there are two relevant figures, “Total gross expenditure on research grants shown by programme” and “Research grant proposals considered and funded”. The latter figure for the Mathematical Sciences Programme was cut in half in recent years (2006/07: 21.5m pounds, 2007/07: 24.2m, 2008/09: 15.3m, 2009/10: 12.0m). Hemmings said she believed that EPSRC’s funding of the Mathematical Sciences Programme would go up soon. [I explained that the budget for maths is larger than the maths programme as maths is funded by other parts of EPSRC, including in recent years, a number of Science & Innovation awards. Funding for mathematical sciences in the coming year looks set to increase. – P.H.]
3. EPSRC organization and strategic planning for the mathematical sciences

Philippa Hemmings said that EPSRC Council is the statutory body that runs EPSRC, and that Council has the choice of how much to delegate to the EPSRC Chief Executive. 

Asked how EPSRC’s Stategic Advisory Team (SAT) in the Mathematical Sciences is chosen, Hemmings said that normally EPSRC changes one third of the SAT each year, that is, 4 of the 12 members. She will ask the Council for Mathematical Sciences (CMS) for nominations. She acknowledged that it may have fallen out of practice for EPSRC to consult the CMS for nominations to the SAT in recent years. 

Hemmings announced a series of activities by which EPSRC hopes to reconnect with the mathematical community. First, EPSRC will invite some mathematical scientists to Bath in January to discuss EPSRC’s recent policies, Shaping Capability and National Importance. [The purpose of the Bath workshop was to discuss strategy for pure mathematics, and national importance and the mathematical sciences. – P.H.]
Hemmings said that the CMS and IOP had nominated a small group of senior mathematical scientists (how many?) to give EPSRC strategic advice. EPSRC intends to approach this group for input in the next phase of decisions about Shaping Capability, until March. That seems narrower than the CMS’s intention of suggesting a group that could give EPSRC strategic advice more broadly. Totaro asked how EPSRC could convince this group that it would be listened to, given that EPSRC rejected the advice of its own SAT as well as the rest of the mathematical community in its November decision not to open postdoctoral fellowships. There was no clear answer. [I will post more about this. I was one of the people CMS nominated. — B.T.]

Hemmings said that EPSRC and the CMS have started to plan a document which would show the importance of mathematics for the economy. Totaro pointed out the figures from Sir Adrian Smith’s BIS report One Step Beyond (p. 94), showing that postgraduates in the mathematical sciences have the highest starting salary among all subjects. 

This is something that EPSRC’s web page and Annual Reports should be celebrating. Instead, EPSRC’s Landscape Document for the Mathematical Sciences sounds strangely condescending about the value of mathematics. Hemmings agreed that the Landscape Document should be improved. 

Hemmings mentioned that EPSRC was setting up a steering committee with the CMS to discuss EPSRC’s new criterion of National Importance for all grant applications. She said that John Toland of the Isaac Newton Institute had agreed to take part in that committee. [CMS are represented on the Steering committee for a project we are about to embark on to understand the economic impact of mathematics and John Toland is also a member. I don’t believe I mentioned a steering committee to talk about national importance. – P.H.]
Totaro pointed out that the businesses involved in EPSRC’s Council and other advisory bodies are almost all manufacturing companies, even though manufacturing makes up only 20 percent of the UK economy. Shouldn’t EPSRC aim to attract people from financial services, software, and retail companies? They make up a huge part of the economy, they hire a huge number of mathematicians and statisticians, and so they should have a strong connection with EPSRC. Hemmings said only that EPSRC had tried to attract more people from financial services companies in the past, and that BIS (the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) had made support for manufacturing a priority

4. Actions to take

Philippa Hemmings agreed to send the minutes for the EPSRC Executive’s meeting which made EPSRC’s November 2011 decision on fellowships, if she could get permission. 

Hemmings agreed to tell Delpy the criticisms of his statement to the House of Lords on “10 vs 370” fellowships in the mathematical sciences. 

Hemmings agreed to propose a new scheme of EPSRC Fellows to explore how EPSRC might best support excellent individuals in the mathematical sciences with her colleagues at EPSRC, and if there is support there, also with the SAT. 

She agreed to write on EPSRC’s web page for the Mathematical Sciences program that mathematicians were also free to apply as PIs to other parts of EPSRC. 

Hemmings promised to send Totaro the figures on EPSRC’s funding of the Mathematical Sciences Programme over 2010/11 and the past few years, correcting the errors in the 2010/11 EPSRC Annual Report. Following previous EPSRC Annual Reports, there are two relevant figures, “Total gross expenditure on research grants shown by programme” and “Research grant proposals considered and funded”. 

She agreed that EPSRC’s Landscape Document for the Mathematical Sciences should be improved.

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“Post-docs do not meet the ‘acknowledged standing’ criterion,” says EPSRC

A colleague writes about a pronouncement from EPSRC that is, I guess, consistent with an attitude that post-docs can’t matter. Does anyone know whether NSF has a similar rule? (One wants to benchmark against a best-practice funding body.)

Dear Burt,

I’ve just had a frustrating and infuriating encounter with EPSRC. They’ve told me that it is a standard rule that grant money cannot be used to invite people who are at the postdoctoral level or below. If you weren’t already familiar with this rule then perhaps it deserves to be added to the litany of complains about EPSRC. We have no postdoctoral fellowship and we can’t even have postdoctoral visitors.

The ruling from EPSRC is quoted below:

The guidance on the EPSRC website for visiting researchers states “We can provide funding for research scientists and engineers of acknowledged standing to visit a UK research organisation. The visiting researcher can be from anywhere in the world, including the UK.” It has always been the policy of the EPSRC that students and post-docs do not meet the ‘acknowledged standing’ criterion so they are ineligible to be visiting researchers. The original request was considered by the Mathematics programme.

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EPSRC: Communication in several episodes, #2

Episode #2: Richard Thomas (Imperial) on an EPSRC Mathematics Panel 30/31 January 2012

Dear Burt,

I just finished a 2-day EPSRC panel, the first I think since shaping capability took hold. Here are some observations.

(I will sloppily and incorrectly abbreviate ‘statistics and probability’ to ‘stats’ throughout.)

Some of the views I ascribe to the panel might just be my own: inevitably I ended up speaking too much, and other panel members were more reserved — something I aspire to but never quite manage.

First, the good:

The panel of 10 were all superb, sensible, and no one was territorial. The 4 from stats largely seemed to hold the same views as the rest of us: that (a) the new rules devalued fellowships that people from stats had won in open competition in the past, and that (b) of the stats fellowship applicants we were considering, a few were excellent, many were quite good, but many of those would not have been funded in full competition.

One advantage of the new rules, that I’d not previously been aware of, was that there was a feeling that that people in applied maths and stats (particularly the latter) generally mature slower than pure mathematicians who are expected to be independent straight after their PhD and proven (world leading or otherwise) within a few years of postdoc. Removing pure mathematicians from fellowship consideration therefore helps stats fellows, though of course there are much better ways of achieving the same effect.

We had a day of responsive mode proposals and first grants (in all areas of maths) to evaluate, then a day of stats fellowships and a programme grant.

I was impressed that EPSRC seemed genuinely intellectually honest and keen to ‘tension’ the stats fellows against the non-stats responsive mode proposals, and understood that fellowships ought to be a higher standard but were now lower. They were not going to fund things significantly below the level of applications from the old regime.

Encouragingly, Philippa Hemmings afterwards gave me the impression that everything would be fed back to the Strategic Advisory Team, for instance to consider opening up other areas of maths to fellowship applications: particularly postdoctoral fellowships, where there were almost no applications in stats.

The bad:

If, say, postdocs were indeed opened up wider, Philippa made it clear it could not be to the whole of maths because she has to fit it inside shaping capability. Even if they don’t know what shape they’re after, they’re committed to shaping anyway. This of course would be divisive; potentially pitting pure vs applied etc.

And I fear the application dates would be March and September, meaning anyone good enough to be an international candidate could not participate due to the foreign (especially US) job timetable. EPSRC’s bureaucratic convenience has to come before what’s good for science.

The loss of real star applications to the panel was clear. Even more worrying to me was that I now see that EPSRC’s promise of funding only excellence, however well-intentioned, will inevitably be effectively meaningless, as we all feared. Over time the standards of old applications will be forgotten, and weaker applications will appear excellent because referees want to be nice (they gave top scores of 5s and 6s while hinting work was not exactly internationally leading) and because they’re not being asked to compare internationally (hence lots of ‘this is the best person in his field in the country’ comments).


On the subject of postdoc fellowships, I got the impression from talking to people that EPSRC were under pressure from BIS etc to differentiate their offerings from those of RS, ERC, etc. Hence perhaps their blatant abuse of statistics in comparing their fellowships to Newton fellowships (1 a year in maths, not the 50 they claimed), ERC starter grants (young postdocs not eligible; mostly given to people with permanent jobs) etc etc.

I also got the impression that while EPSRC had been keen to bulldoze through the worst excesses of shaping capability, justifying things with dishonest data after the fact, they are now hoping to enter a phase of winning people back, making adjustments based on what they see at panels, and making the system work as well as possible (within the shaping straitjacket). That impression may have been given to keep us from causing more trouble, of course.

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EPSRC: Communication in several episodes, #1

From the International Review of the Mathematical Sciences (2011): “Open, frank and timely communication between EPSRC and the mathematical sciences community is extremely important. In light of Finding F-6, the [IRMS] panel strongly recommends the establishment, as soon as possible, of a new structure for communication between EPSRC and the mathematical sciences community.”

So, how have things been going?

In this and following posts, I’m going to report on engagements between EPSRC and members of the mathematical sciences community in the past two months. I hope others will also describe their interactions with EPSRC. You can leave a comment on this blog, or send me something longer as a blog post: b{dot}totaro{at}

Episode #1: January 2012 Pure Mathematics Workshop in Bath

In early December, some UK mathematicians received an invitation to a Pure Mathematics Workshop to be held in Bath on 19/20 January:

“My name is XXXXXX and I work for the EPSRC Mathematical Sciences theme, with responsibility for the Pure Maths portfolio (Algebra, Geometry, Topology and Number Theory; Logic and Combinatorics; Mathematical Analysis). I would like to invite you to attend a small workshop, the outputs from which will inform the strategy and future direction of the EPSRC Pure Maths portfolio. The event will be held on 19/20 January 2012 in Bath, at the Bailbrook house, and will provide you with an opportunity to contribute your ideas and suggestions, and also to discuss future opportunities with your peers.”

Twenty mathematicians attended. Afterward, they wrote a letter to Philippa Hemmings, head Theme Leader of the Mathematical Sciences Programme at EPSRC, signed by them all:

2nd February 2012

Dear Philippa,

We understand that it is part of the job of the Mathematics Theme to implement the agenda set by EPSRC Council. So we participated in the Pure Mathematics Workshop in Bath last month with the hope of offering advice from the viewpoint of researchers in the subject.

Although we had no idea of what was in store, having seen neither a programme of aims and objectives, nor a list of who had been invited or why, we joined in what we hoped would be a pragmatic attempt to address the concerns of the Pure Mathematics community in respect of the EPSRC-wide agenda, particularly with regard to Shaping Capability and the role of National Importance in the peer review process.

In the end the event was a disappointment and you and your colleagues may agree with us that an opportunity was missed. Here are some of the reasons from our perspective.

  • Not being told in advance what was wanted from the workshop was a serious problem from the outset. Consequently, a sense of partnership and responsibility in exploring the issues was lost and some of the discussions were aimless.
  • It was difficult to understand why the IRMS landscape documents, and the IRMS report itself, which were authoritative, thoroughly considered documents commissioned and accepted by EPSRC and currently relevant, seemed to be ignored.
  • The deep level of specialism and granularity in pure mathematics, which distinguishes it from other sciences, the absence of experts in some important subject areas, and the fact that we did not know which colleagues it would be useful to consult in advance, meant that those invited could not be representative of UK Pure Mathematics.
  • Significant issues to do with Shaping Capability and Developing Leaders, such as the funding of postgraduates and postdoctoral training, were not considered with the weight they deserved.

Nonetheless, we continue to hope that we can assist the Mathematics Theme in pursuit of long-term benefits for mathematics and remain keen to engage with the EPSRC in finding constructive ways to implement policies without damaging core research activity across the UK. For example we could give you arguments that could be used in discussions within EPSRC, making the case that mathematics is especially unsuited to a directed approach, making suggestions that could mitigate damage to mathematics of general EPSRC-wide policies, and emphasizing that the mechanisms that EPSRC should be concentrating on should leave the subject to develop naturally, thereby in particular maximizing its contributions to society.

If such engagement is to include workshops such as that in Bath, these should have a clear purpose, which is stated in advance, and allow time for proper preparation, so that time in the meeting itself can be used productively. Only then can an account of what was discussed and any conclusions reached have due weight. However the workshop in Bath suggests that the Mathematics Theme badly needs a different kind of interface with the mathematics research community, that enables advice to be provided to EPSRC on an ongoing basis by mathematicians trusted by EPSRC and the community alike, who can help overcome the technical and cultural barriers to understanding.

With best wishes,

From all 20 academics who attended the Pure Mathematics Workshop in Bath on 20 January 2010

(John Ball, Jacek Brodzki, Martin Bridson , Ken Brown, Dorothy Buck, David Calderbank, Tony Carbery, Mihalis Dafermos, Fred Diamond, Alexander Gorodnik, John Greenlees , Nigel Hitchin, Peter Keevash, Chris Parker, John Parker, Anand Pillay, Caroline Series, Shaun Stevens, John Toland, Sanju Velani)

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Once I had a secret grant / that lived within EPSRC

A colleague writes: “[Below] is a *secret* call from EPSRC, part of their “Developing leaders” initiative, aka a method for giving money with inadequate refereeing to those who already have lots, thereby further cutting the already pitiful responsive mode funds.” See original document.

New Directions for EPSRC’s Research Leaders

Invitation to participate

You are invited to apply for additional support as part of your fellowship under our New Directions for EPSRC Research Leaders initiative. The purpose of this fund is to enable EPSRC’s leading researchers to explore new avenues of research with a view to further enhancing their future career opportunities.
As part of the “Developing Leaders” Goal in EPSRC’s Delivery Plan, EPSRC has indicated that we will:

  • Identify and invest preferentially in emerging and established leaders
  • Increase the proportion of research leaders and students working in EPSRC priority areas
  • Provide future leaders with tailored resource packages that broaden their experiences, enabling them to fulfil their potential

The fund provides an opportunity to think creatively about future directions and new approaches by, for example:

  • funding a parallel stream of research
  • exploring new avenues of research
  • networking with other key researchers
  • developing new collaborations
  • experiencing different research environments


Two years support up to a maximum of £315,000 (calculated at 100% full economic costs – with EPSRC contribution at 80% FEC) is available.

For successful applicants this additional funding will be accessible through your existing fellowship grant and will have a fixed start date of 1 April 2012 and end date of 31 March 2014.[1]

You can request related costs for the proposed new programme of research which may include research staff, technicians, visiting researchers, travel and subsistence, equipment, consumables, access to facilities and technical support costs.

Please note: Only individual items of equipment below £10,000(incl. VAT) can be requested which will be paid at 80% FEC. They should be included under Other Directly Incurred costs.

Indirect and estates costs related to the above resources should also be included and these should be calculated for you by your host organisation. You should not include any request for your own salary as this is already funded through your fellowship. Full details on allowable costs can be found in EPSRC’s funding guide.

[1] In the case of fellowships that end before March 2014, your Host Organisation must confirm that if your application is successful they will continue to employ you for the duration of the supplemental grant and EPSRC will extend your fellowship accordingly.

Who can apply?

This opportunity is targeted at both career acceleration and leadership fellows who are sufficiently advanced in their fellowship to be able to think about future directions for their career and research (i.e. fellows awarded in 2008, 2009, and 2010).

How to apply?

If you are interested in applying, then please discuss this with your head of department and return your completed application by email to by 12.00 (noon) Friday 2 March 2012.

Your application must consist of the following– as 4 separate attachments:

  1. Completed proforma (supplied with this letter, maximum 4 sides A4)
  2. Host Organisation Statement (up to 1 side of A4)
  3. Breakdown of requested resources (excel template supplied with this letter must be completed and returned)
  4. Justification of Resources (up to 2 sides of A4)

Please note font size 11 is the minimum acceptable. No other documentation will be accepted.

Please note that institutional approval of your submission is mandatory and your research office must approve the costings submitted and be made aware of the fixed term nature of the funding. Your Head of Department must complete a Host Organisation Statement, outlining their institutional approval for your application against the New Directions for EPSRC Research Leaders initiative and detail any additional resources that the university will provide in support of your application.

Your application will be assessed by an independent Assessment Panel. The assessment process will take into account your progress against the stated vision of your fellowship.

Each application will be assessed against:

  • Research quality
  • Expected benefits and added value (in particular enhancing future career opportunities) of the additional investment
  • How the additional support will maximise the impact of the fellowship
  • Level of institutional support and commitment to your career as evidenced through the Host Organisation Statement
  • Resources and management

A funding decision will be made at the end of March 2012 and you will be informed of the outcome as soon as possible thereafter. If your proposal is deemed to be successful, funding will be added to your fellowship award.


We will keep in touch with you to find out about your experiences, and we will expect you to cover New Directions for EPSRC Research Leaders initiative in any progress and final reports requested by EPSRC.

For more information

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Guest post: Michael Singer asks what YOU think about EPSRC

The following post has been contributed by Michael Singer. We’re keen to find out what the broad community of mathematicians in the UK (and beyond) think about recent EPSRC actions, recent reactions, and the whole situation more generally. Please comment below, and if you’d like to contribute a guest post, get in touch:

As visitors to these web-pages will be aware, some voices in the mathematical sciences community have publicly taken issue with various aspects of EPSRC’s current policies. I would like to invite more people to comment on the current situation, as I am well aware that formal letters of protest are not for everyone. In what follows, I wanted to pick up on some matters that continue to concern me. Although my views are probably pretty clear, I aim to describe things in fairly neutral terms and I invite people simply to add their comments as they see fit.

Although this blog has no formal role in communications between EPSRC and the mathematical sciences community, comments posted here could be useful for the Mathematics Strategic Advisory Team (SAT) which meets next in February 2012.

1. Fellowships

This has been a major focus of concern following the decision of EPSRC to confine applications initially to Statistics and Applied Probability. At the end of November the call was widened to include ‘Intradisciplinary Fellowships’ and Fellowships for ‘New connections between the mathematical sciences and ICT’.

Note that it remains the case that the only opportunity for researchers just out of their PhD is in statistics and applied probability.

At the same time, EPSRC has defended its decisions about these more directed calls for fellowships in two ways. First, it supports early-career researchers in reasonably large numbers as ‘researchers’ on standard research grants, and the number of fellowships is relatively small compared with the number of researchers on grants. Second, postdoctoral research fellowships are available from many other sources (such as ERC, EU-funded Marie Curie Fellowships, Leverhulme, Newton Fellowships, Royal Society, Universities and Colleges,…). EPSRC has also changed the ‘Doctoral Prize Scheme’ to allow EPSRC-funded PhD students to stay on for up to 2 years beyond the end of their PhD. The administration of these schemes is in the hands of Universities (it is wrapped up with the Doctoral Training Account (DTA)) and for the moment it remains unclear how many post-doctoral positions this will open up in the mathematical sciences.

I would have liked to provide precise data about the number of early-career researchers in the mathematical sciences currently enjoying different types of EPSRC funding, but this information is hard to obtain. It does appear, however, that in recent years, the maths programme has awarded around 25 standard research grants per year while 10 fellowships have gone to mathematicians. This might suggest that around 25–30% of EPSRC-funded researchers in mathematics come from the now-defunct fellowship programmes. (A technical remark here is that the postdoctoral research fellowship scheme, while it ran, was owned by the mathematics programme, whereas the Career Acceleration and Leadership Fellowships were run EPSRC-wide.)

2. Relations with the community

The 2010 International Review of Mathematical Sciences
reported that EPSRC had done many good things for the mathematical sciences since the previous review in 2006. It also pointed out that relations between EPSRC and the community were poor at the time of the report and that urgent steps needed to be taken to address this issue. (This was the Review’s second recommendation.) Various items on this webpage have picked up this theme including Frank Kelly’s letter of 9 December 2011. EPSRC published a response to the IRMS in November 2011, which starts to address the issue of communication. It also invites feedback by 21 December 2011.

3. Shaping Capability versus the IRMS recommendations

It seems to me that a major issue is that the 2010 IRMS report gave a very clear account of the strengths of the mathematical sciences in the UK and the actions required to keep the discipline vibrant and healthy. EPSRC has published its response to the IRMS (see above link) but in the meantime has taken some other decisions based on its ‘shaping capability’ goal.

I have expressed the view elsewhere that the shaping capability goal appears to have led to initiatives and other policy developments that are adversely affecting the mathematical sciences — not only that, they run counter to the IRMS’s broad recommendations. OK, that part was not entirely neutral. But what do you think?

Michael Singer
School of Mathematics
University of Edinburgh


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Delpy in the House of Lords, 11.35 am Tuesday 29 November

EPSRC published its annual report on 24 November.

The Science and Technology Committee of the House of Lords will question David Delpy, Chief Executive of EPSRC, and John Armitt, Chair of EPSRC, on Tuesday 29 November at 11.35 am. The questioning, scheduled for one hour, will be on EPSRC’s recent change to peer review, making National Importance an assessment criterion in addition to research excellence.

Location: Room 4, Palace of Westminster

I’m going to try to attend, and if you’re near enough London and have the time, I urge you to come too. There’s no substitute for a large turnout in convincing the press and legislators that the issues involved are important and that lots of people care about them. You can also see the hearing, live or archived, on Parliament TV.

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More questions in the House of Lords

In various letters to scientists, David Willetts and Adrian Smith have been deploying the Haldane principle as a reason that the BIS cannot exercise proper governance or intervene to rectify the problems with the EPSRC’s implementation of its Shaping Capability agenda. What should be a shield for independent science has become a weapon used against it.

Lord Lucas is having none of this, and has put the following questions to the Government. They were asked on 26 October, and answers are required by 9 November.

Lord Lucas to ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Verma on 20 October (WA 96), what mechanisms exist to enable scientists to call research councils to account, and what is the role of elected politicians in that process. HL12814

Lord Lucas to ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Verma on 20 October (WA 96), whether the Haldane Principle operates through checks and balances, with the goal of identifying and nurturing the best research for the benefit of the nation. HL12815

Lord Lucas to ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the statement in The allocation of science and research funding, 2011/12 to 2014/15, published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in December 2010, that “It is important that Ministers, where they are involved in making strategic decisions on the funding of research, take account of advice from a wide variety of expert sources including academia and industry, both nationally and internationally”, what is the role that ministers have to play in that process. HL12816

Lord Lucas to ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the representations from the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Council for Mathematical Sciences, the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Institute for Engineering and Technology asking the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to “pause” its Shaping Capability policy, whether there is a mechanism to allow this request to be discussed outwith the administrative machinery of the EPSRC; and if not, why not. HL12817

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