The experience trap

PhD party

The candidates for a postdoctoral fellowship, all “fresh” from defending their PhD*. Current eligibility criteria say they’re all the same age in scientific terms, despite huge variations in the length of time spent in postgraduate study.

What’s the fairest way of allocating funds to individual scientists? That, at heart, is the puzzle that has led to the generation of the experience trap. There is a limited pool of money available (in terms of fellowships and grants), and there has to be a means of winnowing the field to ensure that the number of applicants is not unmanageably large.

There is, rightly, no discrimination on the basis of age, sex, race and so on, and it’s the first of these factors that is the most significant (and praiseworthy). No discrimination at all on the basis of age. So if you decide, at the age of 42, that your office job no longer satisfies and what you’ve always wanted to do is a be a scientist, you can enrol for a PhD and on its completion, apply for fellowships on an equal footing with your new peers.

Or will you? Continue reading