I received today the September 2012 Contact Newsletter (volume 36, number 4) from NSERC via email. The fourth item in the newsletter reads:

Postdoctoral Fellowships – no change to number of awards

Over the last ten years, the volume of applications to the NSERC PDF Program has doubled to about 1,300, impacting the workload of volunteer selection committee members. A change to the eligibility rules for the Postdoctoral Fellowships (PDF) Program was made to ensure that applicants’ and reviewers’ time was used productively.

The eligibility rules were changed to allow students to apply only once during the eligibility window. Please note that this change does not affect the budget for the PDF Program or the number of awards.

More information about the new policy is outlined in the Program Guide for Students and Fellows.

Over the last ten years, the faculty at Canada’s Universities has expanded by the addition of 2000 Canada Research Chairs and other strategic recruitment. This “brain gain” has had the desired effect: more highly qualified personnel are being produced by the system. Over the period 1999-2009, there has been an expansion in enrollment in degree granting programs (data extracted from 2010-2011 Tables):

  • Bachelor’s enrollment expanded 34% (Table 44)
  • Master’s enrollment expanded by 56% (Table 45)
  • Doctoral enrollment expanded by 70% (Table 46)

It does involve a lot of work for volunteers to assess postdoctoral fellowship applications. Instead of punishing the next generation of scientists by restricting the number of competitions they can enter to one, an alternate solution to the workload problem would be to correspondingly expand the size of the volunteer review committee. I volunteer to help with those assessments in mathematics. Other Canadian scientists and engineers could indicate their willingness to help with the assessments by politely contacting their program officers.

The Contact Newsletter item also reports that the budget and number of awards will not be changed. Note the substantial changes that have already occurred between 2010 and 2012.

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4 comments as of now

  1. The Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars has responded to NSERC regarding the recent changes to the postdocs competition. Here is the link:
    https://docs.google.com/a/caps-acsp.ca/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxjYW5hZGFwb3N0ZG9jfGd4OjI1ZWNhYzk2ZjUxOTA0YzM

  2. I saw the same headline and thought that they might be responding to the heat from the last couple of weeks in the blogs regarding the lifetime single application change covering up the fact the number of awards has been dropping fast.

    When I clicked through to the article, it talks instead about how the number of applications have skyrocketed, and the new eligibility guideline doesn’t mean a change in awards.

    So is this an official public commitment to keep the same as last years number, and stop the hemorrhaging, or not?

  3. Thanks for your message Thad. I agree that this message does not clearly indicate the policy direction. Basic questions that have not been answered include: how many postdoctoral fellowship awards are forecast for 2013, 2014, 2015? NSERC postdoctoral fellowships are elite honors, so will the salary amount grow to be competitive with other prestigious awards?

    The expansion of postdoctoral applicants is a natural consequence of the expansion of the nation’s training capacity through the CRC and related investments. With more research faculty in Canada, there is a corresponding expansion in capacity to assess the enlarged pool of postdoc applicants.

  4. Karel Casteels @ 2012-09-10 16:44

    Re the Contact item: I heavily lean towards callings shenanigans on this. Particularly since NSERC essentially said the same thing last year: \Of the 286 Postdoctoral Fellowships (PDF) offered in 2010, when the acceptance rate was unusually high, about 264 are currently active. If budgets remain stable, NSERC would expect the total number of PDFs supported in a given year to also remain stable.\ – NSERC Communications.

    Anyway, since there are roughly 230 total postdocs now, and since the budget is not changing, that means about 130 new PDFs will be awarded next year, right NSERC?

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