Today we finalized a revision to a document detailing the progress of the AMVA4NewPhysics network – it is called “Progress Report” and is a deliverable, something that the Research Executive Agency of the EU expects networks to produce by a specific time. In the document the action of the network is carefully described in all its facets. In drafting the revision of the document, we came across some statistics that we think is interesting to share here. It concerns the 10 recruitment calls we made to hire the 10 ESR (early-stage researchers, aka Ph.D. students in the ITN). By looking into the demographics of the applications one gains some insight in the “prior distribution” of applicants to these positions.
Overall, we received 181 applications. This is not a large number – an average of 18.1 per call! It is surprising that these ITN positions do not receive a higher level of attention from graduate students, especially since the salary level and the conditions are designed to be competitive in the PhD market. On the other hand, the timing of the calls may have played a role here, as there are times of the year when students apply for PhD positions, and we opened many of our calls in antithesis to that season.
Of the 181 applications, only 120 were deemed valid. This is maybe not surprising, as there are several “fine-print” conditions that are to be met by applicants. In particular, there is a rule demanding that less than four years of research time must have passed since the time of achievement of the master-level diploma. Also tricky is the rule that requires the applicants to NOT have resided in the country where the position is offered, for the previous three years. This “mobility rule” aims at encouraging students to travel abroad to improve their experience and knowledge. We also found that several applications lacked the required backing of reference letters, something that is unfortunately reflecting badly on the professors and staff members that the applicants turned to, rather than on the applicants themselves.
25% of the valid applications were by female students. This number is more or less what we expected – it is actually slightly higher than the average female fraction in exact sciences, something we could attribute to the explicit encouragement of applications by females in our calls. Of the 10 hired ESRs, 4 are females, so 40% – this might be seen as a proof that the female applicants were on average better than the male ones, but might also be an effect caused by our explicit action in favouring female applicants.
The geographic distribution of the applications is also interesting to look at. Of 120 valid applications, 36.7% were from European applicants, and 38.3% from Asian applicants. Then African ones (15.8%) and only 9.2% of American ones (adding up North and South). While it is hard to “renormalize” the Asian and African numbers, it is interesting to observe that the American applications were significantly lower than European ones. The number of graduate students from Europe and the Americas is of the same order of magnitude, so the 4:1 bias in favor of European applicants must have reasons connected to ease and appeal of relocation / language, as well as accessibility of the calls. Overall the applicants from the US in particular were very few – probably the offer of good PhDs there is too high to make the ITN system appealing the US nationals.