Australian Mathematical Society Web Site
May 5 98



I have been asked to clarify the present composition of the ARC's mathematics and Physics large grant panel, with a view to helping any who might be thinking of putting forward a nomination for 1999 through their university. This message concludes with some recent ARC news.

The first thing to say about the vacancies is that the large grants (sub)panel in this area, known as A6, works very closely with the corresponding fellowships panel, F6, both in assigning assessors, and in making recommendations. To show the full picture I therefore have to explain both the Large Grants (A6) and Fellowships (F6) Panels.

The present members are


Ian Sloan (Chair), UNSW
Applied Mathematics, retiring 1998
A.(Tony) Pettitt, QUT
Statistics, retiring 2000
Donald Melrose, U Sydney
astronomy, plasma and theoretical phsics, retiring 2000
Hans Bachor, ANU
optics, laser physics, experimental atomic and plasma physics, retiring 1999
Robert Leckey, LaTrobe
Solid surfaces, diffraction, atomic physics, retiring 1999
Neville Fletcher, retired CSIRO and ANU
Condensed matter physics, acoustics, atmospheric physics, applied physics, retiring 1998


Derek Robinson, ANU
pure mathematics and mathematical physics, retiring 1999
Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop, UQ
laser spectroscopy and diagnostics, atom optics, retiring 1998

From the point of view of the mathematical sciences there are three of us on the combined panel, one "pure" (Derek Robinson), one "applied" (Ian Sloan), and one "stats" (Tony Pettitt). Since I am the one retiring in 1999, it is natural that the replacement should be sought in the broad applied area. The fact that the advertisement for the position mentions also the need for a good knowledge of pure mathematics or statistics reflects my conviction that it is essential for everyone involved in the panels to have a broad range of scientific interests. One immediate practical reason for needing this breadth is the requirement that every application has to be read in detail by at least two panel members. When conflicts of interest are taken into account (for we are not allowed to be involved in any way with applications with a Chief Investigator from our own institution) it is all too often the case that neither of the two principal readers is an expert in the area of the application. The more breadth the panel members have, the better off we are.

A little bit of history: my predecessor was Peter Kloeden of Deakin. Derek Robinson's was Alan Carey of U Adelaide. Tony Pettitt's was Ian James of Murdoch, and before him Peter Hall (ANU). As far as Derek Robinson and I can figure out, the only other mathematicians who have been on the ARC or its panels were Gavin Brown and Annette Dobson.

Before finishing, let me make a few comments about this year's round. The general observation of Panel members is that the general quality of 1999 large grant applications is very high. Notwithstanding that fact, all panels were under instruction to cull 30% of the applications. My sympathy goes to the many who were culled. We all know that this is an awful experience, with no redeeming features. All members of the panels hate the culling process, but the pressure to do so on pragmatic workload and cost grounds is hard to resist, given the likelihood that the final success rate will again be only around 20%. (However, I should say that we do not yet have any budget information). Incidentally, the initial cull for the Fellowships is 50%.

This year the number of applications fell in all panels. The fall for the A6 panel (around 60, out of a total last year of just over 300) was one of the largest. Most of the A6 fall seems to have been in physics.

We on the Panels are very hopeful that this year will not see the same administrative nightmares that beset the ARC large grants process last year. The return of assessor reports this year will be by old technology (i.e. mail to DEETYA), so there is no risk of an electronic black hole. Last year there were far too many cases of Australian (especially) assessors being asked at the last minute to provide assessments at insultingly short notice. We are reasonably confident that this will not happen again, at least not on anything like the same scale. It has to be said, though, that the success of the whole scheme depends in large measure on the willingness of Australian mathematicians and scientists carrying out the assessor tasks asked of them professionally and promptly. We ask for your cooperation in this, no matter what your personal feelings might be.

Incidentally, the instructions to assessors about scores are different this year. Please put out of your mind any notions you might have from past experiences, and respond to the new intructions. It is particularly important to include a thorough analytical written report, and to complete the 'matrix' boxes as well as the scores.

I hope that this information will help to remove some uncertainties and misapprehensions about the processes.

Ian Sloan

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Last Update: 06/05/98