Another post that was written ages ago, about the second round of the European Research Council (ERC) panel on starting grants for mathematics in which I took part as an expert and not as an applicant. While anonymity possibly fell apart for the several dozens of applicants who were shortlisted for interview, in particular more like those few from my own field, the official list of the panel only came out much later. The interviews were quite interesting, obviously, with a strict attention to time and questions to make all interviews as “equal” as possible. And sometimes painful to attend as the candidates were visibly stressed and more over-prepared than not. Which did not necessarily help as the preparation, presumably with the help of local consultants out of maths, had removed some of the enthusiasm behind the project and too much of the maths. I think we all stopped breathing when one applicant broke mid-sentence, as in a theatre play when one actor forgets one’s lines… The rehearsal does not work so well for later questions, even though preparing for these is also essential, and some upgrading or downgrading may then occur because of a single answer. An unavoidable limitation of the exercise.
Overall I remain impressed by the quality of the collective work of the panel [despite a gruelling schedule on interview days] and of the overall selection of eleven projects, even though it sounds like more theoretical and abstract topics seem privileged, in a bias that seems difficult to counteract. And [not because no statistics proposal was selected this time] making me (and others) wonder whether or not a separate statistics section of the ERC would not be more appropriate, since statistics proposals are not uniquely and solely centred on the maths aspects.