Just leave us alone, ok ?

Well, I don’t seem to hate STFC management as much as many of my correspondents .. but I do think they are consistently screwing up community handling. Here is a classic example. My colleague Ken Rice just had a grant rejected… at the end of the email there is this :

We would appreciate your cooperation and ask that you not contact the office regarding this email, as we are trying to get all results and feedback out as soon as possible.

Not quite sure whether to translate this as “tough shit, buster”, or “ohmygodwerenotcopiiiiinng !!!! please leave us alone !!!!” Votes ?

17 Responses to Just leave us alone, ok ?

  1. Angry Physicist says:

    Andy, The latest blaze of publicity from STFC is too little, too late. Just sending out a round of press releases about the latest meeting does NOT make up for all those years of no information. Where is the feedback from all those council and peer review meetings prior to this (starting in the PPARC days)? The system has been rotten for some time and now we are being spun by some cosmetic exercise trying to put a gloss on things.

    Personally, I have no confidence whatsoever in STFC management or their little empires. The redundancies should have started in Swindon …

  2. ian smail says:


    i am a member of the AGP and while i understand that the text you quote did indeed appear in the emails sent to grant applicants by the office – i believe that these were intended as nothing more than a helpful early “heads-up” of the grant results to give unsuccessful SG applicants more time to consider resubmission. i know that the office were asked by some applicants to give an indication of the results out prior to the 15/2 AAS deadline and so they did this as they appreciated that need – it seems perverse for us to now abuse them for doing something some of us were asking them to do… even if we are disappointed by the results the email conveyed.

    as the email states – more comprehensive feedback with the official results will go out in the near future and i’m sure the office will welcome comments and questions at that time. as the email also states – they are trying to get this feedback out as quickly as possible – and having people responding to this “heads-up” email is only going to slow down that process given the limited staff effort available.

    …if we’re going to criticise anyone here it should be those who decided that a 25% cut to grants (or a 40% cut in new RAs compared to 2007) was an appropriate mechanism to balance the budget.

  3. andyxl says:

    Ian – very grateful for your response and explanation. I guess these words were there for a good reason, and were intended in a good spirit, but given the current atmosphere, the wording could have been thought through a little more … Gosh. One of my commenters is being milder than me – normally the other way round ..

    p.s. thank you also for being one of the rare commenters who isn’t anonymous…

  4. Tom Hartquist says:

    As a former chair of an AGP subpanel, I know how dedicated and caring the council astronomy grants support staff are. They work very hard to help the community and are disappointed when good work does not receive funding. They have very demanding jobs which they carry out excellently. As Ian Smail has noted, they are not the people who deserve criticism and the trouble some applicants give. In fact, they deserve the community’s wholehearted appreciation, respect, and cooperation.

  5. Ken Rice says:

    As the person who somewhat inadvertently initiated this, I feel I should make some comment. I have no doubt that what Ian and Tom are saying is true, and it is unfortunate if this essentially criticises the wrong people. In my view, however, it does still indicate some breakdown in communication. Having never sat on an AGP panel, I have no idea who does what and found it somewhat disturbing when the only communication I have from STFC ends with “please do not contact this office”. One could make the argument that ultimately this does reflect poorly on the same people who have decided on a 25% cut to grants, and not on the office staff who send out emails. Presumably senior STFC staff decide on the protocol for communicating with applicants and are perfectly comfortable with emails that directly or indirectly imply that no further communication would be appreciated.

  6. ian smail says:

    this thread is now much too polite to survive any longer…

    i suggest we revert to the current hot topic of demanding resignations left, right and centre

  7. Alan Heavens says:

    I have to agree with Tom’s comments – the STFC staff who support the grants process do their jobs highly effectively and professionally. At the risk of a barrage of complaints, I think the grants process of PPARC, without being perfect, was thorough and generally robust. Hopefully the new STFC procedures will prove to be as effective.

    Changing the subject, I see that the number of people going into Physics teacher training in England has dropped by 30%:


  8. Very Anonymous Physicist says:

    I’ll do the honours of turning the thread back to spite and bile.

    The sorry pieces of propaganda that STFC call “press releases” state that all CSR related cuts are being put on hold. This is a lie.
    At Daresbury, the SRS closure related redundancies were agreed in 2005 as 80 this year and 30 next (after decommissioning). This tallies with the number of people working on the machine. However, last week we learn that the “SRS related” redundancies are now 150 this year and 30 next. The extra 70 are definitely CSR related.

    305 of us received “at risk of compulsory redundancy” letters on Wednesday.

    Our friends in the press were going to run a good news story based on the press releases. Luckily, they smelled a rat and called us 😉

    We’re not going to let this lie…

  9. Angry Physicist says:

    Why are we suddenly being treated to these “press releases” when there has been an information vacuum for so many years?

    Why are all comparisons made with 2005 to make the “cuts” look less harmful?

    Why has there not been a single presentation to STFC staff at RAL since the call for redundancies (is this now the age of electronic sacking where management no longer meet their staff)?

    Why is there a priority list which is only shared with a certain few until 26 February? If projects are at risk everyone deserve to know the peer reviewed pecking order – that is what being open and transparent is supposed to be all about.

  10. Vogon says:

    The list of all projects in Particle Physics, Astronomy, Space/Planetary and Nuclear Physics has apparently already been determined by a group of 10 eminent scientists.
    And will be revealed to the waiting world at the end of the month.

    Now while the members are without doubt excellent in their fields, it does mean that the UK future in astronomy is being decided by about 3-4 people (given that there should be a distribution of members in the different areas on the committee).
    Oh sure – there’s a consultation period of 3 weeks, but it seems unlikely that this will change things much.

    So is this a good community representation?

  11. ivegotthistape says:

    Adding to that, do we know whether these representatives have strong vested interests? Will their departments stand to pick up work if Daresbury/ATC/RAL lose certain competences? Take a look at the membership of PPAN/Council/etc and make your own mind up.

  12. Don says:

    hmmm, the phrase “shooting the messenger” springs to mind here. I’m not involved with the agp but know the office through patt (etc) there are 3 staff doing the job that a few years ago had 5.
    I wouldnt do their job and i certainly wouldnt put up with any grief. I think a more appropriate phrase might be “cut them some slack” and then complain to the right people….

    As regards membership of panels etc volunteer.

  13. Francis says:

    The STFC people were trying to get information out as quickly as possible to applicants, as they knew the stress that the delays was causing. Understandably, they wanted to focus on getting the information out rather than dealing with numerous queries and complaints.

    The STFC staff are under as much stress as anyone, operating with a greatly reduced staff complement compared to a few years ago. They have 3 people looking after AGP and PATT. I am surprised the system hasn’t collapsed, and they should be congratulated for keeping it going.

  14. andyxl says:

    I guess enough people have said this already .. but the workers at STFC are doing the best job they can, and they are under horrible pressure. So this post of mine was was probably too cheap a shot. Hard to resist though in the circumstances.

  15. Richard McMahon says:

    I was the chair of the Gemini UK National Time Allocation committee prior to the current fiasco.
    Just to add my two cents/pence. In my experience the STFC ex-PPARC staff who deal directly with the community do an amazing job and have to deal with shit from both their senior managers and bureaucrats and also shit from the rest of us. We scientists are both human beings and inherently self-centred.

    I have seen incredible arrogance at all levels except from the members from the STFC “lifers” who send us personal emails and deal with out angst.

    The STFC office staff that I have had the pleasure to deal with do an incredible job.

    Sadly, I fell cannot identify them by name in the current climate.

  16. it seems like e very good web site but my English is not good. It would be great if it might be availible in other languages too. Thanks.

  17. Horoscope says:

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