Currently I'm in the process of writing an application for a Very Fancy Fellowship (VFF). Probably several thousand other folks are also doing the same and it's extremely competitive, but with a very high payoff. Yesterday, a senior faculty in my university who used to be in the scientific board of VFF was kind enough to meet with a group of faculty that are applying for VFF to give us some insight into their review process. One thing he said that they look for is whether an applicant passes the subtraction criterion. Which is basically this: If you were to suddenly drop out of science, would it make a difference to the field? Who would notice? Have your contributions been so essential that the field would be impoverished if they were missing?
This is a very harsh criterion and a very high bar. I don't think that I would pass this at all. And its not because I don't have a productive lab, publish in good places, and steadily contribute to my field. But rather because I think to pass this bar you either need to work on something so transformative and so essential that if your papers were never published, the field would be severely depleted, or that you are very good at making yourself ubiquitous at all the key conferences and talking at all the right places. And I don't think I would necessarily fit into those categories. And maybe that's the point of this VFF, that they want the tip of the creamy tippy top crop.
How about you? Would you survive the subtractive criterion?