As member and chair of the Academic Committee for the IIAS fellowship programme, it has been my privilege to be a part of a selection process that paves way for early and mid-career scholars to visit IIAS for research stays. This fellowship programme attracts applicants from across the world, which is, in itself, a testimony of its reach via its work and in particular, its Newsletter.
We are a small committee, and we bring our multi-disciplinary expertise from various facets of Asian studies to the table. A key challenge in our selection process has been to strike a balance – between disciplines, themes, areas, and indeed less represented geographies. For incoming fellows, IIAS offers a haven for social and intellectual camaraderie – a goal indeed, for the fellowship programme – but also a particular milieu that the university town of Leiden itself provides, where a contained atmosphere for writing can be generated. Fellows have many opportunities for exchange with Leiden University’s excellent Asian Studies scholars. Over the years, I have seen many long-term collaborations and friendships develop via such exchange. When I joined Leiden University back in 2012, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the incoming IIAS fellows, who have over the years, become dear friends, and I still recall the warmth such associations generated for us, as newcomers, both at the university and at IIAS. I have since witnessed fellows coming to IIAS with book projects – either writing monographs out of their PhD theses, or transforming their book projects, and taking them to new directions in dialogue with the transnational, and trans-disciplinary scopes that the IIAS milieu provides. I have also seen the long-term associations many of the fellows have built with the institute, particularly becoming parts of IIAS’s global programs over the years. There is hence, a community building process, that the fellowship program plants the seed for. It is a start, one could say, of potential associations – as much social as they are intellectual or institutional. Of course, at the core of the selection process is the uneasiness and regret even, of knowing that we are only selecting a mere handful of candidates from a rather exhaustive set of very good applications. It is often a narrow sliver of difference between the in and the out in that selection. Hence, as much as we joyously complete the long selection committee meetings with a happy selection, we are aware that we ideally would have welcomed more – and it is a particular pleasure when candidates we liked but couldn’t select reapply – and indeed, we can welcome them in subsequent rounds. That institutional memory makes the selection process human – something that the cold professionalism of fellowship applications and such committees often lack.