The experience of one Chinese applicant who was turned down for a key position at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) could shed light on how the project's staff became dominated by Europeans.
The applicant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, applied through open recruitment this year for a team leader position in the France-based organisation's all-French human resources department.
But she soon learned the department's director had hired a French woman on a temporary contract to fill the position, shortly after it became vacant. Such a temporary hiring can been approved by the department head directly while the formal job search continues.
"Nobody wants to compete with someone who is already doing the job," the Chinese applicant said. "She will have a head start and will be familiar to the board members who will conduct the job interview. This is unfair."
Two of the five people on the selection committee for the position already knew the French applicant from work. The French candidate got the highest score; the Chinese candidate came in second.
"They called me and told me that I did great in the interview, but I was too young to manage 'a group of old French ladies'," the Chinese applicant said. "I was offered a lower-ranking job instead, which is equivalent to the job of my assistant. I turned it down immediately and I felt humiliated."
None of the directors or top section leaders in the department overseeing the critical construction of the reactor are Chinese, according to the ITER website.
ITER spokesman Dr Michel Claessens denied allegations of discrimination and said the organisation followed the recruitment process set by participant nations. He said he could not comment on the Chinese applicant's case.
Dr Liu Huajun , a fusion scientist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Plasma Physics, said: "As nearly all section heads are controlled by other countries, Chinese candidates have often received unfair treatment or outright discrimination."