Researchers who have won ERC grants and support teams at institutions who help prepare proposals share their advice.
Recently we observed some interesting chatter on social media channels, on the subject of how best to create a successful ERC grant application. Inspired, we asked ERC funded scientists to share their top tips with those of you who are considering applying for funding. Their response was considerable, and both generous and insightful. Here we share some thoughts that particularly struck a chord.
Should you apply, even if you are working at a research center with little experience of hosting ERC grants?
Yes. Alina Badescu whose grant is hosted in Universitatea Politehnica Din Bucuresti, Romania found that after she won her Starting Grant it helped bring more people to her team, and buy major equipment.
“Countries like Romania lack the tradition of success in such competitions and researchers are afraid to submit their project. There are many myths about applying, like the fact that you need to have good infrastructure or a well-established team, which of course helps. But the grant is also meant for young people who are still developing their research group… Once you have such a grant you have recognition. It’s a snowball that grows bigger and bigger.” Source: Neutrinos: A Salt Mine Of Information
What kind of idea to propose?
As most people involved know, the sky is the limit when it comes to fundamental research. Reinhilde Veugelers, economist at KULeuven in Belgium and former ERC Scientific Council member, advises applicants to:
Think about big things. Questions that bother you. Questions that you don’t know how to think about.” Source: presentation at the European Economic Association (EEA) ERC Grant Proposal Writing Session (2017)
Over the years, Valeria Nicolosi, nanotechnologist at Trinity College Dublin, has won ERC Starting, Consolidator and Proof of Concept grants. She also has a good idea of what works in an application:
Your state of mind
Joana Gaspar de Freitas, who studies sand dunes at the University of Lisbon in Portugal, focuses on aspects of motivation and self-belief:
How long to spend on your application?
Starting Grant awardee Elison Matioli, a Brazilian electrical engineer who moved to Europe and is now based at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, describes his application, and career path in an interview.
"I dedicated a significant share of my first months as professor at EPFL to prepare my ERC application, which turned out to be very well invested time."
How to deal with risk
A computer scientist advises the choice of field, and how to deal with including risky aspects in your proposal. Consolidator Grant winner Alberto Ros Bardisa at the University of Murcia, Spain:
All applications can be a useful resource
Vasco Carvalho, macroeconomist at the University of Cambridge, UK found the process of creating an ERC project proposal useful, well beyond its original aim: “The application time was probably the most useful time in my assistant professorship. I took a month out (to do it). That month has been the guiding light of my research for the past six years – independent of the ERC.” Source: his presentation at the European Economic Association (EEA) ERC Grant Proposal Writing Session (2017)
Even an unsuccessful application is not a waste of time. Numerical astrophysicist Franco Vazza, who manages a project at University of Bologna, Italy contends that:
Partially disagree: in my experience if you write stuff up to the best of your skills, you can actually reuse a lot of this for papers, computing/observing proposals etc. (so it won't really be time 100% wasted)
— Franco Vazza (@franco_vazza) September 6, 2019
If at first you don't succeed…(revise and) try, try again
Materials physicist Sandra Korte-Kerzel of RWTH Aachen, Germany advises not to give up!
Chances are you will apply more than once (I got rejected in the first round on my first attempt), if so: my most useful resource were the reviewer comments. Build on these and take them on board.
— Prof Sandra Korte-Kerzel (@SKorteKerzel) September 6, 2019
To find a bigger collection of advice from your research peers, which includes more detail on particular aspects of the application process, explore the ERC Twitter Moment: ⚡️ “Tips for ERC grant proposals". For the official information on all aspects of the application process, visit the ERC FAQ pages as well as consulting the ultimate reference, the Information guide for applicants.
This article is adapted from online content shared by researchers and their host institutions, as well as comments from attendees to ERC workshops for recent grant winners.