Yesterday's workshop on European Funding was a good chance for participants to 'test drive' their proposals. All those who attended were willing to both receive and give feedback on their proposed projects. Some of the general points that were raised included:
- Projects need to be both exciting and feasible, offering a step change in knowledge whilst also being grounded. The EC want to fund world-changing research, but also want to be reassured that you’ve thought through your project, that it’s achievable, and that you’re using an appropriate methodology with a realistic work plan.
- Therefore think about:
- Presenting an exciting question: the first step of the assessment process is for the panel to decide on who to shortlist for interview. The panel is very broad, and is unlikely to have experience of your area (see the full panel list, here (pdf)). Use the 5 page ‘extended synopsis of the scientific proposal’ (which is the only part of the proposal the panel will initially see) to ‘hook’ them in. Remember, the ERC is keen on ‘high risk/high gain’ research. Sell it to them: offer them a tantalising question, and follow it up by offering them a way to find the solution.
- Balancing them with a realistic work programme. Think about the structure, and break it up into achievable ‘work packages’. Think about the team: who do you need in order to complete these work packages? The ERC is offering generous funding, and it is more likely to fund a project that involves a team than one with a lone academic. However,everyone must be there for a reason: there can’t be any ‘passengers’ or‘baggage’. Their inclusion has to make sense. Don’t just include eminent or senior academics to show that you’re well connected, or to lend your project a glow of established credibility. The Starting Grants are for newer academics to become independent leaders, so don’t jump on the coat tails of others.
- Language: whilst the Work Programme may be ‘endlessly hyperbolic’ and ‘frantically bold’ (as one of the participants yesterday suggested), you need to be more low key and simple. Remember, the panellists (and later, external reviewers) will be from across Europe, and English is unlikely to be their first language. Keep it simple, and don’t ‘over conceptualise.’ Whilst you should make bold claims about your track record and the potential of your research, you should always ground these claims with evidence and demonstration.
- Experience: not everyone will have the perfect track record of publications and grants. However, capitalise on what you have achieved. Talk about how previous collaborations or small grants have demonstrated your ability to manage projects and lead groups, or how your previous work leads naturally on to your current proposal.