Monday, 30 April 2012

For Those About to Fail, We Salute You!

In January this year I reported that the ERC had been inundated by applications to its Synergy scheme. The following month it published its Guide for Peer Reviewers, and I've been meaning to write about this for some time - two months in fact. It makes for some interesting reading, and brings home how hard it will be for the ERC to cut 710 applications down to 10-15 awards.

Although the ERC states that there will be a 'two-step peer review evaluation', the process will be more complicated than that. Here it is, step by step.
  1. Pre-selection. The chairs of the five peer review panels will cull the number of proposals to a more manageable number. The Guide suggests '7 times the indicative budget'. Assuming that the majority of applicants have put in the maximum allowable (€15m - and, if you're going to go for it, you may as well go for it), that means that this will cut out 90% of the applications. That's quite a cut.
  2. Panel. With what's left (c70-105 applications) the panel members will review them and gather to discuss them. They will whittle the applications down to '2.5 times the indicative call budget'. So that's another two thirds gone.
  3. New Panel. The original panel will now be exhausted, and will be discarded like empty husks. A new set of panellists will be selected. They will convene and cut the applications to '2 times the indicative budget' - i.e. 20-30 applications. 
  4. Interview. Anyone left standing will be invited to interview, and there might be site visits as well.

Blimey. The Apprentice and The X Factor have nothing on this. Perhaps the ERC can generate a little extra income by selling the television rights? And introduce a fifth round that's something like The Hunger Games? I can see it now, with each candidate being paraded around Brussels in chariots prior to the final round.

Better still, perhaps Joachim Phoenix can play the panel chair, and Russell 'Group' Crowe a jobbing prof going for the Synergy grant that will release him from the treadmill of the application process.

If there are any Hollywood producers reading this, give me a call. I tell you, there are plenty more ideas where that came from.

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