As the last calls for ERC Starting and Consolidator grants closed recently, it is time to reflect on gained experience and summarize brief lessons learned. In this article, we aim to bring reader´s attention to four best practices, which we consider beneficial to ensure high quality and competitiveness of the ERC proposals; however, we have often see them underestimated or completely neglected. There is no doubt that the preparation of an ERC project requires a lot of time, commitment and diligence. However, the long nights in solitude spent solely on writing and contemplating the proposal are no guarantee of success. We encourage future ERC applicants to keep an open mind and pay due attention to the following advices based on real-life experience of your colleagues scientists.
- Before you start writing – benefit from the database of ERC funded projects.
This archive provides you with lots of useful information on all successful ERC projects. Before you start drafting your own proposal, check which ERC proposals have succeeded in your field in the past, what challenges they usually address and who the grantees were. Moreover, the database serves as a great source of inspiration for those of you who are not sure how a well-written, clearly understandable, and compelling abstracts for ERC project look like. You can filter the funded ERC projects according to type of funding scheme, year of call opening, research domain and country of host institution. Unfortunately, the database lacks the keyword filter, which could potentially be the most often used by scientists planning to submit an ERC.
- Bear in mind who will evaluate your proposal and choose the evaluation panel strategically.
Before you decide for the most suitable evaluation panel, read carefully the composition of all relevant panels from the last three years (here you can find the names of panel members from years 2020, 2019 and 2018). Check the expertise and favourite research topics of the members of all relevant panels. Although you could first automatically assign yourself to a specific panel due to your long-term research focus, the research problem addressed in your ERC project might be more appreciated by scientists from a different research discipline and different evaluation panel. The above-mentioned archive of funded ERC project may also help you with the selection of the most appropriate panel for your proposal.
- Convert the project risks into your strength.
One of the essences of the ERC is that it funds only outstanding scientists and their exceptional projects. Such projects simply cannot be risk-free. On the contrary, the more ambitious goals you wish to achieve the greater risks your project entails. Therefore, identify and clearly describe all major risks on your project; do not hide them and do not let evaluators to point them out instead of you. Your CV and resume of your scientific achievements must convince the evaluators that you are the right person and have the necessary competencies to overcome all potential obstacles and risks.
- Do not be secretary and ask your revision board for help.
Most of your success in ERC depends on the positive evaluation of the five page long extended synopsis, your CV and resume of your scientific achievements. In this first stage, your project is assessed by members of an evaluation panel composed of world-renowned scientists, who may not necessarily be experts in your specific project topic. Therefore, bear in the mind that your proposal must appeal to scientists from different research fields, with different professional experiences and different language skills. We recommend creating your own revision panel consisting of experienced mentors, trustworthy colleagues (ideally critical thinkers) and also young postdocs and students who can all provide you with useful feedback and interesting insights leading to the improvement of your project. Do not be ashamed to ask for help and keep your mind open to diverse opinions of your mentors and colleagues. The more critical stimuli you collect and process during the writing of your proposal, the better prepared you will be for the panelist’s evaluation.