When it comes to ERC, a prior screening process (by Research Managers and Administrators) or self-assessment (by the PI) of potential applicants is highly recommended. Indeed, there is a positive correlation between an efficient screening process and better success rates. The process of self-assessment or candidate screening can be challenging and it includes a matrix of parameters to consider.
The main elements of a competitive ERC Principal Investigator (PI) profile are –
- Creative thinking
- Outstanding CV and high-impact publications
- Leadership and mentoring
- Basic-research oriented
- Is it the best time?
Let’s try to break these elements down:
ERC Creative thinking
The ERC expects grantees to reach major scientific breakthroughs in his/her research field. In turn, this will essentially lead to a real paradigm shift in the area. To prove this, the PI’s past achievements and track record, as well as the current project presentation, need to reflect creative thinking.
ERC applicants are expected to show evidence of independence. This can be reflected by various aspects of the PI’s profile, for example, publishing as main author without the PI’s PhD advisor, showing major scientific progress from the work he/she did in their PhD and postdoc, and securing competitive funds as a group leader.
Outstanding CV and publications
An impeccable CV and an impressive publication list are the bread & butter of successful ERC applications. All in all, the important questions are: How well is the PI known in his/her field? Is the PI a main author in most/all of his/her publications? Have these publications made an impact (i.e high number of citations)? Does the PI have enough invited talks in international conferences?
When talking about publications and impact, the ‘h-index’ comes to mind. However, the ‘h-index’ calculation has an inherent bias to some scientific domains, making it less relevant in some cases; refer to the PI’s ‘h-index’ with care and in the context of the PI’s specific discipline.
Leadership and mentoring
The ability to lead a research team and mentor young researchers is typical of successful applicants. This is especially important for CoG and AdG applicants and considering the scope and budget of the ERC project.
ERC is basic research-oriented
ERC is looking for the basic-research oriented applicants that may shed light on unexplained or unresolved questions, opening the path for more research to follow. In that respect, industry-oriented or teaching-oriented PIs, which focus their career away from research, might find it harder to present a competitive CV according to the ERC standards (e.g. publication list).
In terms of timing, there are two dimensions to refer to: the PIs’ career and the project’s concept. With respect to the former, it is important to ensure that the PI has a relevant outstanding track record to present on one hand, but has not passed his/her career peak on the other. With respect to the latter, the PI should assess the maturity and timeliness of the project’s concept, making sure that it is still groundbreaking and novel on one hand, but established enough in terms of initial evidence of feasibility and competence of the PI to execute it. In short, the timing issue should have an excellent answer to the following question: ‘’Why me, Why now?”
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