Following past ERC StG 2018, it is important for us to highlight and share some of the lessons learnt. We have noticed a reoccurring misunderstanding regarding the nature of ERC, especially when compared to other national grants. Correcting this misunderstanding for future applications can prove incredibly useful.
The ERC misunderstanding was evident in about 80% of the initial drafts that we received. We have managed to assist most PIs in adjusting and revising their application to meet the ERC criteria. Still, we can report that around 25% of the applicants eventually dropped out after realizing that their research concept and scope cannot meet the ERC criteria. They were concerned about the ERC personal blocking. Realizing that the proposal doesn’t conform to the requirements of the ERC after considerable work has been invested can be very frustrating and discouraging. An alternative, more suitable, concept can be conceived if the decision is taken in time, but this is not always the case.
Below are two examples of this reoccurring misunderstanding as seen in ERC StG:
Recycling is good for the environment, but not necessarily for ERC
When writing a new grant application, many researchers will start from an application they have recently written and try to adjust it to the current technical requirements. Can a ‘recycled’ application work for ERC? – In most cases the answer is no. Research concepts which are suitable for other grant applications will often not conform to the unique nature of ERC: Investigator-driven (non-collaborative), high risk, high gain, basic research-oriented, hypothesis-driven and non-incremental frontier research.
Fishing expeditions? Not in ERC
We define research as a “fishing expedition” when it is clear that new information will surely be found, but no high-level hypothesis or theory about the nature of this information is offered beforehand (deductive reasoning). For example: looking for possible correlates within a new set of data or screening for novel bio-compounds in a newly found source. Even though sometimes such research is the only way to move forward, and it might lead to important discoveries, it comes with a low conceptual scientific risk, which contradicts the essence of ERC. ERC expects researchers to challenge current paradigms and to offer frontier, high risk projects. Hypothesis-driven research with a strong theoretical framework (inductive reasoning) makes ERC proposals more competitive.
- Writing an ERC proposal is demanding and challenging work. It is best to begin the process with a basic understanding of what constitutes a competitive ERC proposal beforehand, rather than drafting most of the proposal only to realise that it needs drastic changes in order to comply with the unique nature of ERC.
- One should not submit and ERC application at any cost. It is important to remember that the ERC applies a blocking system for PIs whose application is rejected on the first stage of the evaluation process. Submission of an application which is immature, or not compatible with the unique nature of the ERC, might result with a blocking of one or even two deadlines (years). As this is a highly competitive program, one should consider the odds and the effort to be invested.
A logical strategy and time planning which includes training and information on the nature and requirements of the ERC, followed by concept crystallization and only then writing the full proposal, may save time, frustration and unnecessary hard work for the researcher.
Supporting ERC applicants since 2007