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Pathfinder (FET-Open) is an extremely competitive program with generally lower than normal success rates. But is it indeed almost impossible to succeed in this funding program? Is it a waste of time to even try? The answer is that when you understand the Pathfinder (FET-Open) spirit, and believe your project is in line with it – your chances are quite different than the above success rates. In this post, we will highlight the characteristics that are crucial for a successful Pathfinder (FET-Open) project proposal.

The existing confusion about Pathfinder (FET-Open)?

FET-Open, like the name calls it, is open to any discipline and has no preference to theme or subject. Namely, it is a “bottom-up” approach. Many applicants misinterpret this as a chance to submit any application that did not fit into the “top-down” calls of Horizon 2020. Some even  refer to it as an “anything goes” grant of Horizon 2020 for this exact reason. As a result, many proposals submitted are simply not in line with the expectations of this project proposal.

We posit that among the proposals that capture the spirit of this funding scheme, the success rate is more encouraging.

Therefore, let’s start by illustrating the characteristics that are crucial for a competitive Pathfinder (FET-Open) project proposal. Understanding and implementing them in you project proposal can increase its competitiveness, thus increasing your success rates.

The Characteristics of a competitive Pathfinder (FET-Open) project proposal

Novelty and high risk – Pathfinder (FET-Open) looks for completely new, ambitious, non-incremental and ground breaking ideas. If your project is a natural continuation of efforts in the field or if it includes integration of existing ideas or methods, it is less likely to succeed. Notably, most proposals fail on this category. You must be very ambitious in order to stand out. In this context, it is important to note and navigate several commonalities which exist between Pathfinder (FET-Open) and ERC. Such commonalities can prove helpful when crafting the grant proposal, and award it with the competitive nature it requires.

Pathfinder (FET-Open) proposals need to carry a high conceptual risk. Walking in uncharted territories of research is inherent to a currently unanticipated scientific and technological concept and vision. Your research plan should be flexible enough to support such risk and uncertainties.

On top of the more general expectation for cutting-edge, novel and high risk projects, three distinct features have been put forward in the Pathfinder (FET-Open) call, which help us better understand the uniqueness of this call.

The gatekeepers:

Radical vision:

Pathfinder (FET-Open) aims to fund projects which set the basis for fundamentally new, currently unavailable and unanticipated, lines of technology. Start by asking yourself if you can illustrate the radical long term vision to which your science and technology are the first step.

Breakthrough technological target:

Can you clearly identify the science-to-technology breakthrough which is attainable within the lifetime of your project? Can you show how your breakthrough will contribute to achieving the long term radical vision? Do you have a plausible and concrete plan for how to get there?

Ambitious interdisciplinary research:

Pathfinder (FET-Open) expects you to get out of your comfort zone. Novelty will undoubtedly stem from collaborations which are not typical. These collaborations need to generate a genuine mutual exchange of ideas and knowledge between distant disciplines. Build your consortium to fit your proposal plan. Assign complementary and essential roles for all partners and choose only the best people for each role.

To conclude – Pathfinder (FET-Open), though its ‘open’ nature, actually has some very defining characteristics that must be taken into attention when considering to apply. If, after reviewing the above points, you believe that your proposal qualifies in each of these three categories and is a relevant project, it is now time to start composing a competitive proposal!


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