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These days, there is truly a multitude of European funding opportunities for scientific research. Each funding scheme is unique, and calls for very specific requirements in order to achieve particular goals and maximize impact. Successfully narrowing down the funding scheme that is relevant for you, and your research, is a task in and of itself. The  Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions – Innovative Training Networks (ITN) is one such very unique funding opportunity. It is essential to understand exactly its purpose, and how to structure its proposal, so it correctly fits the requirements and expectations. To help in the process, we’ve put together the article below. Keep reading to learn more about the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action (MSCA) – Innovative Training Networks (ITN).

The purpose of the MSCA Innovative Training Networks (ITN)

Before diving deep into the structure of the funding scheme, let us first firmly grasp its overall purpose. Officially, the purpose of the MSCA Innovative Training Networks (ITN) is to1:

  • train a new generation of creative, entrepreneurial and innovative early-stage researchers (ESRs) able to face current and future challenges and to convert knowledge and ideas into products and services for economic and social benefits;
  • raise excellence and structure research and doctoral training, extending the traditional academic research training setting, incorporating the elements of Open Science and equipping researchers with the right combination of research-related and transferable competences;
  • provide enhanced career perspectives in both the academic and non-academic sectors through international, interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral mobility combined with an innovation-oriented mind-set.

But how should such a project be structured? What should be the key issues in a project aiming to achieve these goals? Let’s address these important questions.

The components of the MSCA Innovative Training Networks (ITN)

A highly competitive ITN proposal should involve components from two complementary dimensions.

The first dimension can include any combination of the designated items in the curated list mentioned in the guide for applicants, including: Training through research, Development of network-wide training activities, Provision of structured training courses, Exchanging knowledge with the network’s members, Invitation of visiting researchers, Transferable skills training, Personal career development plan, Secondments, Networking activities and Dissemination and Exploitation activities. 

The items mentioned as part of the first dimension are generally straightforward elements. They are thoroughly defined and described in the guide for applicants. When implementing such activities, it is crucial that they do not ‘stand alone’ as isolated activities. The glue that will mold them together, and enable to achieve a highly competitive ITN proposal, is the second dimension, listed below.  Therefore, to achieve an ITN project proposal that is highly competitive – it is recommended to weave in aspects from the second dimension.

Achieving a highly competitive MSCA ITN proposal

The list below identifies these second dimension aspects needed for a highly competitive ITN grant:

  • “The network”: In ITN, the network consists of both Beneficiaries and Partner Organisations. Beneficiaries are what would be considered “partners” in other collaborative Horizon 2020 grants. They are legal entities that sign the grant agreement. They recruit, supervise, host and train researchers and directly receive funds for doing so. In order to be considered a beneficiary, an entity should host at least one early-stage researcher (ESR). Partner organisations, on the other hand, do not recruit any researchers but provide additional research and transferable skills training and/or secondment opportunities. In order for the ESRs to benefit most from the diversity and interdisciplinarity of the network, cross-network training activities, secondments to participating organisations other than their primary host, are expected.
  • Collaboration of industry and academia: A crucial part in enhancing the career perspectives and employability of researchers in tomorrow’s market is understanding the link between academia and industry, and being exposed to various working and research environments. The ITN network is expected to involve academic and non-academic organisations and assessing the extent and quality of the involvement of non-academic participants is part of the project evaluation.
  • Training and research objectives: From a scientific point of view, ITN are bottom-up projects. This means there are no predefined priorities to the topic or disciplines addressed by the project as long as the proposal can establish that the project is of high scientific quality, innovative and planned in a credible manner. It is also important that the research topic be innovative and positioned at the forefront of its respective field in order to achieve the impact of enhancing the career perspectives and employability of the ESRs.
  • High quality soft skill training: Beyond the scientific point of view, and to complement the scientific topics, the training program should include various transferable skills (“soft-skill”) training. This can include workshops on scientific writing and proposal writing, IPR management, entrepreneurship and exploitation of research results, communication skills and personal development, ethics, team skills, multicultural awareness, gender issues, research integrity, etc.
  • Project duration and ESR recruitment: The project duration is limited to 48 months from the start date of the action set out in the Grant Agreement. The recruitment of each individual ESR will be supported for a minimum of 3 months and up to a maximum of 36 months. Each network can fund up to 540 person-months. This means 15 ESRs per network if each ESR is recruited for the maximum time allowed.
  • Individual ESR projects: Each ESR has his/her own individual project which needs to feed into the project’s objectives and scientific work packages. The projects need to be illustrated in the application. It is important that the supervisors plan projects carefully, such that all projects are well imbedded in the network and work packages, and that they benefit from the relevant competences available in the network. As can be expected from a training network, some level of synergy and cooperation between projects (and ESRs) is expected. Having said that, the level of dependence between the projects should not be too high so as to put one individual project at risk if another project encounters difficulties.

Conclusion

The MSCA Innovative Training Networks (ITN) is a unique funding opportunity. The article above is a great resource to refer to for the purpose of successfully curating a highly competitive proposal. If you have any further questions, or would like us to work with you to realize the full potential of your MSCA Innovative Training Networks (ITN) proposal, do not hesitate to contact us.

 1Guide for Applicants, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions – Innovative Training Networks (ITN), pg. 8