ERC is looking for high-risk, high-gain, investigator and hypothesis-driven projects. Unlike many features of ERC, hypothesis is expected by many reviewers in many disciplines, although you will not find the word hypothesis anywhere in the official documentation of ERC. Our experience shows that this expected requirement of having a hypothesis in ERC projects happens to be more challenging than expected. With the help of our guidelines, you will find yourself a few steps closer to drafting a hypothesis at the expected level for ERC.
Examples of issues specifically relating to hypothesis that were not in par with the ERC standards:
- The hypothesis is not crystallized enough
- The hypothesis is weak or too generalized
- Confusing the project’s mission for the hypothesis
- Confusing the research question(s) for the hypothesis
- Deductive reasoning instead of inductive
- “I will develop a theory” type of statements
- The hypothesis is aligned to the PI’s specific research needs, but does not necessarily comply with ERC requirements
- There is no hypothesis
- and more…
ERC strives for frontier research that reflects a new ground breaking understanding of basic research. By definition, research at and beyond the frontiers of understanding is an intrinsically risky venture, proposing to progress new and exciting research areas. Hence the essential inherent high risk of an ERC proposal. Having this said, these elements must be reflected in the research hypothesis presented by the PI.
For this to be accomplished, we have curated the following selected guidelines for drafting a hypothesis in ERC applications. The following guidelines discuss the nature of the desired hypothesis:
- Identification of a major open, unresolved question or a gap in a specific research field
- Attempt to tentatively answer this question in the form of a prediction or a statement
- Hypothesis in ERC research proposal should not be too specific, as this may result in a limited project scope
- Hypothesis should not be too general, as it should have a major impact on a specific research field/s
- A clear presentation of the causal or correlational relations using identified variables
- Avoid “fishing expeditions” such as looking for possible correlates within a new set of data, or screening for novel bio-compounds in a newly found source
- Demonstration of its ability to be tested, and either verified or falsified
- Make sure to have a clear distinction between the research question, the hypothesis (the answer) and the mission statement (objectives and goals).
Additional points to remember when drafting your hypothesis in an ERC application:
- When drafting the theoretical reasoning and rationale behind the novel hypothesis, avoid being fixated on collecting preliminary evidence that would automatically support it. Instead, face alternative hypotheses in order to crystallize the potential ground-breaking nature of the scientific claim.
- The hypothesis could be inductive or deductive, non-directional or directional, null or alternative. However, it should always be aligned with the ERC excellence criteria and its main characterizing elements.
- Structuring a hypothesis in your ERC application, given the fine inherent balances of the ERC requirements, as well as the various nuances of each research discipline, is a challenging task that requires a substantial preparation process that would allow to structure a solid and competitive ERC application.
With the help of our above mentioned guidelines and additional points, you can begin to draft a hypothesis for the ERC application. It is important to keep in mind that a successfully constructed hypothesis is essential to an overall successful ERC application. Additional posts in our Knowledge Base can offer important guidelines to follow. For example, our discussion about copying from winning proposals, the post reviewing the ERC grant, and the “ERC Lessons Learnt“. Still, we highly advise researchers to seek assistance and consulting in order to solidify their hypothesis, and overall ERC grant application at large.