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So you have decided to apply for an ERC grant. Now begins the planning and drafting period. Since the ERC application has no formal structure, many researchers that wish to apply struggle with the best way to present their idea and to write the application. If you have past experience with writing research grants or articles, you may think to write in the same manner for the ERC application. But then there are those shiny winning proposals that could possibly offer some guiding tips. The ones that successfully passed all application criteria. Those which stood against some of the hardest reviewers and their questions. These winning proposals could possibly be your guiding light to your own winning proposal. Should you do it?  Will looking at winning proposals actually help to increase your chances at securing a winning proposal of your own?


We can entirely understand and encourage the mindset to get inspired by talking to ERC grantees or drawing ideas by looking at funded ERC projects. But, past experience with ERC grants has brought us to a very important conclusion:  one should be careful when trying to imitate a winning proposal. We want to share with you why this is not advised.


Why you should not copy from winning proposals

Unlike many other grants, though ERC does have a ‘check list’, there is a lot beyond that is more conceptual, that tends to be elusive. Therefore, there is no real need ‘to follow’ a specific structure derived from another proposal. On the other hand, a prevailing attribute in ERC is the ‘researcher inner voice’ that must be reflected in the text.


In contrast to many other grants, a substantial portion of the final score is composed of the reviewers’ impression of the PI and the project. This is reflected from their personal style and way of writing and presenting their research project. The PI’s enthusiasm and ambition should be reflected in the text, as well as his or her own ‘personal touch’.


Secondly, the ERC grant is flexible enough. This means that it allows you to form and outline the research as YOU see best. That is why mimicking or “forcing” your project proposal into a structure of another ERC  proposal, even if it was a successful one ,probably won’t serve you as well as it did in its original form. Our experience shows that this happens almost always when trying to do that.


In other words, in ERC the project proposal must be yours. Literally. Your innovative research project must be presented in a unified, coherent way. It must reflect your activities (past, present and future), not others. Make it yours. Do not copy.


What you can take away from winning proposals

The best thing to learn from winning proposals is about the overall spirit of presenting the project. This means you should study how the PI’s made it their own. In ERC it is imperative to convey a message that the suggested project can and should be performed by the specific PI. It cannot be assumed that someone else can carry out your research as well. Learn from winning proposals how they successfully conveyed this exact message. Once you have internalized this special ERC spirit, you must begin to draft and execute a proposal that is entirely yours.


Though these important points can surely help you get on your way with your own ERC application, there is a lot more to know and understand about the uniqueness of the ERC grant. To learn more, consider attending our ERC training session, where we make sure to cover the ‘elusive’ and ‘undocumented’ areas of the ERC grant and its unique nature.

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