The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Postdoctoral Fellowships (MSCA PF) funding scheme seeks to support researchers’ career paths through mobility, while also attracting talented researchers to the EU and increasing knowledge and skills’ transfer. The program supports excellent researchers (holding a PhD) who wish to conduct research activities abroad to acquire new skills, gain diverse research experience and further develop their career and capabilities. Continue reading to learn more about the MSCA PF and its unique characteristics.
MSCA PF basics
The MSCA PF funding scheme provides opportunities for career development for excellent individual researchers in their postdoctoral phase. The program supports “bottom-up” research, meaning that it is open for creative, innovative and original research proposals from all fields, and that excellent researchers from any discipline are invited to apply for funding. Additionally, the grant offers researchers a path towards professional development in inter-sectoral and interdisciplinary environments. As such, the programme involves relocating to another country to execute R&I projects. The application for this grant is submitted jointly by an individual researcher with an ambitious and novel research proposal, and a host organization from the academic or non-academic sectors.
The MSCA PF simultaneously advances two types of mobility – International Mobility and Inter-sectoral mobility. Let’s get to know each type below:
- International mobility –Within the MSCA PF funding scheme there are two types of fellowships, each reflecting different international mobility:
- European postdoctoral Fellowship (EF) – Mobility from any country to a European Union Member State (MS) or Horizon Europe Associated Country (AC), for a 12–24-month long fellowship. EF is open for applicants of any nationality.
- Global postdoctoral Fellowship (GF) – Mobility from a European Union MS/AC (for EU nationals/long-term residents) to a non-associated third country for a 12–24-month fellowship (outgoing phase) and a return phase of 12 months in a host organization based in an EU MS/AC. GF is open for nationals or long-term residents of EU MS/AC.In addition, applicants must comply with the mobility rule, stating that they have not resided or carried their main activity in the country of the beneficiary or the host organization for more than 12 months in the 3 years before the call deadline. Simply put, researchers must leave their “comfort zone” to benefit from new research environments, opportunities and experiences. Increasing the mobility even further, researchers can choose to include a secondment phase. This means that during the period spent in a host institution, researchers relocate for a short period to another organization in any country worldwide. When in line with the project’s objectives, such secondments can be of significant added value to the fellowship. For researchers in the EF, secondments can last up to a third of their total fellowship duration, while in the case of GF – they can last up to a third of the outgoing phase.
- Inter-sectoral mobility – Aiming at promoting innovation and knowledge transfer between the academic and non-academic sectors and expanding career opportunities of fellows, the MSCA PF funding promotes inter-sectoral mobility. Such mobility advances communication between different sectors and provides researchers with the opportunity to broaden their horizons. Therefore, researchers can apply for fellowships in non-academic organizations in the public and private sectors, or include a secondment in such organizations alongside moving to another country. Furthermore, an additional period of up to six months after the end of the fellowship can be given to researchers interested in placement in a non-academic organization. The organization must be established in an EU Member State/Horizon Europe Associated Country, and the request for such placement should be pre-planned and integrated in the proposal, highlighting the added value of this placement to the researcher’s development. Such mobility allows career moves between different sectors and equips researchers with non-academic skills and knowledge.
Writing a competitive MSCA PF application
To write a competitive proposal, it is essential to understand the grant’s expectations and the reviewers’ point of view.
First, make sure you comply with the main eligibility criteria*:
- Applicants must have a PhD degree at the time of the deadline. Researchers who have already defended their doctoral thesis will be considered eligible.
- Applicants must have a maximum of eight years of research experience from the date of their PhD award. Career breaks such as parental leave will not count towards the maximum.
- Applicants must comply with the mobility rule as mentioned above.
* Please note that there are other eligibility considerations as listed in the MSCA Work Program. We refer here to the main ones which apply to all cases.
Once making sure that the application will not be rejected due to technical issues, it is time to move on to the content of the application. The three criteria on which the application is evaluated are excellence, impact and quality & efficiency of the implementation. Let’s review them one by one to understand the expectations that must be met in order to present a competitive application.
Excellence (50% of the score)
The excellence section should describe an innovative, creative and original research proposed by the applicant, and supervised by the host organization. The application should reflect ambitious research objectives, including a sound interdisciplinary methodology and approach, the applicant’s compatibility to conduct the research, as well as the quality of the supervision and the host organization’s capacity to support the applicant in carrying out the proposed research. Therefore, the application should describe how the research goes beyond the state of the art, present concrete and ambitious objectives, refer to aspects such as supervision and training, as well as how research objectives will be achieved and the two-way transfer of knowledge between the researcher and the host organization. Furthermore, the experience and capabilities of the applicant should be presented, with the aim to convince the reviewer that the researcher is capable and suitable for conducting the proposed research.
Impact (30% of the score)
This section should focus on two areas of impact that can emerge from the project. The first area is the potential impact to the skills and the career development of the researcher. Here, the measures taken during the fellowship contributing to the researcher’s future activities and employment should be highlighted. This should include the skills and new knowledge that can be acquired and may serve the researcher in his/her future research work. The second area is the impact of the project’s results on science, society and the economy, including measures to maximize impact (dissemination, communication and exploitation). The application should highlight the significant wider effects that can arise from the research, and clearly indicate what measures will be taken to ensure uptake and further utilization of the results.
Quality and efficiency of the implementation (20% of the score)
This section entails the description of the work plan, including the work packages and risk assessment. Furthermore, the capacity of the host organization, as well as other associated partners involved (e.g., providing secondments), and the hosting arrangements should also be described. The application should present a coherent, logical and detailed work plan, covering all of the project’s aspects. The contribution of the host institution to the project, both to the research and the training of the researcher, should be clearly described.
The application will be evaluated in one of eight main panels, based on the scientific discipline. The panels are Chemistry (CHE), Social Sciences and Humanities (SOC), Economic Sciences (ECO), Information Science and Engineering (ENG), Environment and Geosciences (ENV), Life Sciences (LIF), Mathematics (MAT), Physics (PHY).
The evaluation process begins with an eligibility check. Following that step, the application is forwarded to three individual experts for remote evaluation, followed by a consensus discussion between the evaluators and ranking. When complete, the results and evaluation summary report (ESR) are sent to the applicants, generally about 5 months after the deadline. Eventually, for each of the eight panels, two ranked lists will be established – one for European Fellowship and one for the Global Fellowship, since they have separate budgets.
The MSCA PF is a competitive grant. While this article is an introduction to the MSCA PF scheme, we recommend deepening your familiarity and understanding of this grant and its requirements should you choose to submit a competitive proposal. If you have any questions or would like us to assist you with your PF application, do not hesitate to contact us.