Tips on Applying for an ERC Starting Grant

Tips on Applying for an ERC Starting Grant

Author: Athina Anastasaki

What matters for a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant? Athina Anastasaki, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, Switzerland, has recently received a prestigious ERC Starting Grant. She has shared the process of applying for an ERC Starting Grant and how the lessons learned from previous failed attempts ultimately led to success on her third try.

To maximize the chances for success, she recommends applying with a “dream project”—a project that, if successful, can change the direction of a field of research. Such a project should be very challenging to achieve (high risk/high reward), and yet, the applicant should be uniquely positioned in terms of experience and qualifications to bring the project to fruition. Referring to the literature appropriately is important to avoid offending potential reviewers.

A strong proposal should be accompanied by a strong track record, and the most important requirement for aspiring principal investigators is to demonstrate their academic independence. This can be highlighted by increasing the number of either corresponding and last-author peer-reviewed publications or by explicitly drawing attention to awards or actions that hint toward being an independent researcher. Such examples include, but are not limited to, awards, reviewing activities, funding acquisition, and invited talks.

During the interview, the most important tip is to answer all related questions in an efficient, fast, and concise manner so as to respond to criticism received by the external reviewers adequately. If the candidate is slow at responding, there is a risk that important questions are left unanswered, thus jeopardizing the success of the grant application.

Anastasaki encourages prospective applicants to embrace rejection and learn from their mistakes in order to improve their proposals and qualifications. The key skill she cites is persistence in applying until the grant is secured.


 

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