European Young Investigators Get a Boost

The response of Europe's early career scientists to a new award scheme has surprised the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO). "We anticipated getting a maximum of 100 applications," says EMBO's Gerlind Wallon. Instead, 415 life scientists from 25 countries applied to be among the first EMBO Young Investigators. Fifty-six of them were successful and will receive a small financial prize during their 3-year tenure, plus the prestige of being associated with the widely respected European Molecular Biology Laboratory.

When the Young Investigator Programme was launched last October, EMBO anticipated that between 30 and 50 newly independent scientists would be involved in the scheme at any time. The decision to surpass this number and award 56 grants on the first round was an easy one, according to Wallon. The resulting acceptance rate was 13%, she points out; any lower and it wouldn't be worth applying. And because so many excellent scientists applied for the awards, Wallon tells Next Wave, the quality of the award winners was maintained. She believes the incredible response rate just highlights how few programmes are geared toward the needs of early career scientists in Europe.

The unprecedented application rate was not the only problem that EMBO faced. The exact amount of the financial award still has to be ironed out. EMBO would like each recipient to get 15,000 euros annually. But the Young Investigator awards are made by individual member organisations in each winner's country, and some countries have not yet approved the proposal. In the United Kingdom, member organisations had agreed to a sum of 150,000 euros to be distributed among awardees. With 14 of the first batch of Young Investigators located in British labs, some simple maths shows that these scientists could be shortchanged. Wallon is hopeful that the British organisations might be able to come up with some more cash and that the countries that haven't yet made the commitment will be sufficiently impressed by the quality of the prize winners to do so soon.

Perhaps more important than the hard cash, however, is the prestige associated with this recognition. "Many [of the applicants] wrote that the EMBO label will actually help them" win additional funds from other bodies, says Wallon, especially when they're up against established scientists. That's certainly the view of Patrick Cramer, one of the award winners. He returned to Germany from the United States to start his own lab just 5 weeks ago. At such an early stage of one's career, "it's hard to have something to show," he points out, and the EMBO award is "a level of distinction" one can get at a very early stage in one's career--a stage when it is really needed.

For Cramer, a structural biologist, another appeal of the programme was the opportunity "to stay in touch with EMBL. To be part of that spirit will be very good." Many young European scientists clearly agree. The second round of applications has now closed, and EMBO is considering another 150 applications, plus some that were carried over from the first round for further deliberation. New awards will be made each year, with an annual closing date of 1 May.

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