European Program to Fund the Best

Reposted from Science magazine, October 11, 2002.

European research officials are hatching a bold scheme to attract young scientists--and preparing to put big bucks behind it. The talent competition, part of a growing move to bolster European science across national boundaries, will offer grants totaling roughly $1.5 million over 5 years. The contest will be open to researchers in any discipline--provided that they agree to work in one of the participating countries.

Only the best and the brightest from around the world need apply for the new European Young Investigators Awards. "The award [program] will be the first of its kind, guided by scientific excellence, originality, and potential," says Finland's Lea Ryynänen-Karjalainen, who serves as scientific secretary to the European Union's Heads of Research Councils, the organization introducing the program. Research councils in the 15 European Union countries (and three associate members) will meet later this month in Athens, Greece, to hash out the details.

To launch the program in January, officials say they need a minimum of five participating countries, representing at least 100 million people. "I think it will go forward," says Heidi Diggelmann, president of the Swiss National Science Foundation's Research Council in Bern. "Even if we can't launch it on a full scale, there are enough countries on board to get started."

The competition will be open to scientists from anywhere in the world, but the winners must go to work in a participating country. Scientists from noncontributing countries will apply through a member organization. Finalists at the national level will be evaluated by disciplinary panels managed by the European Science Foundation in Strasbourg, France. Applicants must be under the age of 35 or have completed a postdoctoral appointment within the last 2 to 5 years, with consideration given for career breaks such as maternity leave, explains Ryynänen-Karjalainen. The awards will cover salary, overhead, and personnel.

Participating countries hope to fund between 30 to 50 awards in the first round, with the number rising as more countries join in. But there are no guarantees that a country that contributes to the pot will have even one winning applicant working at any of its institutions. "There will be no quota of 'just return,' " explains Christoph Mühlberg of the German Research Council (DFG) in Bonn.

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