Marie Curie Fellowships in Profile, Part III: Promoting and Recognising Excellence

Have you considered spending some time abroad, doing research in another European country? Alie Kwint explains the European Community's Marie Curie Mobility Programmes, offering practical hints and useful background information. This is the third article in our short series Marie Curie Fellowships in Profile. The first article looked at host-driven fellowships, the second article focused on individual-driven fellowships.

In the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), the Marie Curie programme was mostly aimed at postgraduates and beginning postdocs. More experienced researchers were involved of course, but usually as supervisors and not as fellows. All this has changed under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). The European Commission now wants to support researchers at all stages of their careers, and a number of new Marie Curie schemes that reflect this policy shift have been set up.

Excellence Promotion and Recognition

The aim of the actions in this group of awards is to promote and recognize excellence in European research. They offer support to European research teams, especially those working in new and/or emerging areas of research. The awards are also intended to highlight the personal achievements of European researchers.

There are three different schemes within the category of ?excellence promotion and recognition.?

Marie Curie Excellence Awards are not fellowships, but rather prizes that publicly recognise excellence in research achieved by researchers who have been Marie Curie fellows, either in the current Framework Programme or in a previous one. Candidates can propose themselves or may be nominated by others. The prize (?50,000) is to be used for the further development of the researcher?s career.

The other two schemes are more traditional fellowships, aimed at researchers at different career stages. Of most interest to Next Wave readers are the Marie Curie Excellence Grants. This funding allows a researcher to set up his or her own research team, the idea being that, with European funding, he or she will be able to do so earlier in his/her career than would have been possible without it. The EU funding should therefore help the researcher to attain independence in research more rapidly.

The researcher--who will become the team leader--proposes a project jointly with the host organisation in which the research will be carried out. That institution must be located in an EU Member or Associated State. The team leader and team members may be nationals of any country. But they cannot be already employed by the host organisation. The maximum duration of the project is 4 years.

It goes without saying that the team leaders must be amongst the best young European researchers. A typical team leader is likely to have considerable postdoc experience before applying for a Marie Curie Excellence Grant. The team members can be either early-stage researchers or postdocs, and they may be recruited after the project has been approved.

The third scheme, Marie Curie Chairs, supports world-class researchers who wish to carry out research and lecturing at a host institution. As with the Excellence Grants the project must be proposed jointly by the fellow (the would-be chair holder) and the host institution. Whereas the host must be located in the EU or in an Associated State, the researcher may be of any nationality.

With this scheme, the European Commission wants to make Europe attractive for top-level researchers. At the same time, it is thought that European students and researchers will benefit from the experience and expertise of the chair holders. The chair holder will give lectures and teach research courses to students, and they will also carry out research and supervise research and thesis work.

Chairs will be funded typically for a period of 3 years, but requests for shorter periods--of a minimum of 1 year--may be accepted. Unlike the other Marie Curie schemes, a part-time (not less than 70% time) position is an option.


These three schemes are aimed at the very best researchers from Europe and beyond. Those applying for the awards may be early-stage researchers or experienced researchers. Applicants for the Excellence Grants and the Chairs must be experienced researchers (see box).

"Experienced Researchers"

The EC distinguishes between early-stage researchers and experienced researchers. An experienced researcher, according to the EC?s definition, is a researcher who has acquired at least 4 years of research experience (full-time equivalent) since gaining a university diploma giving access to doctoral studies in the country in which the degree/diploma was obtained, or researchers already in possession of a doctoral degree (PhD).

Unlike most other Marie Curie schemes, the mobility criteria are applied more flexibly here. Fellows may be nationals of any country and may even hold their fellowship in the country of which they are a national.

Host organisations for the Excellence Grants and the Chairs must be active in research or research training. They can be universities, research centres, commercial enterprises (from a one-person company to a major multinational), international organisations, etc.

As highlighted before, these Excellence actions are a new phenomenon in FP6. The budget available for them is relatively small. This enables the European Commission to test the waters, and only the most outstanding researchers have a chance to receive funding. Nevertheless, do not let this discourage you! If you think that you are a prospective team leader or chair holder, do not hesitate to contact the National Contact Point in your country to discuss the possibilities. And with respect to the awards: If you are or have been a Marie Curie fellow, just give it a try!


The next deadline for Excellence Grants and Excellence Awards is 18 May 2004, while for Marie Curie Chairs it is 21 January 2004.

The European Commission has set up a network of National Contact Points (NCPs) that can provide information and support to researchers and host organisations wishing to submit a Marie Curie proposal. There are NCPs for the Marie Curie programmes in all European states. For a list of NCPs, please take a look at the helpdesk Web site. General information about the Marie Curie programme can be found here.

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