The European Research Council opens its next round of funding


Credit: European Research Council

The European Research Council (ERC) has just announced the details of its 2016 funding program, together with its call for next year’s Starting Grants.

Created by the European Commission in 2007, ERC has established itself as a highly appreciated funder of basic researchers who are setting up or strengthening their independent research teams in Europe. The portable 5-year grants, which are open to excellent researchers of any age and nationality, support high-risk, high-gain projects in any field of research.

The portable 5-year grants, which are open to excellent researchers of any age and nationality, support high-risk, high-gain projects in any field of research.

Earlier this year, a controversial plan to trim ERC funding as part of a redistribution of European Commission money was quashed by pressures from the scientific community and members of the European Parliament. The ERC overall budget for 2016 will be in line with 2014 and 2015 at €1.67 billion: This includes €485 million for Starting Grants for researchers 2 to 7 years from being awarded their Ph.D.; €605 million for Consolidator Grants for researchers 7 to 12 years from earning their Ph.D.; and €540 million for Advanced Grants for more senior researchers who have already established themselves as leaders in their fields.

Starting Grants offer up to €1.5 million, plus €500,000 for scientists relocating to Europe or needing to purchase major equipment, and applications are being accepted now until 17 November 2015. Starting around mid-October 2015, researchers may apply for a Consolidator Grant, which offers up to €2 million, with a possible €750,000 extra. For both of these grants, the eligibility window is adjusted for researchers who have had children before or after earning their Ph.D. Scientist-mothers have an extra 18 months of eligibility for each child they’ve had, and scientist-fathers are offered whatever time they took for paternity leaves. Finally, in May 2016, already established researchers will be invited to apply for an Advanced Grant of up to €2.5 million, plus a possible €1 million extra.

Because calls are highly competitive, since 2009 ERC has created some eligibility restrictions depending on whether scientists already applied in the past and how far they proceeded in the selection process. Compared to last year’s call, there is “a relative ‘softening’ of the resubmission rules,” ERC states in its press release. For 2016, all of the applicants who made it to the second round of the previous year’s competition and were not awarded a grant—either because ERC had insufficient funds to support all of the applications recommended for funding, or because the applications met only some of ERC's excellence criteria—are able to apply again this year. Under the 2015 program, those who did not meet all of ERC's excellence criteria had a 1-year imposed delay.

To date, ERC has funded more than 5000 group leaders, out of more than 50,000 applications, contributing to the research support for more than 40,000 group members. “By offering them funding, autonomy and prestige, the ERC contributes to the development of a new generation of top researchers in Europe, who are competitive at a global level,” ERC states in its press release.

Over the years, Science Careers has profiled several ERC grantees and offered advice on how to get an ERC grant. Here are some highlights.

Follow your star, by Elisabeth Pain, 17 February 2015.
Theoretical physicist and Advanced Grant winner Ulf Leonhardt has never been afraid to pursue audacious scientific ideas, such as investigating how metamaterials can be used to fashion invisibility devices.

Tiziana Rossetto, an epicenter of tsunami research, by Elisabeth Pain, 7 January 2015.
Starting Grant winner Tiziana Rossetto today leads a collaborative effort to create a better experimental setup for generating model tsunami waves in the lab—something she had been told was impossible.

Waltz to excellence, by Tania Rabesandratana, 7 August 2014.
How do scientists find their way to excellence? That’s a question ERC is asking itself in a study of applicants, successful and unsuccessful, for its Starting Grants and Advanced Grants programs.

Promoting Gender Equality at the European Research Council, by Tania Rabesandratana, 18 December 2013.
Isabelle Vernos, chairwoman of the ERC Scientific Council's Working Group on Gender Balance, talks about the funding agency's efforts to bolster the prospects of female applicants.

Thomas Schäfer: Launching the Young Academy of Europe, by Thomas Schäfer, 24 April 2013.
The Young Academy of Europe was created by Starting Grant awardees with the aim to give feedback to ERC and to support future applicants in underrepresented countries.

Vienna Event Aims to Help Eastern Scientists Compete for European Grants, by Elisabeth Pain, 8 March 2013.
In an effort to tackle the underrepresentation of researchers from central and Eastern European nations among their awardees, ERC organized a 2-day event where potential applicants could network with grantees from their region and get tips on applying.

Success Factors in Transformative Research, by Elisabeth Pain, 25 February 2013.
Over the last decade, many publicly funded initiatives, including ERC grant programs, have been launched to support transformative or frontier research, which could be a new way of seeing things, a methodological or instrumental advance, the discovery of a new substance such as graphene, or an emerging subfield.

Gambling on Transformative Research, by Elisabeth Pain, 10 August 2012.
Funding agencies and institutes are dedicating more of their portfolios to transformative research. That means new opportunities for scientists with the skills and attitudes needed to pursue high-risk, high-reward research.

Career Q&A: Reentering Academia - A Success Story, by Elisabeth Pain, 11 March 2011.
Chemistry professor and Advanced Grant winner Carol Robinson found her way back into academia after an 8-year break to raise her children.

Sharing a Nobel Prize at 36, by Elisabeth Pain, 25 February 2011.
A couple of years before sharing the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics with Andre Geim, Konstantin Novoselov earned a Starting Grant to pursue his work on graphene.

Expanding the Genetic Code, by Elisabeth Pain, 17 September 2010.
Starting Grant awardee Jason Chin has never really stopped to ponder whether his research goals are too ambitious for a starting principal investigator, and this attitude has served him well.

Making Science and Family Fit, by Elisabeth Pain, 5 February 2010.
Starting Grant winner and mother of three Michal Sharon has managed to have both a family and a scientific career.

Ahead of Her Time, by Elisabeth Pain, 21 March 2008.
In 2008, at just 24, Greek material scientist Katerina Aifantis became the youngest researcher at the time to receive a Starting Grant.

Alone in the Field, by Elisabeth Pain, 22 February 2008.
When Spanish developmental biologist Eduardo Moreno set out to explain an observation that had puzzled scientists for 30 years, he took a gamble that won him a Starting Grant.

Getting to the Top of a Big Pile, by Elisabeth Pain, 27 July 2007.
The first ever call for ERC Starting Grants drew a huge number of applicants, with only a few making it to the second round of the competition. Science Careers interviewed jury members to find out what made those few applications stand out.

Special Feature: Grant Writing for Tight Times, by Alan Kotok, 27 July 2007.
Approval rates for grant applications have dropped markedly in the past few years, making grant-writing mastery a more vital skill than ever.

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