Road to grant: 1. The proposal

Road to grant (photo actually taken in Zion National Park)

It was mid July 2017 when I decided to apply for a Marie Sklodowska-Curie (MSC) individual fellowship (2 months to the deadline). The decisive moment came during a post doc meeting on MSC individual fellowships at the Postdocs and Fellows Development Centre (PFDC) of Imperial College London. I was in the second stage of a Sir Henry Wellcome fellowship application from the Wellcome Trust (WT), so I had the main idea and possible experiments. I thought it should be easy to take the the WT proposal and re-formulate to match the MSC requirements. That was not entirely true. Even though it was helpful to have the main idea, I had to create a project that adapts to the requirements of the MSC fellowship scheme, specifically:

  1. I had to find a professor that would be happy to support this project within the EU.
  2. I had to reshape the project to fit into 2 years, instead of 4 year which was the WT proposal.

I had met an inspiring professor (Prof. Sonja Kotz of Maastricht University) who had presented a new theory of timing in the brain the Music, Language and Cognition summer school in June, so I decided to contact her with a draft of my ideas. I sent her an email, in which I didn’t only shortly present the project but also asked for her help to shape these ideas into a project together. I wanted her to bring her expertise in and also suggest ways how to adapt the project to the research enviroment and facilities. Last, I stated the timeline, which basically gave us two months to prepare. I think that this first email was important to show initiative but also respect of the other person’s expertise and time management.

She agreed shortly thereafter and we had a first skype meeting, in which we set a general plan with internal deadlines for writing, reviewing, re-writing and submitting the proposal. During writing (and re-writing) I followed the guidelines of the European Commision and some example MSC fellowship applications from friends. I also received great help from Mr Ermo Daniels, Funding Advisor at Maastricht University, who had compiled an extensive document with instructions explaining and developing the guidelines of the European Commission. Every well-organised University usually has some kind of service to assist in aquiring grants, e.g. for prospective post docs and fellows at Imperial College London it would be the PFDC, so it is important to get in contact with them via the professor.

Part of my gantt chart, for demonstration purposes

I cannot stress enough how crucial my friends and colleagues revisions were. It is important to see yourself and your project from your friends eyes, who might admire you, or might have questions or suggestions that clarify aspects of the proposal and thereby make it more accessible to the smart but non-expert reader. I also had access to two previous MSC fellowship applications along with their decision letters; this helped to understand what the assessors of the proposal are looking for. Then I creatively adapted my project ideas to these induced guidelines.

Last, do not unerestimate the involvement of multiple experts in such a proposal. As a general rule of thumb, the miminum I would suggest is: one expert in the theory, one expert in the method, and one expert in grant proposals of the specific scheme. This worked amazigly well for me.

The last couple of days before the final submission (14 Sept 2017) were stressful. I lost my sleep for a couple of nights but I was satisfied with my proposal. And as cliche it might sound, if you are satisfied with your proposal, give your best and do not underestimate the assessors, you’re on the right track. The assessors evaluate proposals professionally; their comments on my proposal were spot on the minor unclarities. Don’t be afraid of the amount work and of the possibility of failure. Either positive or negative the result, you will get excellent feedback on your proposal with very specific comments on what to improve in order to make it next time.

Update from 14th June 2018, this is the presentation I gave at the info session on Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellowship applications at Maastricht University: MSCA_info_session_KDK.

KDK

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