Road to grant: 2. The agreement preparation

29 January 2018. I read the email half-asleep in the morning, “Congratulations. Your proposal has reached the stage of Grant Agreement preparation.”

“High five” by Brian Abeling, used under Creative Commons license, no changes made

I thought YEEEEES! We got it! That’s what congratulations must mean. What’s this other thing, the “stage of Grant Agreement preparation”? I didn’t know that a marathon of European Commission jargon was expecting me. When the project passes the proposal phase, there are a few essential processing steps before the project can actually start. In what follows, I will outline these steps, in order to clarify the at-first-confusing terminology.

In total on that day I received three emails, with the following titles: 1. evaluation results and start of grant preparation, 2. request for additional data to prepare your Grant Agreement and 3. Declaration of Honour.

  1. The “evaluation results and start of grant preparation” is just saying, “yes, you passed, well done, prepare for the burocracy”. When I logged in on the portal (link provided in the email) and clicked on the Manage Project button I saw this line with tasks:

    Step 1 of grant preparation process – Preparation of the agreement
  2. The “request for additional data to prepare your Grant Agreement” asks for completion of details, e.g. start and end date of the project, “Justification: Katerina Kandylaki decided to come to Maastricht on April 1th 2018”. These details are important for the administration of the project. They should be easy to decide upon in a short meeting/call with your collaborating professor. I completed these details on the participant portal myself (link to the portal is provided in the email), after a short skype meeting with my professor.
  3. The “Declaration of Honour” is a document that contains legal confirmation on behalf of the host university (else known as “the beneficiary”). In my case, the project coordinator assigned a Project Legal Signatory in the host university, who completed and signed the declaration. I didn’t have to do anything for this step. At this stage the project coordinator also assigned the role of the Project Financial Signatory to another representative of the host university.

The previous tasks were completed by 12 February 2018. Then we waited.

  • On March 14 the EU proposed the Grant Agreement for signature and I received an email entitled: “request to sign the Grant Agreement”.
  • On March 15 the Project Legal Signatory signed the Grant Agreement and I was notified with an email entitled: “Coordinator has signed the Grant Agreement”.
  • On March 19 the EU signed the Grant Agreement as well; the title of the email I received about this was “Grant Agreement has been signed by the Commission”.

At this stage the line of the grant preparation process in the participant portal looked as follows:

Step 2 of grant preparation process – Signing of the agreement

On March 23 I received an email with the title “pre-financing payment”, which meant that the EU has processed the pre-financing payment for my project. In the process history it was written “EU performed a payment”; also, the line of tasks looked like the process had reached the end stage:

Step 3 of grant preparation – Payment

Shortly thereafter within the same day the EU closed the process of grant preparation.

The money is there, I have a desk in the university and a flat in town. I cannot wait for the project to start. Happy Easter!

KDK

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

Yellow world

In this blog I will document my fellowship project “The NEurobiology of RHYthm: effects of MUSical expertise on natural speech comprehension” NERHYMUS.

This project is funded by the European Commission, within the Marie Sklodowska-Curie individual fellowships scheme. The project is based at Maastricht University, realised within the BAND-LAB (Basic and Applied NeuroDynamics Laboratory) in collaboration with Professor Sonja Kotz. It starts on 1st April 2018 and ends on 31st March 2020.

I will start categorising the blog posts in the following topics: Theory, Data analysis, Admin, Motivation/Inspiration, Teaching, Public. If there is need for more, there will be more.

My intentions are:

  1. to log the progress of this project,
  2. to share the challenging and inspirational moments with fellow researchers and students,
  3. to inform scientists and the public on the progress and findings.

KDK