Konrad Burchardi

Konrad Burchardi



Last year I had the chance to serve on the @ERC_Research Starting Grant evaluation panel. I wanted to quickly share a couple of things I learned. Maybe they are helpful to future applicants. I guess some points apply to other grants as well.

1. There is a common perception that the ERC Starting Grants reward great CVs. That’s wrong. The evaluation is primarily forward-looking: the panel is asked to identify the most promising projects.

The CV is important, but as signal of the applicant’s ability to implement the proposed work. It should provide evidence of independent (read: without supervisors and seniors) and excellent (read: published in good general interest journals, not necessarily top-5) research.

2. The group of people with CVs satisfying that condition is large, and only few of them seem to apply for an ERC grant. (I never did myself.) So if you are in the group and apply, your chances of receiving an ERC Starting Grant are good!

3. The ERC is asking the panel to identify “high risk, high return” projects. Not a great formulation, but they mean that they want to fund research that has the potential to make significant progress on important questions, and are willing to take risks.

So make sure your project is ambitious! This is really the core of what is being evaluated by the panel and the external report writers.

4. But also make sure to describe why your project is feasible. Example points for empirical projects: explain how you can access data, how representative it is for the population of interest, how data can be merged across sources, or what exactly your identification strategy is.

“I will try to obtain contract-level data from all life-insurance companies” or “I will develop an identification strategy” are not the kind of risks the ERC wants to take. (I am exaggerating, nobody wrote this.)

5. Absolutely do not apply with work which has already been completed, exists in working paper format or has been presented around! At best the related budget will not be approved.

You will get no credit for that part of the project, and the residual application is almost surely weaker than it could have been. (Plus if the application does not make it explicit that the work has largely been completed, it seems like you want to fool the evaluators.)

6. You can apply for an ERC grant even if you are currently not working in one of the ERC associated countries. ERC grants are also meant to attract the best people to come to Europe to do their research, and everybody loves the idea of being able to do that. Just one thing:

You need to have a credible plan for actually moving the centre of our research to one of the ERC associated countries!

7. The interviews are a good opportunity to clarify any doubts which might exist about the feasibility of the project or its contribution to existing knowledge. But they are really short. Make good use of the time, be to the point. Good idea to prepare some back-up slides.

Maybe you also have some thoughts how to apply successfully, @mara_squi, @BrummJohannes, @NicolaPavanini, @XJaravel, @Federomei1?

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