Strategically choosing your ERC review panel to boost your chances of success

31 December 2020

The European research council provides frontier research grants for excellent researchers who wish to do high risk/high gain research in Europe. There are three types of frontier research grants, each aimed at scientists in a different stage in their career: Starting; Consolidator; and Advanced Grants. Competition is high, with success rates of the pasy years between 9 to 13%.

“The European research council provides frontier research grants for excellent researchers who wish to do high risk/high gain research in Europe.”

Evaluation of the proposals

For each of the frontier grants, there are 25 panels on differing topics. Each panel consists of 10-16 scientists, who evaluate the projects that fall within that panel topic. If they wish, the panel members can call in additional expert help outside the panel. The panels are divided within three domains, Social sciences and Humanities (SH), Life sciences (LS) and Physical and Engineering Sciences (PE) and range from very broad, to very specific.

Increase your chances by strategically choosing your panel

In the ERC funding scheme, you have the unique opportunity to boost your chances of success by strategically choosing the ERC panel in which your project will be evaluated. But how to choose the correct panel for your project?

Study the composition of the panels and panel chairs to understand the topics better
The panel chairs of the sitting panels are published on the ERC website. The individual members of the sitting panels are not published. However, panel composition tends to rotate each two years, and thus the panel composition of this year is (which is published) will be very similar to two years back.

The information on panel composition can be used to understand what the point of focus is of a specific panel, and whether expertise in your topic is present in a panel or not.

Choose the panel in which your project is disruptive
Most projects (and careers) are interdisciplinary, and could fit into more than one of the ERC panels. You have the opportunity to submit your proposal to more than one panel, including a primary and a secondary panel. If you choose to do this, the chair of the primary panel decides whether your project is indeed interdisciplinary to the extent that it warrants evaluation of experts in two panels.

A secondary ERC panel is only beneficial if your project really cannot be understood in all its parts by one panel alone. In all other cases, you have the best chance of success by submitting the proposal to one panel only. By choosing one panel, you have a better handle on your audience, and can adjust the level of detail in your proposal to them, assuring the message will get across.

In this case, we advise to choose the panel in which your proposal is most disruptive and innovative. If you use a common physics technique to change the current understanding of a molecular mechanisms, choose a panel that fits the mechanism, not the technique. Vice versa, if you revolutionize a computational technique that can be used for several healthcare practices, your chances are better in a computational panel because it can appreciate the innovation you bring.

A panel that fits you is more important than a panel that fits your project
Often, scientists use the frontier grants to take on a new step in their career. This can lead to the question; Should I go for the panel that connects better to my expertise, or more closely connects to my project? For frontier grants, the reviewers fund the person as much as (and often more so than) the project. They will want to know you can deliver excellence. Thus, a panel that more closely connects to your expertise, in which you have built a reputation and a network will usually result in higher chances of success.

A panel that fits you also allows for a level playing field with your competitors who have chosen the same panel. H-factors, impact factors of journals, high ranking conferences, awards, etcetera are all different per field, and often you will not want to be compared outside your field.

They changed my panel!
In very uncommon cases, a panel chair can decide that a proposal submitted to them should actually be reviewed by another panel. This does not happen often and is only done when a chair strongly believes her / his panel will not be able to judge the proposal fairly. Thus, although this may come as an unfair, vexing surprise, more often than not it will in fact be beneficial for your chances.

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Strategically planning your ERC proposal is key for success. Our experts can empower you and your ERC application through our FFWD method for winning grant proposals. Contact us today and find out what we can do for you.

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