Sian Ringrose, Research Development Officer, provides details on how to approach an European Research Council (ERC) Grant Proposal

Type of Grants

There are four types of ERC Grants, so firstly you need to find out which one is the best for you!

Different European Funding pots are allocated to different stages along the Technology Readiness Level (TRL)/Social Readiness Level or Generic Maturity Level (depending on your research field).
ERC funding is for research at level 1. This is the zone for high risk fundamental exploratory basic research, research projects should focus on observing the basic principles.
If your proposal is slightly further along the TRL at Level 2 then you may want to consider Future Emerging Technology (FET) funding – this is for early-stages of the science and technology research and innovation around new ideas towards radically new future technologies.

Key to a successful application?

You need to understand how the evaluation process works and then make your application stand out from the crowd!
Success Rates & Competition level
Starting grants receive ~9,000 applications; of which 2,800 get through to the full proposal evaluation stage.
Consolidator grants receive ~7,000 applications; of which 2,400 get through to full proposal evaluation.
Advance grants receive ~6,000 applications; of which 2,500 get through to full proposal evaluation (40%)
The take home message here is that across the panels, reviewers will have up to:
  • 56,000 pages to review for Starting Grants
  • 48,000 pages to review for Consolidator grants
  • 50,000 pages to review for advance grants
You therefore, have to make your application stand out in the first 15 seconds, your reviewers will be tired!  You have to become a salesperson, what is it that will excite the reader…? what is it that will stand out or is unique about your proposal? What is your elevator pitch?

The Evaluation Process 

There is a two stage process to the evaluations. Before you get to Stage One you need to get through the bureaucracy element. Do you meet the criteria? Have you completed every section correctly? 
WARNING: This Stage is not just about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.
This stage is where your proposal will get assigned to an initial reviewer who will determine if you pass go and move onto Stage One or if you get rejected.  The assignment is based on your keywords. 
Choose your keywords carefully!!! The more specific you are in your keywords the better the chance your five page Project synopsis will be reviewed by someone with an appropriate background.  
For example, using the keyword “Genetics” when you’re actually talking about “Reproduction Genetics” may mean your research will be reviewed by an evolutionary geneticist not a reproduction geneticist.  This could reduce your chance of your proposal being assessed appropriately.
The application process

Components of criteria

How to approach your application

Now you know how the applications are reviewed and evaluated you need to tailor your application to meet the evaluation criteria. To help you do this, it’s useful to work backwards, start with the 10 minute Challenge!
Can you give a 10 minute presentation to your colleagues that answers the following five questions? Are you able to justify your answers in front of a crowd?
  1. Why bother? what new knowledge are you gathering?
  2. How/Why will this project establish Europe as an International leader?
  3. Is the knowledge already available?  Is it state-of-the art?
  4. Why now? Why has this not been done before?
  5. Why you? What makes you the best person/people to do this work?
This is a useful exercise on two counts. First if you get through Stage Two will be asked to interview – having this presentation ready will help make sure you’re prepared for such questioning and justification. Second, this process will help clarify the key points of your research proposal, enabling you to polish your proposal and really make it stand out.  
The best way to get to Stage Two is to make sure your five page synopsis answers these questions (preferably within the first 15 Seconds of the proposal – this is your Salesman Elevator Pitch!)

Know your Panel reviewers

Getting to know who might be reviewing your proposal will also help you in navigating any potential pitfalls or difficult critic’s.  Think about who the experts might be in your research field, what are their views/opinions/biases.  Understanding what they may like/dislike can help you preempt any difficult questions as part of developing your full proposal.
The Research and Innovation Services has downloaded some of the Expert Reviewer and Panel member documents onto our Box folder: Researcher Resources. Find out who may be reviewing your proposal by downloading the expert list.
There is a wealth of further information on the EU reference document website: 
 http://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/portal/desktop/en/funding/reference_docs.html#h2020-call_ptef-ef This is an excellent source of information for whatever EU project you might be working on.  Documents are broken down by research grant types and by years.  You’ll find application forms from previous years, work programme documents, guidance documents and expert panel lists all in this one reference site.
If you’re thinking of developing a bid for any of the European funding opportunities and want further advise contact ResearchDevelopment@Stir.ac.uk