A total of 291 early-career researchers are to receive up to €1.5 million in funding in the latest round of European Research Council starting grants announced this week. They were selected from a pool of nearly 3,000 proposals, a success rate of slightly under 10 per cent.
This year, 126 grants were awarded to projects in physical sciences and engineering, 95 in life sciences and 70 in social sciences. The grant winners will research subjects ranging from the Earth's past climates to neglected tropical diseases and how diplomacy is being transformed under the pressure of new media.
Starting grants are awarded to researchers with no more than seven years of post-doctoral experience, who can use the money to set up their own research teams. This allows them to “gain early independence,” said Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, president of the ERC.
In this round, the number of successful proposals coming from Eastern Europe has doubled. But even so, more than 70 per cent of the €429 million will go to Western Europe, as 201 successful candidates are based in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Ireland and Switzerland.
After a gap year in 2014, when the EU suspended access to Horizon 2020, researchers based in Switzerland were allowed to apply for ERC funding again. The Swiss managed to sweep up 21 grants this time around.
The ERC would like the east-west gap to narrow further. “This year, the number of grantees based in Central and Eastern Europe doubled. Although still a very low figure, I hope this will be the basis for a sustained positive trend,” said Bourguignon.
There is also a continuing problem with gender imbalance. This year 72 per cent of grant winners are men. Only 82 women won a starting grant, down from 108 in 2014 and 86 in 2013.
In 2016, the ERC will fund projects worth €1.7 billion. To get a slice of the 2016 funding pie, mid-career scientists can apply for the ERC’s consolidator grants until 2 February. Experienced researchers with proven track records will get a chance to compete for over €540 million in advanced grants starting May next year.
In the eight years since its foundation, the ERC has awarded 5,000 research grants, worth €9 billion, to scientists of 66 nationalities.