The European Research Council (ERC) has launched a new traineeship scheme as a way to widen participation in its competitions, under which six countries - Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Belgium - will give grants to future ERC applicants to enable them to visit and learn from research teams of existing grant holders.
The Czech Science Foundation, the Estonian Research Council, the National Research, Development and Innovation Office in Hungary, the National Science Centre in Poland, the Slovenian Research Agency, and the Research Foundation in Belgium are the first to organise fellowships. The ERC expects more will follow.
Visits can last from three to six months and all costs, such as travel and salary, will be covered by the organisers of the programmes, either with financial assistance from national R&D budgets or EU regional funds.
The visiting researcher will be obliged to apply for an ERC grant within a specified time after the end of the visit.
“I'd have no problem taking on an observer,” says Rob Kitchin, a professor and ERC grant holder at Maynooth University, Ireland. “I imagine it might help with showing how the grants work in practice and to demonstrate what's expected and if the ERC researcher was to also coach in the application writing it might help make those more competitive.”
Most ERC award-holders are hosted by institutions in the UK, Germany, Israel, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland. By contrast, researchers in several poorer countries in the East and South of the continent have received very few grants.
Oskar Otsus, head of the research programmes department at the Estonian Research Council says there are several initiatives in his country to boost researchers’ chances of winning ERC money.
"We have a person who works every day to spread knowledge about the ERC, we organise training for our researchers, fund short term study visits (on top of the new fellowship scheme) to existing ERC grant holders, and organise training for the researchers who have been invited to an interview by the ERC. So we are trying to support our researchers during the entire cycle of grant application and create motivation.”