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European Research Council (ERC)
Funding Schemes and Support
7th March 2014
Dr. Manus Ward
SFI - Research for Ireland's Future
Introduction: What is the ERC?
The European Research Council (ERC) was officially launched by the European Commission
in 2007 as the “flagship component of the 'Ideas Programme' of the European Union's
Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7)”, with a budget of €7.5bn (2007-2013)
Its mission is to encourage the highest-quality research in Europe through competitive
funding and to support investigator-initiated research across all fields of research, on the
basis of scientific excellence
The emphasis for ERC programmes is on so-called “frontier research”, that is, both basic
research in science and technology of critical importance to economic and social welfare, and
also research at and beyond the frontiers of understanding, to yield progress in new and
exciting research areas that are characterized by an absence of disciplinary boundaries
The ERC is divided into three main research domains:
 Physical Sciences & Engineering (receiving 44% of the budget)
 Life Sciences (receiving 39%)
 Social Sciences & Humanities (receiving 17%)
Scientific excellence is always the sole evaluation criterion. You must have
an excellent idea and an excellent track record to have a chance of success
ERC under Horizon 2020
On January 1st 2014, the new Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Framework officially
came into operation
Up to €77bn (£63.2bn) will be budgeted over seven years to support three main pillars:
Excellent Science, Competitive Industries and Tackling Societal Challenges. The ERC
represents the most prestigious and sizeable part of the Excellent Science pillar, with a
budget of ca. €13.1bn (£10.8 bn), which corresponds to ca. 17% of the total Horizon 2020
Greater emphasis on the importance of funding early-career researchers was evident in the
2013 ERC calls, mainly through the separation of the old Starting Grant into two experiencebased funding schemes (Starting Grant and Consolidator Grant). This is being maintained
in 2014 under Horizon 2020, exemplified by the fact that the early-career programmes are
being launched first, and by the relative budgets for the early-career schemes being
Very few changes to the ERC under Horizon 2020, but there are two main ones:
 New 25% flat-rate overhead (forming part of total budget request)
 Greater restrictions on resubmissions – unsuccessful applicants may be requested
to skip two calls if receiving a poor evaluation at Step 1 of the review process
ERC Starting Grant (StG)
ERC Starting Grants support up-and-coming research leaders who are about to establish a
research team and to start conducting independent research in Europe. The scheme targets
promising researchers who have the proven potential of becoming independent research
Applicants will need to demonstrate the “ground-breaking nature, ambition and feasibility of
their scientific proposal”.
Applicants must have already shown the potential for research independence and evidence of
scientific maturity. For example, it is expected that applicants will have produced
independently at least one important publication without the participation of their PhD
In addition, a promising track-record of early achievements appropriate to the applicant’s
research field and career stage is expected – this might include high-impact main-author
publications, invites to prepare review articles, conference organisation, keynote talks, granted
patents, funding success, prizes, awards…
Awards are generally up to €1.5M (ca. £1.23M) over five years for applicants with 2-7 years
of experience beyond the PhD (or equivalent) award. This period of eligibility can be
increased for fully documented leave, such as maternity leave or long-term illness, up to a
maximum of 54 months
The ERC expects a strong commitment to its funded projects – applicants must spend at least
50% of their total working time on their ERC project and a minimum of 50% of their total
working time in an EU Member State or Associated Country
ERC Consolidator Grant (CoG)
ERC Consolidator Grants were introduced in the 2013 round of funding. They are designed to
support researchers at the stage where they are consolidating their own independent research
team or programme. The scheme looks to strengthen independent and excellent new
individual research teams that have recently been created
Applicants will need to demonstrate the “ground-breaking nature, ambition and feasibility of
their scientific proposal”.
Applicants must have already shown the potential for research independence and evidence of
scientific maturity. For example, it is normally expected that applicants will have produced
independently several important publications without the participation of their PhD
As for the StG programme, a promising track-record of early achievements appropriate to
the applicant’s research field and career stage is expected
Awards are generally up to €2M (£1.65M) over five years for applicants with 7-12 years of
experience beyond the PhD (or equivalent) award. The same rules regarding extensions for
eligible leave apply, as does the need to show a minimum 50% time commitment to the ERC
Note: In all ERC grants, indirect (overhead) costs must be included within the
requested budget figure, and must be 25% of the total requested grant
ERC Advanced Grant (AdG)
ERC Advanced Grants are targeted towards established, exceptional leaders who are recognised
internationally within their respective fields, owing to the originality and significance of their research
In most cases, PIs will be expected to demonstrate a record of achievements appropriate to their
field and at least matching one or more of the following benchmarks:
10 publications as senior author (or in those fields where alphabetic order of authorship is the
norm, joint author) in major international peer-reviewed multidisciplinary scientific journals,
and/or in the leading international peer-reviewed journals and peer-reviewed conferences
proceedings of their respective field;
3 major research monographs, of which at least one is translated into another language. This
benchmark is relevant to research fields where publication of monographs is the norm (e.g.,
humanities and social sciences).
Examples of other benchmarks:
 5 patents granted
 10 invited presentations in well-established internationally organised conferences
 organisation as a member of the steering and/or organising committee of 3 well-established
international conferences or congresses
 Major contributions to launching the careers of outstanding researchers;
 Recognised leadership in industrial innovation.
ERC Advanced Grants are generally up to €2.5M (£2.05M) over five years. A
minimum time commitment of 30% is expected for AdG projects.
Ireland’s ERC Award Holders: StG
2013 Starting Grant Winners
Dr David Hoey (University of Limerick)
Dr Aoife Gowen (Dublin Inst. of Technology)
Ireland’s ERC Award Holders: CoG
Dr Marie-Louise Coolahan (NUI Galway)
“The Reception and Circulation of Early
Modern’s Women’s Writing, 1550-1700”
Prof Martin Albrecht (UCD)
“Exploiting Synergistic Properties of
Mesoionic Carbene Complexes: Teaching
Rusty Metals Challenging Catalysis”
Ireland’s ERC Award Holders: AdG
Top row, from left to right:
Bottom row, from left to right:
Prof Kevin O’Rourke, TCD (2009)
Prof James Heckman, UCD (2010)
Prof Rob Kitchin, NUIM (2012)
Prof Luke O’Neill, TCD (2010)
Prof Peter Humphries, TCD (2012)
Prof Kenneth Wolfe, TCD (2010)
Prof John Boland, TCD (2012)
Prof Frédéric Dias, UCD (2011)
Prof Bashar Nuseibeh, OU/UL (2012)
Prof Dan Bradley, TCD (2011)
Proposal Structure
The “Information for Applicants” document for the 2014 StG and CoG calls was published
on the 30th January. The following information summarises what can be found in detail in
this document, which is the essential guide for preparing an application to these calls:
Three separate components to the application, prepared on the EC Participant Portal
Submission System (PPSS) – familiarise yourself with this early!
Administrative Proposal Submission Forms (not actually now termed “Part A”)
Research Proposal (still confusingly called “Part B”!)
Supporting Documentation
Five sections to the Administrative Proposal Submission Forms:
1. General information
2. Administrative data of participating organisations
3. Budget
4. Ethics
5. Call-specific questions
Proposal Structure
Part B – Research Proposal: Separated into two parts (Parts B1 and B2)
Part B1 – divided into four sections:
 Cover page (template provided)
a) Extended synopsis of the scientific proposal (max. 5 pages)
b) Curriculum vitae (max. 2 pages – suggested format given but can be modified)
c) Early achievements or 10-year track record (max. 2 pages)
Part B2 – the Scientific proposal (max. 15 pages, divided into three sections):
a) State of the art and objectives
b) Methodology
c) Resources (including project costs)
Supporting Documentation (PDF format)
Host institution letter of support (template provided)
Scanned copy of PhD certificate or other documents confirming eligibility
Any other supporting documents (e.g., ethical self-assessments)
A useful checklist is provided on Page 31 of the StG/CoG “Info for Applicants” document
ERC Peer Review Evaluation
Not AdG
20-25% go through
Between 30 and 40% are funded
depending on the panel.
ERC Panel Structure
Life Sciences
Social Sciences and Humanities
LS1 Molecular and Structural Biology and Biochemistry
SH1 Individuals, institutions and markets
LS2 Genetics, Genomics, Bioinformatics and Systems
SH2 Institutions, values, beliefs and behaviour
SH3 Environment, space and population
LS3 Cellular and Developmental Biology
SH4 The Human Mind and its complexity
LS4 Physiology, Pathophysiology and Endocrinology
SH5 Cultures and cultural production
LS5 Neurosciences and neural disorders
SH6 The study of the human past
LS6 Immunity and infection
LS7 Diagnostic tools, therapies and public health
Physical Sciences & Engineering
LS8 Evolutionary, population and environmental biology
PE1 Mathematics
LS9 Applied life sciences and biotechnology
PE2 Fundamental constituents of matter
PE3 Condensed matter physics
PE4 Physical and analytical chemical sciences
PE5 Materials and synthesis
PE6 Computer science and informatics
PE7 Systems and communication engineering
PE8 Products and processes engineering
PE9 Universe sciences
PE10 Earth system science
Annex 1 in the StG/CoG “Information for
Applicants” (pp. 46-55) divides each Panel
into several sub-headings to give greater
It is of crucial importance to carefully
study the panel structures to find the very
best panel to submit your application to.
Tips for ERC Proposal Writing
One of the most important considerations: When are you are going to apply?
An ERC application is not something that should be rushed, and you should allow a
significant amount of time to allow ideas to develop, for the necessary preliminary work
and data to be obtained, and for the proposal to be carefully written, checked, and
revised in order to be in the very best shape for submission.
Be aware of the ERC’s plans for the various schemes in any given year—in 2013,
significantly more funding was assigned to the early-career programmes, and a similar
scenario is anticipated for 2014. However, 2015 may possibly see the balance shift back
towards the Advanced Grant scheme for more established researchers. Think
Since the ERC’s panel structure essentially remains the same, covering all research
topics, and the application format is modified only slightly from year to year, you can start
preparing your application at any time. You will need plenty of time and the deadline is
strict, so it is best to start early.
Tips for ERC Proposal Writing
Register as an expert for the European Commission. You will gain invaluable insight into
the application process and forge vital relationships within your field.
Prepare the supporting documents early, in particular any concerning eligibility for time
extension, or the commitment of the Host Institution.
Reserve several weeks for writing at the absolute minimum. Assembling your
preliminary data, shaping the story, and checking the references is time consuming.
Consider a 2–3 week retreat for the writing alone, plus appropriate time for editing and
Remember that the applicants you are competing with and the peer reviewers could be
from anywhere in Europe or, indeed, the rest of the world. It is thus important to bear in
mind the current status of research internationally, and to write your proposal in a clear
and unambiguous manner.
Get advice! Consult with your host institution well in advance and discuss your budget
plan with the relevant person. If your university has support for EU and/or ERC
proposals, consult their expertise. If you have a colleague who is already funded by the
ERC, discuss your application with them. Contact the ERC National Contact Point for
Tips for ERC Proposal Writing
Clearly and confidently answer the following: What is the problem? Why is it
significant? What makes your solution/approach to the problem ground breaking?
Demonstrate leadership: Make the ERC reviewers want to fund you. Give
 Student supervision history – where they are now, their funding successes, etc.
 Experience in leading research collaborations (national and international)
If interdisciplinary elements are in the proposal, illustrate how you are the senior
Clearly describe your ground-breaking idea – explain why it has not been done
before. Put the ideas front and centre – don’t leave key messages to the end.
Show how the research will provide impact if/when successful. What kind of
Is your proposal risky? If it is, that’s good, but where appropriate to do so include
a brief discussion of a Plan B in order to mitigate some of the risk
Tips for ERC Proposal Writing
Ensure that Part B1 of your proposal is equally approachable and convincing to
specialists and non-specialists alike (REMEMBER: Only Part B1 of your proposal is
assessed at Step 1, which is a panel-review process only)
In preparing Parts B1 and B2, ensure that they are written such that a reviewer need
not refer to one part in order for the other part of the proposal to make sense
StG/CoG specific suggestions:
 Demonstrate independence (good responses to questions at the interview stage)
 Describe your international experience and how it has benefitted your career
 Explain how the award will enhance your independent career and how your plans
align to the aims and goals of the ERC programme
 Be aware of a potential Irish independence advantage – many Irish-based earlycareer researchers may have more experience of supervision and reviewing than
other European counterparts
 Endeavour to reduce any references to former mentors/supervisors to a minimum
Consult the SFI Website!! There is a new resource providing important and valuable
information about the ERC. Visit the International Section at:
Interview Tips (General)
• Report any potential conflicts to ERCEA staff
• Avoid pressurised waiting rooms if possible
• Getting to this stage => fundable applicant. Focus the presentation on the
project (consider what was in the short application)
• ERC grants are portable – be aware of this and plan to negotiate with your Host
• Know your budget!!! There is no time to look in the proposal, etc. Know the
justification for each cost
• Memorise plans for dissemination/making impact/innovation
Interview Tips (Panel)
• Panel considerations
• Did the applicant write the proposal?
• Can the applicant lead a group?
• Is the idea groundbreaking?
• Is the applicant already independent or in transition?
• Panel questions
• It may be intense – be prepared!
• Panel members may relay postal reviewers’ queries/issues
• They will challenge the applicant’s understanding
• memorise state-of-the-art references
• possible backup slide with references (only if prompted to present)
• Be aware!
• No more than one or two in the panel are likely to be specialists in your field
• In the presentation, you should explain how the project will contribute to universal
knowledge as well as how it extends knowledge in your particular discipline
Interview Tips (Presentation)
• Timing is crucial! Don’t go over the time!!
• Possible use of buzzers/bells
• Hard shutoff is quite likely
• Don’t leave the key message(s) until the end of presentation
• Do not cram too much in – use slides only to hammer home important points
• Good preparation will be appreciated by the Panel (working for 2 days!)
• Inject energy and passion, maybe lighten the mood (but don’t force jokes!)
• Do everything to appear relaxed and on top of your subject
• Presentation structure/time allowed
• Varies from panel to panel
• Read the instructions
• Slides possibly diagram/image heavy – no need to repeat text you plan to say.
Interview Tips (Content)
• What is the problem, why is it significant, why is your solution approach
ground breaking?
• Demonstrate independence (good responses to questions)
• Describe international experience obtained and any special skills and competences
• Be aware of the potential Irish independence advantage (compared with
what is often available to applicants from other EU countries)
• Details will be in your proposal – no need to repeat
• Have backup slides prepared with responses to likely questions (but only
present them on request)
• Demonstrate leadership – why you?
• Student supervision, where they are now, won first grant when, etc.
• Prepare material on host institution/facilities, but present only on request
• Only refer to previous work in order to relate your proposed work to it
Interview Tips (Content)
• Focus on Leadership
• Reduce references to former mentors/supervisors
• If interdisciplinary elements are in the proposal, be sure to illustrate that you are
the senior partner
• Focus on the Idea
• Groundbreaking?
• State-of-the-art references again / backup slide
• Why has it not been done before?
• What impact(s) will be made if/when successful?
• Is it risky?
• Brief discussion of Plan B
Support Available for ERC Activities
Two ERC National Contact Points (NCPs) in Ireland:
SFI is responsible for the Life Sciences and Physical Sciences & Engineering
research domains. Current NCP: Graeme Horley
The Irish Research Council (IRC) is responsible for the Social Sciences & Humanities
domain. Current NCP: Paul Kilkenny
The NCPs provide information events, hold mock interviews, and provide feedback (where
possible) on draft proposals. NCPs in Ireland are not associated with the ERC on a fulltime basis, which is often not the case in other (larger) European countries.
Enterprise Ireland are responsible for managing Ireland’s coordination with the Horizon
2020 framework. A new Irish Horizon 2020 website ( is an
additional useful resource.
Changes to ERC in H2020
Restrictions on applications to future calls for those failing to get through Step 1 of the
evaluation process have been made tougher:
 “C” grade – may not apply for the following two years (regardless of scheme)
 “B” grade – nay not apply in the following year (regardless of scheme)
Changes to eligibility rules for Medical Doctor (MD) applicants:
 MDs are not accepted on their own as equivalent to PhDs
 Must provide info on the MD and a PhD or other proof of an appointment that requires
doctoral equivalency (e.g., a post-doc or professorial appointment)
 Must provide info on research experience to substantiate equivalence
 Two extra years allowed (StG: 4-9 years post-MD; CoG: 9-14 years post-MD)
 If holding MD and PhD degrees, the earlier degree that renders an applicant eligible
takes priority
New online administrative submission forms (accessible through the PPSS)
New templates for Parts B1 and B2, with the following changes:
 Introduction of a model CV (in Part B1 – can be modified)
 Compulsory table format of the applicant’s funding ID (Part B1)
 New budget table in Part B2, Section c)
New 25% flat-rate overhead as component of requested budget
Key Dates
Useful Links
ERC Homepage:
2014 ERC Work Programme:
2014 StG/CoG Information for Applicants:
EC Participant Portal:
SFI’s ERC Information Resource:
Ireland’s Horizon 2020 Website:

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