"ERC - European Research Council - grants are the most recognizable grant system in Europe. Winning this grant confirms the researcher's scientific excellence. These are individual grants, awarded to researchers who have breakthrough research ideas that can change the development of science in a given area . They are grants for outstanding scientists, people recognized in their field. Our achievements in the ERC to date do not reflect the level of Polish science" - told PAP Ewa Kuśmierczyk, Director of the Excellence in Science Department of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
In the years 2007-2013, Polish scientists won only 14 of the more than 4 thousand grants awarded by the ERC. Within the framework of the Horizon 2020 programme, since 2014 Polish research units have won nine grants so far.
"Polish scientists submit quite a lot of grant applications. Our problem is that we have an extremely low success rate (the ratio of funded to submitted applications - PAP). The average ERC success rate is 11 percent, and in Poland it is 2.5 percent. This means that or we either have poorly prepared proposals, or the wrong researchers submit them. Those who are most likely to win ERC grants, do not apply for them" - Ewa Kuśmierczyk ventured in an interview with PAP.
The task of the Excellence in Science Department headed by her is to search for those scientists who have better chances of winning ERC grants and to help those who want to apply themselves. The department operates since April and currently employs five people. "Our goal is to reach those scientists, who have a chance of winning, and invite them to cooperate with our department. We look for persons recommended by eminent scientists, we review publications, analyse conference speeches, citation statistics. However, we are open and if anyone would like to submit their application, he or she is always welcome to contact us" - said Kuśmierczyk.
Scientists who are preparing grant requests, can find out at the Excellence in Science Department how to fill out its parts, receive assistance in creating a budget and passing administrative procedures. The institution also helps scientists improve their ideas. "Department employees do not have the scientific competence, but we try to connect promising scientists with experienced ones. We refer them to individual consultation, send them to workshops abroad" - described Kuśmierczyk.
This year's ERC applicants, who have advanced to the second stage of the competition, (the presentation of the project and meeting with a group of experts), could to participate in trial interviews. Applicants were interviewed by about 25 professors, an image specialist and a linguist.
"Later this year we want to focus our activities on the humanists, because Polish scientists submit far fewer applications in the humanities than in the sciences, although their potential in this area is very large. We are planning two workshops devoted to the humanities and social sciences" - Ewa Kuśmierczyk told PAP.
The Excellence in Science Department of the Polish Academy of Sciences is also tasked with promoting Polish science and scientists outside Poland. "There is a large potential in this area. At the moment it will probably be difficult for us to attract researchers from other European Union countries, but we will try to expand our promotional activities in the UK. We want the Poles who work in British units to know that considering the possibility of returning to Poland could be worth their while" - emphasised Kuśmierczyk.
The ERC grants funding for three major types of projects lasting up to 5 years. Starting Grant (up 1.5 million euros) is for researchers from 2 to 7 years after obtaining doctoral degree, Consolidator Grant (up to 2 million euros) - for scientists from 7 to 12 years after doctorate, and Advanced Grants (up to 2.5 million euros) is awarded to accomplished scientists who conduct their own research. In addition, scientists who have already won a grants from the ERC can apply for a Proof of Concept grant (up to 150 thousand euros) to develop their ideas for market needs.
Ewelina Krajczyńska (PAP)