The majority of these tips come from the NCPs’ experience, from feedback received at workshops, and from previous grant winners. Additional advice was sourced from the ERC’s step-by-step guide to applying, and the blog of Prof Andreas Zeller, an Advanced Grant winner based at Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany.

Enterprise Ireland offers financial support for Irish-based researchers who intend to apply to EU funding schemes, and there is a dedicated form for prospective ERC applicants. View more information about this support grant.

  1. One of the most important considerations when thinking about applying to the ERC is to think about when you are going to apply. An ERC application is not something that should be rushed, and it is imperative to 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. In addition, it is important to be aware of the ERC’s plans for the various schemes in any given year—for example, in 2013 significantly more funding was assigned to the early-career programmes, and this scenario was extended further for 2014. However, in 2015 the balance will shift back in favour of the Advanced Grant scheme for more established researchers. So, it is important to think strategically as well as to spend the requisite time to prepare the very best application possible. 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.
  2. It is highly recommended that you register as an expert for the European Commission. By participating as an evaluator, you will gain invaluable insight into the application process and forge vital relationships within your field.
  3. It is advisable to prepare the supporting documents early, in particular any concerning eligibility for time extension, or the commitment of the Host Institution
  4. Be sure to 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 polishing.
  5. Remember that the applicants you are competing with and the peer reviewers too 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.
  6. 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 assistance.
  7. In your proposal, it is very important to clearly and confidently answer the following:
    • What is the problem that needs to be solved
    • Why is it significant?
    • What makes your solution/approach to the problem ground-breaking?
  8. Clearly describe your ground-breaking idea—explain why it has not been done before. Why will your project make a decisive difference?
  9. Choose an easily-pronounced acronym for your proposal—this is how the panel members will discuss your project, so make it easy for them.
  10. Show how the research will provide impact if/when successful. What kind of impact(s) (societal, scientific, financial, etc.)?
  11. Is your proposal risky? That’s perfect for the ERC, but where appropriate to do so, you should include a brief discussion of a Plan B in order to mitigate some of the risk.
  12. It is important to demonstrate leadership. Give examples of your track-record, for example:
    • Student supervision history—where they are now, their funding successes, etc.
    • Your experience in leading research collaborations (national and international).
  13. If your proposal includes interdisciplinary elements, illustrate how you will be the senior partner in the project.
  14. You need to provide irrefutable evidence for impact and excellence, e.g., facts on awards, services, papers, talks, students, tools; lasting impact in academia and industry; your quality as networker and advisor; and, last but not least, your ability to shape and create research fields. Don’t be afraid to use numbers such as acceptance rates, citations and downloads where appropriate to do so, but don’t use numbers where you might be compared to other applicants in a negative light.
  15. Use bibliographic query tools to help you find statistics and numbers for your profile but, again, only use them to give statistics that will clearly be seen in a positive light by reviewers.
  16.  Be specificwhere possible:
    • "I am an ABC Fellow" vs. "I am the youngest European ABC Fellow in the field of X".
    • "700 citations" vs. "Most cited paper on the subject of X since 1999".
  17. Avoid any claim that cannot be independently verified.
  18. The ERC publishes its Work Programme and Information for Applicants (previously the Guide for Applicants). Read all important documents carefully and at all times, ask yourself how your proposal will stand according to the criteria and the process listed.
  19. Ensure that Part B1 of your proposal is approachable and convincing to specialists and non-specialists alike. Part B1 is evaluated only by panel review, by reviewers who can have specific or general knowledge of the field. Thus you should look at the disciplines represented on your panel and at the panel members in previous years to obtain an idea of the level of prior knowledge that you can assume.
  20. Consider carefully which panel you would like your proposal to be allocated to. Your project may be eligible for consideration by a number of panels, so you can choose the one in which you think your proposal will be the most competitive. Annex 1 in the Information for Applicants (to any scheme) provides a detailed description of the panels and sub-categories. It is recommended also to talk to previous ERC winners, applicants and panel reviewers, where possible, to get advice on the best panel to apply to.
  21. In preparing Parts B1 and B2, ensure 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. Do not just copy and paste Part B2 from B1.
  22. Reviewers for your proposal will be chosen based on Part B1. While you cannot suggest potential reviewers, you can influence the process by citing the appropriate experts clearly in this section.
  23. Have a clear structure and plan. Describe the tasks, dependences, milestones, evaluations, and measurable success criteria.
  24. If you are working with a collaborator, clearly outline the division of work and how their work will be funded, and provide contingencies for the possibility of their failure.
  25. Starting Grant/Consolidator Grant specific suggestions:
    • Demonstrate your independence both in the profile and in your 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 early-career researchers may have more experience of supervision and reviewing than their European counterparts.
    • Endeavour to reduce any references to former mentors/supervisors to a minimum.
  26.  You should be aware that the peer reviewers have to process many applications in a very short period, so make your application easy to read:
    • Identify your aims and hypotheses right at the beginning. Do not wait until the end to describe your important ideas and impacts.
    • Structure your text using elements such as subheadings and bullet points. Use indexes and summaries.
    •  Use tables and diagrams (legible in black and white).
    • Emphasise particularly important sentences using appropriate formatting and highlighting.
  27. The reviewer should be interested in your proposal after just a short glimpse. The message has to be in the title, in the abstract, in the figures, in the diagram, in the examples. Get to the point quickly. Use clear language: No buzzwords! Important parts of your proposal should be eye catching.
  28. Get plenty of feedback. Your story must appeal to readers no matter what discipline they are working in. Discussing your ideas and your proposal with as many people as possible and as diverse a group as possible will help. If you fear the message could be too complex, get feedback from others.
  29. If English isn’t your native language, ask at least one native speaker to proof-read the proposal.

For more information to help with your application, see tips for a successful interview.