HORIZON EUROPE CHANGES FOR MSCA INDIVIDUAL FELLOWSHIPS

In the anticipation of the Horizon Europe work programmes being published in the near future, European Commission presented the MSCA programmes and elaborated on their novelties in a live information event on 23rd March 2021.

So, what is new for Individual Fellowships?

No separate panels. First of all, the European IF panels (career restart, society and enterprise, reintegration ) have been abolished and application process is now mainstreamed. European and Global dimensions of the fellowship have not changed.

8 years post-PhD cut off. Much anticipated post PhD research experience limit has been set to 8 years. The applications are eligible from candidates with up to 8 years of research experience since the date of the PhD award. The exceptions include career breaks, work outside research, research outside Europe for reintegrating researchers.

Possession of PhD. In order to simplify the eligibility rules, there is now only a requirement of awarded PhD at the time of the call deadline (four years of research experience is no longer applicable). To accommodate the country specifics of PhD awards, the successful defense of the PhD thesis at the time of the call deadline has been set as a required minimum, e.g. you do not necessary have to have a PhD certificate, as in some countries it takes time between the two events.

Secondment anywhere in the world. Even more emphasis on non-academic exposure in the coming programme. The regular secondment option during the fellowship can be up to 1/3 of the total duration of the fellowship and can take place anywhere in the world.

6 months non-academic placement. The total duration of the fellowships is unchanged with 12-24 months for European and 24-36 months for Global fellowship. There is now an additional option for 6 months placement in a non-academic sector after the basic fellowship duration.

No resubmission below 70%. Resubmission restrictions have been introduced in Individual Fellowships of Horizon Europe and will apply from 2022. Applications received a score of less than 70% will not be allowed to resubmit in the following year.

Euratom research inclusion. IF will continue to support bottom up research in all scientific areas. The novelty here is that Euratom areas of research will now be included in the range of supported topics within existing scientific panels of Individual Fellowships. Allocated annual budget for Euratom research individual fellowships is 1 million euro.

Better financial provisions. The financial aspects of the IF have included a slight increase in the contribution to the researcher (living and family allowance) and to the institution (research, training and networking contribution). Relationships with equivalent status to marriage (under the law of the country or region under which this relationship was formalized) is now recognized for family allowance, which is a huge step towards inclusion and diversity. The conditions for family allowance now also cover researchers that acquired family obligations during the fellowship. While we have already seen a special needs allowance in HORIZON 2020, a new long-term leave allowance have been introduced for the researchers in HORIZON EUROPE.

Evaluation criteria change. Although bearing the HORIZON2020 essence, the evaluation criteria of the new IF have been re-formulated and will deserve a separate digest later on, when we see the final adopted work programme and call documents.

The 2021 call will open on 18th May with the deadline of 15th September.


THE LIFE LESSONS OF MARIE CURIE FOR RESEARCHERS

On this day, November 7th, 1867, the year that Karl Marx published the first volume of his Das Kapital and Alfred Nobel patented dynamite, an iconic woman was born.

Marie Curie – the obsessive genius, the inspiring woman, the mother and the wife. Breaking the societal barriers of her time and crossing geographical borders, Marie made an immense contribution to the fields of chemistry and physics. Her contribution is equally important for establishing the role of women in science.

Marie’s path to success is an acknowledged inspiration to all, yet we do not talk as much about the actual human price of this contribution. A few recently read biographies of Marie Curie revealed this woman to me in a new light. I believe we should talk more about the practicalities of her life among the researchers, especially the early stage ones. Marie Curie’s strongly interlinked professional and personal lives provide some invaluable lessons to those who wear lab coats and make their way through the fascinating yet challenging world of scientific discoveries.

Mentor is important. Marie’s subject for PhD research was smartly suggested not by her official adviser but by her husband Pierre, who was quite a bit older and had an extra decade of research experience. Initially Marie was intrigued with Röntgen’s X-rays, but so were 65% of all published papers of the Academy of Science in Paris at that time. Pierre Curie suggested,  instead, to look at the abandoned Becquerel rays, which turned out to have a huge potential. Sometimes good advice is the most valuable gift you can receive in life and you are lucky to have someone who can give it.

Friendships in work are valuable. Marie did not have a wide circle of friends, but rather a few close friendships. She always found it was important to have someone to talk with about work. Luckily, she had her husband, Pierre, whose own scientific background enabled him to engage Marie about her work. After his death she always had assistants (one of them turned into a love affair) and her daughter working side by side in the lab. She constantly felt the need to discuss her work and bounce the ideas back and forth. Don’t we all recognize that feeling? Research is a hard, often lengthy, physical and mental process and it is essential to have the opportunity to talk about it and be understood by people who are in the same boat. Go drink that coffee with the colleagues and invest in the friendships in the lab!

Persistence or repetitive work? One of Marie’s Nobel prizes (for discovery of radium and polonium) was for the most laborious repetitive work that demanded huge physical strength and was not even performed in a proper laboratory. For four years Marie tried to isolate enough radium to be detected and characterized as a chemical element. She processed tons of pitchblende residue along with hundreds of tons of rinsing water and thousands of chemical treatments and distillations to get a minuscule amount of the new element. This is probably where the persistence of her scientific reputation was truly formed. Think about Marie’s commitment when you are doing your experiment for the nth time. Sometimes you just need to believe and keep going.

Productive time and down time. Marie’s most productive research years in the lab, or at least those that were recognized with Nobel prizes, were at the start of her research journey, when she worked on radioactivity and discovered two new elements. It is not often mentioned that she also experienced bouts of depression and had to take time off to recover. This was especially true after the unexpected death of her husband and when her love affair did not end well. At one stage she was away from the lab for almost 1,5 years. She was away from her children for that amount of time too, but that’s a separate story. Scientists are humans; we all have bad days or even bad seasons. It is wise to recognize these periods in our lives and take appropriate action to rest and heal.

Scientists are not always right. They might have been good at doing experiments or coming up with the ideas for the experiments, but Marie and Pierre were not always right about the conclusions. They published a paper, on which other scientists disagreed and eventually the Curies realized their mistaken opinion and acknowledged their peers. Their daughter Irène and her husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie paid an even higher price for their incorrect interpretation of the results – by missing not just one but two Nobel prizes (for the discovery of neutrons and positrons)! They got the Nobel prize in the end, or did they just get lucky? Science is a tough game…

These are just some highlights that I want to bring to the attention of a young researcher. Marie Curie’s life has left us many lessons and the greatest of all is that to be a scientist means so much more than to do your experiments in the lab. The great scientific achievements come at a great price of hard and repetitive work, productive and not so productive times, being right and sometimes being wrong, the support of your lab friends and timely advice of a good mentor. Have fun on your research journey!