The Academy of Finland grants most of its funding for scientific research through the September call. Each year in September applications are invited, for instance, from individual researchers for Postdoctoral Researcher and Academy Research Fellow funding and from research teams for Academy Project funding. This means that September, which kicks off the academic year, is also the time when many researchers are busy preparing their funding applications. For the Academy of Finland, concentrating the call dates around the same time means that more time and resources are freed up to organise the international peer review, which plays a crucial role in identifying the best researchers and research teams.
The Academy has recently overhauled its internal operations and services. Tiina Petänen, Counsellor of Science, is now the person responsible for the funding calls and researcher services.
“Last year, we organised a survey and workshops to find out how our applicants would improve the application process. Based on the feedback, we’ve already changed many features for the September 2018 call, and other new features are still in the works. We want to continue this dialogue with applicants also in the future,” Petänen says.
In recent years, the September application period has stabilised to around three weeks. This year, the call is open between 10 September and 1 October. If previous rounds are anything to go by, most applications will be submitted in the final week of the call. Petänen notes, however, that the Academy has taken into account that applicants will need some time to familiarise themselves with the changes that have been made.
The research plan is filled in online
The Academy’s online services, known by many as SARA, will also undergo changes affecting the forthcoming call.
Petänen explains: “For most researchers, the biggest change concerns the research plan – we’ve decided to scrap the PDF appendix. From now on, the plan is filled in directly on the online form. The length is the same: twelve pages for individual applications and 15 pages for consortium applications. We haven’t limited the length of the different sections; what matters is the total length of the plan. The font size will not affect the length, because the system has a pre-defined font.”
The revised structure of the research plan is also based on feedback from reviewers. What’s more, the new structure will help the Academy in conducting foresight analyses.
“Research plans provide us with valuable data on key topics and phenomena within specific disciplines. They contain both weak and strong signals that provide insights into how research funding should be targeted. In other words, they can reveal emerging lines of scientific inquiry and tell us what interests researchers have at a particular time. Research plans also supply information that supports universities, funding agencies and policy actors in decision-making,” Petänen says.
Other practical changes to the application process have also been made. For example, the CV guidelines have been revised. The Academy has simplified the CV guidelines to better correspond to the practices of international funders such as the European Research Council (ERC). As for the list of publications, applicants can now search for their publications using the VIRTA publication information service. Maintained by the Finnish Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, VIRTA provides a data hub of bibliographic information on scientific publications from Finnish research organisations and makes the data available for other services to use.
Ask & Apply roadshow kicks off in late August
The Academy of Finland’s Ask & Apply roadshow, which presents upcoming funding opportunities, has toured Finnish universities and research institutes each autumn since 2012.
This year’s roadshow will focus on the reforms affecting the application process and take up topics such as the new research council structure and responsible research. During the sessions, Academy staff will explain what’s changed and what hasn’t.
“The new model with three research councils is designed to make it easier to apply for Academy funding. For example, an application that previously would have fallen somewhere between the Research Council for Biosciences and Environment and the Research Council for Health will now be easier to direct to the new research council and the right panel,” Petänen says.