The Academy of Finland is giving the September application process a minor overhaul with a view to clarifying our call texts and guidelines and improving our applicant support. Feedback from applicants helps us find ways to make our application process smoother. We asked applicants for feedback after the September 2019 call. We would like to thank everyone who answered the survey for their comments and suggestions.
Last year, the Academy of Finland introduced webpage-based call texts. More than 70% of the applicants who responded to our survey (n=880) rated the new call text format and the A–Z index of application guidelines as good or very good. A total of 91% of the respondents felt that the information that they needed to fill in their application was easy or very easy to find. The online application form worked well or very well for 56% of the respondents. However, 22% of the respondents were not happy with the application platform. We also asked the respondents to estimate how long it had taken them to complete their application.
Fewer supporting documents needed in future
Fewer appendices than before need to be submitted with applications for the September 2020 call. One of the most welcome changes is that no data management plan need be appended; the plan does not need to be submitted until after the Academy funding decision. However, applications still need to include a brief explanation of how data management will be arranged during the project.
In order to ensure the fair treatment of applicants, CVs will from now on be supplied using an online form. The form is based on the new curriculum vitae template of the Finnish National Board on Research Integrity, which is very similar to the CV template previously used by the Academy.
There is no longer any need to append ethical permits to applications. The site of research (the applicant’s background organisation) is expected to help the applicant to ensure that the necessary permits are in place before the funding period begins.
Instead of progress reports, researchers will need to start submitting interim reports. Interim reports can be drawn up in the Academy’s online services (SARA), supplemented during the funding period and used as the basis for the final scientific report at the end of the project.
New mobility guidelines and collaboration rules
The Academy is abandoning its previous mobility allowance policy. In future, researchers’ mobility aid will depend on the rules of their background organisation. We have also changed the wording in our invitations for research visits so that they now address not only international visits but also mobility between domestic institutions and sectors. Another new feature is the opportunity to upload letters of commitment in which applicants can describe aspects of digital mobility, such as the use of data and resources during their project. We will also make allowances for the barriers created by the COVID-19 pandemic in respect of Academy Research Fellows and Postdoctoral Researchers. The mobility requirement can be waived, if the pandemic has prevented or impeded mobility. Applicants are advised to read the call text and the mobility policy set out in the A–Z index of application guidelines.
Improvements in the online services (SARA)
A lot of the feedback related to the user-friendliness and performance of our online application system. We have tried to make the system more stable especially during the last few hours leading up to the deadline for applications.
We have also fixed the issue of images and tables not appearing correctly in research plans in the PDF version of the application. The introduction of an online form for submitting research plans has been well received by our review panels. The ready-made form makes it easier for reviewers to access the different parts of the applications. Panellists have brought it to our attention that research plans submitted as PDF files often do not comply with the instructions or format requirements, which has made their work more difficult.
Another improvement in the online services is that applicants to the Centres of Excellence Programme in September 2020 will be able to later use their letter of intent as the basis for their full application.
More responsibility on applicants and background organisations
The Academy of Finland’s September call typically attracts approximately 4,000 applications. In previous years, it has taken us more than two months to process the applications and correspond with applicants to get all the information that we need. This has burdened several applicants after the call has closed. More than 37% of the applications received last autumn had to be supplemented and resubmitted.
As of September 2020, we will only give applicants one chance to make changes. This gives applicants more responsibility for ensuring that their application complies with the instructions and good scientific practice. We hope that this will speed up the processing of applications. Applicants will still be able to keep editing their application for as long as the call remains open, but the research plan and the list of publications, for example, cannot be revised after the deadline has passed.
The changes introduced for the September 2020 call will also put more responsibility on applicants’ sites of research. The organisations will need to ensure that their researchers’ projects comply with the Finnish National Board on Research Integrity’s RCR guidelines (Responsible Conduct of Research and Procedures for Handling Allegations of Misconduct in Finland). Site of research will also be accountable for the projects’ compliance with ethical rules, regulations and recommendations as well as the rules on the processing of personal data and other applicable laws. They will also need to ensure that their researchers have all the necessary ethical permits and other research permits in place. The site of research also commits to ensuring that the data management plan can be implemented at the site of research, and that the measures to be taken comply with good data management practice. It is also the background organisation’s responsibility to keep their funding percentages (overheads, indirect employee costs, effective working hours) up to date in the Academy’s online services.
We’re still looking for more feedback: another brief survey will be sent to all applicants after the September application round. Thank you for working with us and good luck with your application!
Tiina Petänen, Counsellor of Science