Outi Ala-Honkola

Outi Ala-Honkola: Early-career researcher, are you familiar with Marie Skłodowska Curie funding?

8 Sep 2021

As part of the Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions (MSCA), the Postdoctoral Fellowships (PF) are targeted at early-career researchers. The action provides funding for research projects lasting from 1 to 3 years that involve moving to a new country and gaining experience in a new research environment. Researchers with less than eight years of research experience after completing a doctoral degree are eligible to apply for funding. The PF scheme offers various opportunities for the applicant. Please note that this year’s call for the scheme will close as early as 12 October 2021.

The main idea of the MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships is that the researcher will relocate into a new organisation (such as a university, a company, an organisation) in a country in which they do not yet have long-term experience. The applicant must not have been residing, working or remote working in the country of the host organisation for longer than 12 months within the 36 months immediately preceding the application deadline. Researchers apply for funding jointly with the host organisation and supervisor, and so it is advisable to start considering potential host organisations and research groups well in advance. Potential host organisations search for possible MSCA postdoctoral candidates through EURAXESS, and you may well find a suitable host there.

Marie Skłodowska Curie Postdoctoral Fellowships offer various opportunities

The Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions are part of the Horizon 2020 EU flagship initiative, which means that the funded projects must be ambitious in terms of their scientific objectives, yet feasible. In the call for the Postdoctoral Fellowships, attention is also paid to measures promoting the career development of the researcher in question, the exchange of knowledge and skills between the host organisation and the researcher, and the distribution of research results to both the research community and society at large. It is worth thinking about your own career plans and how to best support them through MSCA funding. The possibilities are almost limitless.

There are two types of MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships: European Fellowships in which you apply to a European host organisation, and Global Fellowships in which the first destination can be anywhere in the world. Global Fellowships include a mandatory 12-month return period to the European host organisation. The duration of the European Fellowship can be between 12 and 24 months, and the Global Fellowship between 24 and 36 months. The project may also include shorter mobility periods in companies, organisations, universities or similar anywhere in the world. In addition, the funding programme encourages applicants to be mobile across sectors and disciplines.

As a new element in the MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships, researchers have an opportunity to receive support for an additional six months if they work in a non-academic European organisation at the end of their fellowship. In order for this special period to bring added value to the project, it must fit the research topic seamlessly.

Broader cooperation increases funding opportunities

The MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships are highly competitive but not more so than, say, Postdoctoral Researcher funding from the Academy of Finland. In last year’s call for the MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships, slightly over 14% of applicants received funding. In the Academy’s call for Postdoctoral Researchers, the success rate varied between 11% and 15% in different research councils.

Applicants for the MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships can improve their possibilities by applying for a Global Fellowship: last year, 23% of such applications were successful and the required scores were generally slightly lower than in the case of intra-European applications. For example, applicants in the life science panel had to score 95 points out of 100 to secure European funding, but it was possible to receive Global Fellowship funding already with 91 points.

In the European project, you can also try to improve your opportunities for receiving funding by simultaneously taking part in the call for ERA Fellowships. You can use the same application for both by answering “yes” to the question: “Do you want to participate in the call for ERA funding?” The call for ERA Fellowships provides funding for hundreds of projects that have not been successful in the regular call, and whose host organisation is in a so-called "widening" country. The widening countries include Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary.

This year’s call for MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships closes on 12 October

The salary of a MSCA Postdoctoral Fellow is very good in comparison to other similar funding. The salary consists of a basic component and a mobility component, the size of which depends on the level of costs in the destination country. In addition, researchers with families are paid an additional monthly sum. The figures listed in the work programme are multiplied by country-specific coefficients and the employer’s indirect personnel costs are deducted from them. After the deduction of taxes and other statutory fees, an MSCA researcher receives well over EUR 3,000 on their account per month in Finland. In addition, researchers with special needs may apply for additional support to cover costs such as an assistant’s salary or more expensive travel expenses resulting from special requirements.

This year’s call for the MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships will close on 12 October 2021. If you run out of time this year, now is a good time to start thinking about a suitable project, supervisor and host organisation for next year’s call. However, it is not worth submitting a bad application just for practice: if you score less than 70% of the maximum points in this year’s call, you will not be eligible to apply next year.

More detailed eligibility conditions can be found in the Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions Work Programme and in the guide for applicants.

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