Academy of Finland’s funding decisions focus on high scientific standard, impact and renewal

24 Jun 2020

The Academy of Finland’s September 2019 call for applications resulted in funding for 219 new Academy Projects consisting of a total of 263 subprojects. The Academy also funded the posts of 67 Academy Research Fellows, 107 Postdoctoral Researchers and 12 Clinical Researchers. The Academy’s research councils distributed a total of 173.6 million euros in funding across their respective scientific disciplines. Women accounted for 42 per cent of the funding recipients.

This was the second time that the Academy used the additional funding of 25 million euros earmarked for it in the government budget to support early-career researchers. The special allocations were added to the funds reserved for the Academy Project Funding. The funding was distributed among the most promising early-career researchers with no more than 10 years or, in the case of medical specialists, 14 years of postdoctoral experience.

The popularity of the Academy’s calls for applications is relatively well established, and there has been little variation in applicant numbers in the last two years. The number of applicants was slightly lower in 2019 than the year before. Applications relating to the natural sciences and engineering were the most numerous. These fields also had the most successful applicants. The gender distribution among both applicants and beneficiaries has remained relatively even in respect of Postdoctoral Researchers, but men are greatly overrepresented among Academy Research Fellows and in Academy Projects.

The Academy of Finland’s priorities for awarding funding were a high scientific standard, impact and scientific regeneration. Reko Leino, Chair of the Research Council for Natural Sciences and Engineering, was delighted with the high standard of the applications received: “An unfortunately large number of excellent Academy Project proposals relating to engineering had to be rejected.”

The applications were peer-reviewed by international expert panels. Approximately 900 international researchers take part in the Academy of Finland’s review process each year. The review of the applications received in response to the September 2019 call was trusted to 62 panels consisting of a total of 650 experts. Additionally, 80 independent experts contributed to the review process.

The panels ranked the applications, taking into account the scientific standard and novelty value of the proposals as well as the criteria for each funding instrument. Proposals for new Academy Projects were ranked based on the scientific standard and innovativeness of the research plan. The applications for funding for research posts were ranked according to the applicant’s personal competence.

According to feedback received from the panel chairs, the Academy of Finland’s review process was well organised, and the online services are among the best in the world. The composition of the review panels was also praised.

The research councils made their decisions on the distribution of funding in teleconferences due to the restrictions that had been put in place to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The technology worked brilliantly, and having to hold meetings remotely in no way hindered the decision-making,” said Ursula Schwab, Chair of the Research Council for Biosciences, Health and the Environment.

Two-stage decision-making was employed for the second time for proposals for new Academy Projects and for applications for the posts of Academy Research Fellows, Postdoctoral Researchers and Clinical Researchers. As a rule, applications that received a rating between 1 and 4 in the panels’ first-stage review were rejected at the research councils’ discretion. Between 52 and 72 per cent of all proposals for new Academy Projects and applications for the posts of Academy Research Fellows and Postdoctoral Researchers were decided at the first stage. The remaining applications – mostly consisting of those with rating 5 or 6 – proceeded to the second stage.

Sami Pihlström, Chair of the Research Council for Culture and Society, said: “The two-stage process has received a positive response, as it shortens the decision-making timescale. The fact that only rejections are meted out at the end of the first stage has not attracted any negative comments.”

Riitta Maijala, Vice President for Research, said: “We work closely with researchers and the scientific community to be able to better respond to changes and improve our application and decision-making processes. We want the Academy’s operating models and funding instruments to help researchers to transition with the changing nature of research.”

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