Each year, the Academy of Finland collects feedback from applicants and research services on the September call. The feedback supports the continuous development of the application process. The overall aim is to make the application process as smooth as possible for applicants, reviewers and the Academy alike.
This year, applicants and research service personnel were asked to provide feedback on the September 2020 call with a survey that was open 12–20 October 2020.
Nearly 1,600 respondents participated in the survey, resulting in a response rate of 45%. Applicants were asked to share their experiences and views on the research plan, the call texts and the Ask & Apply events. Respondents also had the opportunity to give open feedback to the Academy.
Filling in the research plan in the online services still difficult for some applicants
As much as 60% of the respondents thought the online form for the research plan had worked very well or well, while 20% thought the form had been difficult to use.
The reason why the Academy had introduced the form was to speed up the processing of applications and to move towards a more balanced assessment of research plans thanks to a uniform structure. The online form makes it easier for reviewers to move between the research plan and the review form.
Most of the applicants who participated in the survey had managed to fill in the research plan in the form without major problems. Around 25% of the applicants had nevertheless submitted the research plan in PDF format, because they had found the online form difficult to use. The feedback on the function of the online form will be taken into account in future calls, and the Academy will further improve the online services in this respect.
Respondents want shorter call texts, appreciate Ask & Apply webinars
Respondents thought that the call texts had effectively prepared applicants for drafting and submitting an application. Applicants reported that the necessary issues had for the most part been clearly presented, but around 40% of the respondents thought the call texts had been too long. Based on this feedback, the issues presented in future call texts will be clarified, while ensuring that applicants have access to sufficient information in order to submit their applications.
This was the first time the Academy’s Ask & Apply events were held in the form of webinars. The webinar format was well received. However, there were also respondents who wanted the campus visits to continue. Respondents especially appreciated that the webinars had been built around specific themes. Respondents suggested that future webinars would focus on topics such as mobility, the review of applications, what makes a good application and changes in calls. Respondents also called for sessions specifically targeted at those applying for Academy Research Fellow and Postdoctoral Researcher funding. The feedback received on the Ask & Apply events will be taken into account in future calls.
Applicants proposed staggered deadlines
In the open feedback section of the survey, respondents highlighted the problems with online services in the last week of the call as well as the extension of the deadline. The extended deadline divided opinions. In order to avoid problems, respondents suggested further improvements to the system and proposed that the Academy would consider staggered deadlines. In the same vein as in previous surveys, respondents commented on the long processing of applications and the large amount of work involved in submitting the application. In addition, the respondents felt it was too arduous to write the interim report during the call.
Of the changes that had already been introduced, respondents especially welcomed the reduced number of appendices required. Reducing the number of application appendices also expedites the application processing, and the applications reach the review stage quicker. On the other hand, the Academy was criticised for the fact that the CV had to be written on an online form and not submitted as an appendix. The reason why the online form for the CV had been introduced was that it helps to ensure an equal and consistent CV structure and length.
The Academy has already taken steps to speed up the checking of applications, and solutions are being sought to address the problems in the online services. Also under investigation are measures to reduce applicant workload and accelerate the processing of applications.
Riitta Maijala, Vice President for Research at the Academy, said: “The high response rate shows that applicants considered the survey important. The feedback is very valuable to us; it will help us further improve our activities and make them more applicant-friendly, which is why I’d like to express my warmest thanks to all those who responded. The feedback received will materialise as changes in the application process, which we will have more to tell about in 2021.”
- Riitta Maijala, Vice President for Research, tel. +358 295 335 002
- Tiina Petänen, Counsellor of Science, tel. +358 295 335 091
- Jukka Tanskanen, Senior Science Adviser, tel. +358 295 335 071
Our email addresses are in the format firstname.lastname(at)aka.fi.