ERC winning recipe in SSH fields

After 2019 ERC grant results were published, there was quite a bit discussion in Finland about the reasons for the poor success of Finns in this year call is SSH fields. Based on my Twitter feed, there were similar discussions going on in other countries (at least Ireland and Sweden), and probably elsewhere; few countries seem to succeed in SSH ERCs year after year, while there is quite a bit variation among others. Since my own Consolidator Grant on 2013  that ended in March this year (actually the project refuses to end, the group now continuing in INVEST Research Flagship) I have regularly commented other applications. As some of them have been funded each year, I decided to wrap up things that I thought were combining almost all funded plans. Thus rather than mourn about what did we do wrong, think about what some seem to have done right. So here’s the list, originally pushed out as series of tweets:

1) The application needs to have a genuinely good idea as well as something truly new and ambitious, but also a strong storyline where all sub-studies are seamlessly connected. Often achieving this has required heavy editing of the original draft.

2) The applicants tend to have a clear vision where the current state of the art is in the case of the research topic in question. They are also able to pinpoint very clearly the weak spots or missing areas of the existing top-level research.

3) The applicants themselves have strong and independent research profiles, tend to be well-published but clearly prioritising quality. They seem to contribute mainly to the their main field of science.

4) Each of them have their call-related homework done properly: they have a good idea what kind of people will be reading the plans and doing the reviews.

5) Every one of them is also a bit lucky with their reviewers. In almost every round also excellent applications I have commented are rejected, some of them succeeding during following years…

In addition, few things that are perhaps more related to my own research area and academic circles, but that may matter in all SSH-fields:

6) All successes tend to have a huge societal question in the background, something that is well-acknowledged also in the neighbouring SSH-fields, independently of the chosen research methods. This is advantageous because SSH-panels tend to cover a broad spectrum of fields.

7) The applicants tend to be somehow linked with the state of the art -groups already conducting research on the topic — scientific success often requires also succeeding in the social game involved!

Later on, one of this year successes Kristian Karlson commented the list “I also want to add one thing from my experience: I benefitted enormously from feedback from colleagues, who were very generous in providing feedback during the entire process.” I totally agree, and this was an important part that was missing from my list:

8) They get the comments and and act upon them.

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