I benefited from a Marie Curie Action – Career Integration Grants (CIG) in the spotlight

Anastasia Bochenkova (Russia), Christian Igel (Germany), Daniel Montesinos (Spain), Giorgios Stoilos (Greece), Hayley Swedlund (United States), Vincent Terrapon (Switzerland) and David Nicolas Waldman (Israel) have all benefitted from a Career Integration Grant (CIG). Here they share with us their tips on making this experience a springboard in a researcher’s career.

Hayley SwedlundGiorgios StoilosDavid Nicolas WaldmannChristian IgelAnastasia BochenkovaVincent Terrapon

What is a Career Integration Grant? The Marie Curie Action Career Integration Grants (CIG) are open to experienced researchers of any nationality with at least four years of full-time research experience or a Ph.D. The aim is to support researchers in the first steps of their European research career. This action should also allow the transfer of knowledge that the researchers have acquired prior to the CIG, as well as the development of lasting co-operation with the scientific and/or industrial environment of the country from which they have moved. This action has a particular emphasis on countering European 'brain drain' to other third countries.

Researchers have to work on a project hosted by:

  • a national organisation (universities, research centres, etc.);
  • a commercial enterprise, in particular an SME;
  • a non-profit or charitable organisation (Non-governmental organisations, trusts, etc.);
  • an international European interest organisation (CERN, EMBL, etc.);
  • the Joint Research Centre (JRC); 
  • an International Organisation (WHO, UNESCO, etc.).

The host organisation must be established in the European Union (EU) or in an Associated Country. However, researchers can’t have carried out their work in the country of their host organisation for more than 12 months over the last 3 years. They must have never in the past benefitted from a European or an International Reintegration Grant (ERG or IRG) nor from a CIG.

For the application, researchers have to apply jointly with the host institution. If selected, researchers get a grant for 2 to 4 years and a separate grant agreement is signed with the host with a view to lasting professional integration.

Applying for a CIG after a postdoctoral experience or during an assistant professor position. Montesinos, Waldmann, Stoilos and Bochenkova applied for a CIG after a postdoctoral experience, whereas Swedlund and Terrapon benefited from this Action as they were holding an assistant professor position. Igel specifies that he applied “during the transition process from a junior to a full professorship”.

Diversity and long-term projects. Some of our Fellows decided to work on their project as a continuation of their previous studies and work. Working currently on a long-term, cross-national research project on donor-government relations in Sub-Saharan Africa (Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ghana) aimed at understanding donor-government relations and recent changes in the aid landscape, Swedlund considers her Action helpful in framing her research. So does Bochenkova, who studied the catalytic role played by proteins in the light-induced, ultrafast reaction dynamics of biological photoreceptors, and in self-regulation of their photophysical properties at the atomic level. She considers she was only able to carry out the research because she received a CIG. To Montesinos, his research on adaptation and evolution of invasive weeds was a “logical continuation” of his first post-doctorate. Waldmann also chose his project based on his previous postdoctoral experience on the connection between deep hydrocarbon reservoirs in the Levant Basin (East Mediterranean) and shallow gas reservoir systems in the continental shelf off-Israel. Terrapon’s project is intended to increase understanding and the ability to predict the impact of viscoelastic rheology on the dynamics of turbulence. “This topic is the continuation of my PhD thesis”, he says. Igel took a different approach – his project, “Advanced Kernel Methods for Medical Imaging", combines his research interests with the competences of his host institution.

Choosing a host country and organisation: a compromise between professional and personal expectations. Stoilos and Waldmann used the opportunity to return to their country of origin “I chose Greece because it is my home country and I wanted to come back after almost three years abroad after obtaining much experience, which I wanted to transfer” says Stoilos. Waldmann, on the other hand “wanted to go back to Israel (I am an Israeli citizen)”. For Igel, choosing his host country reflected a desire to combine working opportunities and quality of life “I chose the host institution based on scientific quality. My wife and I discussed the move, and we agreed that Denmark was a nice and friendly place to live for the family.” Swedlund and Terrapon were already employed in their host country before benefiting from their CIG.

An application that requires one to three months of preparation. Terrapon explains that his proposal was not accepted the first time he applied “I spent about two additional months (not full-time) redefining and improving my initial project. I was successful at my second attempt.” That is why the application needs to be carefully prepared, as Bochenkova echoes: “The aim of the project has to be clear and the project has to be concise. Besides, the application includes a detailed project plan and dissemination activities for a few years. The preparation certainly takes time, but it is a rewarding experience both scientifically and for writing future applications.” Montesinos points out the sub-criteria and the difficulty linked to them “Many criteria look very similar but they have a different focus depending on whether they are, for instance, in the ‘implementation’ or the ‘impact’ sections. I found that part particularly difficult.” According to Swedlund, it can be very helpful if your university has experience in dealing with Marie Curie Actions and especially CIG. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for her: “There was so much documentation and so many things to look through, to know where to find it. And my university had no experience with this type of grant.” Igel found writing the proposal a learning curve: “I was lacking experience in writing European Commission grant applications and especially describing the ethical aspects of my work in the domain of medical imaging.”

Be prepared to work individually. Some CIG recipients, such as Swedlund and Terrapon, work alone on a project. “My duties as an assistant professor in the host institution are completely independent of the grant. The project is something I initially worked on by myself. Eventually, I found additional funding for a PhD student to carry out part of the work. I am actually still looking for additional funding and people to join,” Explains Terrapon. Other Fellows, like Montesinos, find themselves in working groups: “I am integrated into a research group, which is helpful because it provides a functional structure in which, for instance, ideas are debated in lab meetings.” Stoilos was nevertheless pleased to have “the opportunity to conduct independent research and thus to develop an independent way of thinking” thanks to his CIG.

No financial stress. Our Fellows are satisfied with the financial support received through their CIG. However, Terrapon and Igel agree that supplements could have been useful for funding PhD students. Otherwise, “additional funding must be obtained from elsewhere. This takes time and effort.

Many benefits. Swedlund is still working on her project but is satisfied with the amount of data that she has already collected “My CIG allowed me to work on my project much quicker than I had foreseen and so I didn’t have to worry about funding.” Terrapon is also still working on his project, and highlights how his CIG has helped him to grow his professional network: “I had the opportunity to go to conferences, to meet other colleagues who work in the same field, and to develop new collaborations. It was, and still is, a tremendous help and I am glad I had the chance to benefit from this grant.” All of the other Fellows have finished their project and consider their CIG as a career boost. “I secured a five year contract as a researcher at my host institution,” says Montesino. Stoilos is happy to report that he is “currently a research associate in the National and Technical University of Athens, where I supervise PhD students and conduct personal research.” Bochenkova is also feeling very positive about the future: “My employment has been extended for two more years, giving me a solid perspective for obtaining a permanent position at the host institution.”