Notes on my experience of applying for a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship

Soon will be the usual time of year to start working on a Marie Skłodowska-Curie application. This was also the case for me four years ago, a journey which led to a wonderful two year period at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research in Cambridge. Hence, I thought that it might be useful to share some of the insights that worked in my case, especially that before this I would have never imagined that I will once hold this fellowship. As a disclaimer, the following points do not reflect any official guidelines (so please go ahead and find the appropriate documentation to read), and it is also possible that they might have changed since I applied- these are nothing but some general thoughts that reflect how I did things, and my own timeline.

1. Do consider applying for an MSCA – ~12 months before the deadline

Individual Fellowships support the mobility of researchers within and beyond Europe – as well as helping to attract the best foreign researchers to work in the EU. ‘

  • In Romania no one has ever mentioned these Fellowships before, so I’ve heard late about them, and when I did, all (successful) applicants I met seemed to be more mature/experienced. However, my last couple of years showed me that this is not always the case, and there are many early career researchers from throughout Europe who are part of the scheme.  Also, according to data published online, the  global success rate seems to be between 10% and 18% – which is not lower than other competitive postdocs fellowships out there. To give an example, I’ve once applied for a Cambridge Institute postdoc where the competition was in the range of 200 candidates for 1 place. So, if you meet the eligibility requirements, consider this Fellowship as a great opportunity for receiving training in a different country than your own. 

2.  Find a host institution & contact them – ~7-8 months before deadline

Next step is to do a little bit of research, and find where in Europe there is an institution that would be the perfect host for your project. On the duration of the MSCA Fellowship you will have a supervisor, and your application should clearly reflect why they, and their institution, are the ideal match for your own research. 

Once you have found them, contact the institution, and see if they might be interested in your application. Some departments have an internal selection process of prospective applicants, so get in touch in good time, and find out about potential deadlines.

3. Plan your application – ~6-7 months before deadline

  • Provided that the institution you have chosen agrees to support your application, find out if there is a designated person who is dealing with the application process- do they have a research facilitator, or someone else that can advise you? An MSCA application is a long and complex text, so you need to make sure that you are aware of what you are required to do. Also, get in touch with past successful applicants, and learn from their experience.

A couple of points worth bearing in mind:

  1. in my case, writing up such an application took many months, with multiple revisions along the way, so I had to be prepared to devote time, patience, and to start way ahead of the deadline;
  2. I’ve learnt that it is important to have a clear proposal, presenting in a synthetic and clear way the relationship between questions, methods, objectives, aims etc.;
  3. I’ve also discovered that the application was slightly different than others as it ultimately was a training program (with training objectives), and not simply a research proposal;
  4. impact and interdisciplinarity are key components;
  5. I have paid attention to my Gantt chart, and tried to make it reflect at a glance the contents of the project (work packages, deliverables, milestones etc.)

4. Outcome

As with any other postdoc applications, I knew that there are higher chances of not getting it, than of succeeding. And this is an aspect which is worth bearing in mind all throughout the process, to avoid disappointment. However, in the case of the MSCA, regardless of the outcome, simply going through the process is a great lesson in itself: it trained me how to write a good application!

Then, once I got it, two years flew faster than one realises -> it might be a good idea to think in the early days of people you might like to meet, training programs you want to take, research you might want to do, conferences to attend etc. so that you can take full advantage of the fellowship. Google calendar, or an old-fashioned planner have become my inseparable friends during these two years. To give a rough idea, I had the opportunity to go for conferences, talks, and networking in 10 European countries & many more cities, to learn about the current projects in my field from around the world, and also to meet a lot of interesting people.

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