THE WAY TO AN ERC SYNERGY GRANT

Strong collaboration over many years, a thoroughly thought out project, and not least 110 percent preparation for the interview resulted in a Synergy Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for Professor Alexandre Anesio from Aarhus University, Professor Martin Tranter from the University of Bristol and Professor Liane Benning from GFZ Potsdam.

2020.09.17 | Tine Mark Jensen

Alexandre is exuberant about the opportunities it opens up for in their research in Greenland, where they are examining why the ice is becoming darker and darker and therefore melting faster than expected.

The three researchers have been working together for about ten years. And their Synergy Grant application was an extension of their previous research project. For this reason, he did not think it was that hard to write the application. The possibility of applying for a Synergy Grant came when they were employed at three different universities in Europe. They wrote their application in six months. The process was pretty painless because they had previously written applications and research articles together.  

"The biggest challenge was to formulate the project as 'transformative research' and not just further development of existing research. In such a process, it is both a blessing and a curse to have worked so much together. You become almost blind to what’s so special about the project. But otherwise, it was almost easier to write the application than to wait for the 11 months it took to find out whether we would be invited to an interview," says Alexandre.

110 per cent preparation for the interview
Things became more serious when they went to the interview. There was a lot at stake, and we knew that we would have to be prepared to the minutest detail. We took all the help we could get. We did a trial interview with the Research Support Office (AU), and we improved our presentation and responses. We did a trial interview at Bristol University and got even better. We were together around the clock up to the interview, and we discussed everything in detail," says the professor. When the group arrived in Brussels, they were assisted by the Central Denmark EU Office, which supported and guided them over the last 24 hours up to the interview.

The interview is also a test of the collaboration
The interview went well. And they received very positive feedback on their presentation, and how they interacted during the interview. The panel could sense the group's good collaborative skills, and this is absolutely crucial to getting a Synergy Grant. In principle, no one is the leader. So the balance between the three PIs has to be right. And this was the interview panel's experience and assessment after the interview. "Every second of preparation is important – and the interview made it clear that the time we spent was a good investment. We knew exactly what we’d say; we knew what each of us thought and would talk about in every detail. We’re talking about an awful lot of money here. Therefore, it’s important that they get a good sense of the collaboration and that it is a joint project," says Alexandre.

Synergy Grant = EUR 10 million
The three researchers are extremely pleased with the opportunities provided by their Synergy Grant. “It means everything. It gives us freedom, and we can do exactly the research we’ve been dreaming of. And there's very little bureaucracy. But it's a huge responsibility. We have to publish high-level research and contribute to answering important questions in climate research," says Alexandre.
Alexandre has also found that a Synergy Grant opens doors and new opportunities for collaboration. “I can already see what I can do after this project – perhaps set up a centre,” says Alexandre.
Today, the project has two new PhD Students and a postdoc at AU. At GFZ Potsdam, 2 postdocs and 2 PhDs. In Bristol – 1 postdoc and 2 PhDs. “There’s an advantage in having PhD students who are very open with regard to the research field," says Alexandre.

Advice from Alexandre if you want to apply for a Synergy Grant.
• Know your partners well. It is important that you know each other's ways of working – this will result in less stress in the process and the collaboration will be easier.
• Spend a lot of time on the application. It's a big project and a Synergy Grant is a lot of money. If you don't get a grant, you can use the work for other applications.
• Prepare the interview to the minutest detail. Spend time together and do several trial interviews.

Read more about the project here
Read about Synergy Grants here.

(The next Synergy Grant is not expected until 2022 due to transition from Horizon2020 to Horizon Europe)

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