Associate Dean Niels Mejlgaard: We need to target our efforts

Since 1 September 2018, Niels Mejlgaard from the Department of Political Science has been the school’s Associate Dean for EU Financing. International competition for EU funding is fierce, and we need to avoid half-hearted applications written out of a sense of obligation, he says. This calls for targeted efforts and fair working conditions for researchers who embark on major applications.

2019.05.13 | Sinne B. Jakobsen

Photo: Aarhus BSS Communication

Can you briefly explain what your role as Associate Dean entails?

I’ll be acting as a sounding board and an adviser at the school in matters concerning the European framework programmes. It’s important that we make the most of the remaining part of Horizon 2020 and get off to a good start in the new programme, which runs from 2021 to 2027. In other words, my job is to monitor calls, engage in a dialogue with the school’s departments about the funding possibilities and attempt to influence the future work programmes.

Why is important to focus on the EU’s framework programmes?

The main reason is to strengthen the quality of our research through international collaboration. The European framework programmes are an excellent platform since projects are often carried out in a collaboration between groups from different European universities or across academic fields. To be in the vanguard of research, we need to cooperate with the strongest international environments and make the most of the opportunity to be inspired and challenged intellectually. The framework programmes also allow us to carry out large projects with vast amounts of empirical data that might be difficult to finance through Danish research councils. There are also positive derived effects such as international studies being more prominent and having a stronger academic impact.

However, there are also financial reasons. Competition for competitive research funding is fierce, and the success rates are unsustainably low both in Denmark and internationally. From a financial perspective, it is imperative that we exploit the entire range of funding opportunities and within the European framework programmes as well. However, it’s just as important that we are smart about it and that we minimise waste. We need to find a way to systematically monitor the possibilities, critically assess whether or not to pursue a call, and thoroughly assess the quality of the applications. We need to know the possibilities of every nook and cranny of the programmes, but we also need to target our efforts.

We need to know the possibilities of every nook and cranny of the programmes, but we also need to target our efforts.  

Please tell us a bit more about the possibilities offered by the framework programmes?

Horizon 2020 is divided into three pillars, “Excellent Science” which includes the ERC, “Industrial Leadership” and finally, the challenge-based pillar “Societal Challenges”.

At Aarhus BSS, we have a lot of experience with the excellence-based instruments, which we know from the Independent Research Fund Denmark, for example. These are well suited for projects driven by the researcher’s inquisitiveness, and they are awarded on the basis of the academic qualities of the project and the researcher’s CV. In the case of EU, we are focusing on the ERC where our main task is to become even better at writing targeted applications. One of the tools in this connection is the school’s internal peer review team. However, we also need to focus our attention on the Marie Curie mobility grants and networks that will benefit our internationalisation efforts immensely.

Within the challenge-based pillar “Societal Challenges”, we are already submitting a large number of applications, but we need even more of our researchers to embark on the more complicated challenges for society. The current calls focus on the challenges of immigration, radicalisation, inclusion, democratisation, new governance models, EU’s foreign and security policy, new media landscapes, globalisation and the socio-economic effects of the technological development. These are areas in which researchers at Aarhus BSS have all the prerequisites for contributing. In addition, there are challenges related to food, health, climate, etc. that all include clear elements of social science and require interdisciplinary collaboration. I believe that there are unexploited possibilities in this part of the framework programme. And I think it makes good sense that social scientific research should contribute to solving the problems in society.

I think it makes good sense that social scientific research should contribute to solving the problems in society.  

Groups or sections that would like to embark on an EU application within the challenge-based pillar actually just need to consider some rather simple questions: Which calls are relevant to us? Who does what and who should assume responsibility? Who can we draw on in our existing network? Should we act as coordinators and just partners in a project? It takes some legwork to become part of an existing consortium or to develop one’s own, but this investment will also pay off in the long term.

As you see it, what are the greatest barriers to embarking on an EU application?

Naturally, lack of time is an important barrier. Writing a good application is a huge task and one that you need to be prepared for. To write a good application, you need to focus and allow yourself plenty of time, and it needs to fit into your other work obligations. All in all, we need to avoid half-hearted applications written out of a sense of obligation. This calls for recognition and fair working conditions for researchers who embark on major applications. Ensuring this is also the responsibility of the management.

We need to avoid half-hearted applications written out of a sense of obligation. This calls for recognition and fair working conditions for researchers who embark on major applications. Ensuring this is also the responsibility of the management.  

Another likely barrier is that the framework programmes are often seen as difficult and administratively cumbersome. However, writing an EU application has actually become a lot less complex, and applicants can get good support here at AU, for example through the Research Support Office.

Finally, some researchers might find that the “set topic” of the challenge-based calls requires them to compromise on their own academic interests. However, once the project has been set in motion, you actually have a lot of freedom. Particularly if you formulate your application wisely. It’s also important to remember that the academic impact is also considerable for projects financed under the challenge-based calls.

What should researchers do if they’d like to get help with their application or would like to know more?

 

They should make use of the expertise offered by the university’s Research support unit, for example. They are also very welcome to contact me. I see my role as very needs-driven and I’d like to help management, research committees, research groups or individual researchers wherever I can. I have considerable experience in developing EU consortia and writing applications, and I gladly make myself available. 


Would you like to know more?

Contact Niels Mejlgaard
Email: nm@ps.au.dk
Tel: +4587165895
Mobile: +4520290042

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