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Marie Curie Skłodowska Actions

Power to the postdocs

München, 01/23/2015

The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, which form part of the EU Research Framework Programme Horizon 2020, are designed to foster professional independence by enabling post-doctoral researchers to pursue their own projects.

The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, named after the double Nobel Prize winning Polish-French scientist, support researchers at all stages of their careers, irrespective of nationality.

Newton’s Theory of Gravitation cannot account for all elements of astrophysics and astronomy. But Newtonian physics is still used to guide space probes through the Solar System, although Albert Einstein‘s more comprehensive, precise and rigorously tested General Relativity Theory provides a better means of doing so. But why should a flawed model continue to be applied – with great success – in preference to a better alternative? This is a question that preoccupies Dr. Samuel C. Fletcher at LMU’s Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy. Fletcher, who takes up a position as Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota in Twin Cities in 2015, probes the foundations of scientific theories, with particular reference to how new formulations relate to older theories. He holds an Individual Fellowship funded by the EU. These awards are part of the Marie Curie Skłodowska Actions, a grant program targeted to postdocs, and a component of the Horizon 2020 research strategy.

Fletcher is thrilled to have the fellowship. “In the US, there are not many positions open to postdocs in the philosophy of science,” he says. Though this is beginning to change, he adds. Several universities now offer grants to support postdocs working in the field, but these are the exceptions. “That’s why I decided to come to Europe and to Germany.”

Applying for, and obtaining, one of the new Curie fellowships is no simple matter. On the other hand, they are significantly more generous than those offered by other sources. Before submitting his own application, Samuel Fletcher therefore took a close look at previously successful – and unsuccessful – applications, and at the comments made by the assessors. “The proposal should of course fit within the research context provided by the host group,” he says. In addition he advises potential hopefuls to study the evaluation criteria very carefully and take every word to heart. And, he says, one must repeatedly subject one’s work to critical review. Finally he recommends that proposals should be written as simply as possible. “The reviewers are knowledgeable experts, but are not necessarily completely at home in any given specialty.”

Help is at hand for applicants
Preparing such an application involves lots of work, both for the applicant and the host institution. However, tips on how best to go about it are available from several sources – such as LMU’s Information Office for International Research Funding. “We organize workshops on how to apply for the Individual Fellowships and the Innovative Training Networks, as well as individual consultations and support in preparing the application itself,” explains Dr. Brigitte Weiss-Brummer, who heads the Office. Applicants can avail of a proofreading and reviewing service, and sample applications embodying best practice can be consulted.

“Postdocs who make use of our services have a demonstrably and significantly better chance of success,” Weiss-Brummer affirms. In such a highly competitive process, she says, it is essential to attend to every last detail of the application formalities.

Promoting internationalization
For LMU, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions are an important resource in the drive to internationalize research in Europe. Indeed, during the preceding Seventh Framework Programme for Research, which ran from 2006 until 2013, LMU hosted a total of 66 projects – more than any other German university.

LMU also offers other services whose common aim is to encourage highly promising postdocs to make a career in research. These programs enable young researchers to pursue their own ideas, create opportunities to extend one’s set of skills, and support applications for fellowships, prizes and extramural project funding.

For Samuel Fletcher, the freedom to try out one’s own ideas is the most important prerequisite for success. In his own case, this includes the chance to learn German and make new contacts – and to use Germany’s well-developed public transport systems. He finds them much more convenient than most rapid transit systems in his homeland.