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  • Writer's pictureBorja Esteve-Altava

Getting Ready for the 2022 MSCA-IF

The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowships closed yesterday. Good luck to all the applicants!

If you want to apply next round or in the following years, there are a few things you and your PI can do to put you in the pole position. Do not leave this for the last minute! They will give you the most important asset: credibility.

Before starting, you need to know that the objective of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowships is not (only) to conduct excellent research, as it is, for example, the objective of ERC grants. The objectives are “to support researchers’ careers and foster excellence in research […] to carry out their research activities abroad, acquire new skills and develop their careers.” See the difference? With this in mind, let us have a look at how you can beef up your CV to be a top-notch candidate.

Advice for future candidates:

The first thing you should do is getting your research outputs published. Through the application you will need to demonstrate that you have your own set of skills and knowledge, which you acquired during your PhD and perhaps some postdoctoral time. You will need to back this up with facts, the academic standard is the publication track-record. But nowadays there are diverse types of research outputs that are equally valid: curated data, software, protocols, among others. So, you need to have these out there. Even better, have them publicly available in public repositories: make them open, accessible, reproducible. Open science is one of the items you will need to explain in your application. If you have experience on that, it will give credibility to your claims. Otherwise, it is just empty words and wishes.

The second thing you should do is gaining experience as a trainer or mentor. Not of anything, but of your specific skills. A key aspect of the application is to demonstrate that you are capable, not only of gaining knowledge and skills, but to transfer them to other parties. The two-way transfer of knowledge is very important in this fellowship. As before, you will need to make specific claims about what and how you are going to “teach” your supervisor and lab members. Your claims will be less credible if you have no experience on that front. Get some! For example, you could organize workshops on your current institution on a given technique you are an expert; better, make it open to people outside the institution.

The third thing you should do is learning to engage with the public and do outreach. As part of the impact section, and together with your supervisor (under their wing), you will need to devise an ambitious outreach strategy. Before you apply to this fellowship, make sure to gain experience in public outreach, in any form. For example, I am sure your institution hosts some open days, research nights or similar activities: make sure to enroll in some of them. There are many ways to increase your experience on this front, and if you have an outreach office or similar, ask them for advice and information about ongoing activities during the year.

Advice for PIs of future candidates:

You already read the above advice for prospective candidates. If you want to support your PhD or early postdocs to get one of the most prestigious fellowships in the world, you need to facilitate the three points mentioned above: (1) get those papers out, (2) offer your junior researchers opportunities to build their training skills, and (3) give them space to shine in outreach activities. But you can do more than that, which is what any good mentor would have in mind as a career development plan for their mentees. What? You do not have a career development plan for your PhD students: get one now!

There is an additional think you can do to help your students. Use your greater network of collaborators and peers to localize a hosting supervisor/lab in a country that your student likes and that fulfills the mobility rule of the fellowship. Choose people committed to good mentoring practices and creating a healthy research environment. Help your student build a scientific relationship with them, so when the time comes, they can design an excellent research project.

Give them all that, and you would have put your students in the ideal path to get a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowships.

I hope you find these tips helpful. If you have any questions or comments drop a line below.

- Borja

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