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10 pointers for the MSCA application

Bhawana George

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) funding programme is an opportunity for researchers to acquire new skills through international, interdisciplinary and intersectoral mobility. MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships’ call for proposals is currently open until October 2021. Here, Jaishree Subrahmaniam, who has been awarded a Fellowship in 2020, shares 10 pointers for the application process with Bhawana George.

I GAP MSCA image

MSCA postdoctoral fellowships are of two types — Global Fellowships that fund researchers moving out of Europe and European Fellowships that fund researchers moving to or within Europe. Researchers of any nationality can apply for the latter. Applicants must have a PhD degree or have successfully defended their doctoral thesis with a maximum of eight years of research experience. Monthly salary, research allowance as well as living and travel costs are supported in this programme. MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships’ call for proposals is currently open and the call closes in October 2021.

Jaishree Subrahmaniam is a Ph.D. graduate from Universite’ Paul Sabatier Toulouse III, INRAe, France specializing in ecological genomics. She has been awarded an MSCA Postdoctoral European Fellowship award in 2020. She will move to Aarhus University, Denmark in the fall of 2021 to pursue her postdoctoral research in plant evolutionary ecology.

George: Jaishree, please tell us 10 things to keep in mind while working on the MSCA fellowship application.


1. Start early: Starting early gives time for innumerable rounds of refining. It is advisable that prospective applicants should start searching for a host lab early. The grant is a collaborative product of the host lab and yourself, so the sooner the better.

2. Host lab: A suitable host lab is the one that complements your skill set. It’s important to have a clarity of purpose on what training you need. Consider your own strengths and weaknesses and areas that you find interesting but haven’t had the time to explore yet. Identify labs that work in those areas as the next step. Contacts are cultivated through conversations and professional networks. If you have an interesting idea, reach out to potential labs. Moreover, Marie Curie fellowship allows more than one host lab. So, don’t be shy from seeking collaborations, or having multiple people as supervisors or mentors. If selected well, this strengthens the proposal.

3. Content of research proposal: The application is divided into three parts. The Excellence part includes the scientific aspect of the whole project. The applicant can be daring or ambitious enough to seek a new direction but should be smart in convincing the selection committee that (and why) you are keen to learn a particular technique or field of science. Also, lay down a clear vision of the importance of the proposed project in your career development.

4. Impact part: This is the second and significant part of the fellowship application. The questions that need to be answered in this section are:

  • What could be the impact of this research, not just for your career, but for European science and science in general?

  • Why should you be the person conducting this research?

  • Why is the host lab perfect for you to work with on this research?

Be innovative in answering these questions from a non-scientific perspective (because the scientific part is already covered in the excellence section) such as:

  • What are your qualities as a person such as leadership skills?

  • What do you already possess that puts you in the right spot to conduct this research?

Include experiences and achievements even from your undergraduate studies such as being a member of a society, organizing committee of an event or science communication in my case. Remember, you are being assessed whether you can be an independent faculty in future.

5. Implementation: This is the third section of application. Propose a realistic plan regarding implementation of the project in a 2 years timeframe. It is advisable not to get too ambitious. Showing deliverables and milestones via Gantt charts can really help.

6. Putting relevant information in the correct place: Texts have to be coherent enough to form a story so that reviewers grasp the project in limited time. Putting correct information in the right section is the key. Be especially careful while writing about impact and implementation.

7. It’s all about YOU! Applicants should emphasize and highlight their achievements well. It is important to underscore how this particular grant will help you to become the next paradigm-shifting researcher. Be true and smart about conveying your life’s ambitions, whether it’s a career in academia or industry.

8. Make use of limited spacing: The whole application including references has to be fitted in 10 pages. Think of innovative ways to concise information such as tabulating information, flowcharts, bullet points, etc.

9. Seek inputs: Getting inputs from researchers with diverse backgrounds is essential. My proposal was evaluated by 6 scientists in non-related fields.

10. Quality over quantity: The success rate of fresh PhD graduates for an MSCA application is low but not impossible, because I am the testament for that. Research experiences and publications matter but are not the only deciding factors. If you think your idea is worth being funded, go ahead and do not be scared about applying. There are applicants who failed many times before finally being awarded with an MSCA fellowship. So, perseverance and determination to not give up matters here just as well as in science.

Written By

Bhawana George is an India Research Management Initiative (IRMI) Fellow of DBT/​Wellcome Trust India Alliance at CSIR-CDRI, Lucknow. Bhawana is a PhD in cell and molecular biologist, a strong believer of science beyond books and publications. She aims to enhance …