published: February 9, 2011
The life of a researcher is coupled with fundraising. But:
- Where do I get money for a research project?
- Who are my network partners?
- When and how do I have to apply?
The SPSW supports you to find your way through the dense jungle of funding programs. To PhD students, the SPSW offers mobility grants to cover travel and accomodation costs.
As a special service, Manuela Dahinden, our person in charge, provides her excellent expertise in the funding area to all SPSW members, see also interview below:
Franziska Humair (fh) - What funding is available for young researchers of the Swiss Plant Science Web?
Manuela Dahinden (md) - There are many national and also international funding possibilities available at different levels of a scientist’s academic career. On the SPSW website, we provide an overview of the most relevant funding possibilities for plant researchers. Below, you can find just a few of them. While studying in Switzerland, PhD students can apply for the SPSW mobility grants.
If you want to continue your scientific career, there are several postdoc fellowships you can apply for. The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), for example, provides fellowships for prospective researchers. These fellowships offer young scientists who are just starting their research career the possibility to spend time at a research institution abroad.
Later in your career, if you want to establish your own research group, you can apply for a so-called European Young Investigators Award (EURYI). The EURYI are equivalent to the professorships of the Swiss National Science Foundation.
To increase the number of women in research, the SNSF annually awards a limited number of Marie Heim-Vögtlin (MHV) subsidies. MHV subsidies are aimed at women scientists whose scientific career was delayed or interrupted due to family obligations (children) or a change of residence as a result of their partner’s career.
If you are interested in the many funding opportunities in Switzerland, you can find an overview here.
fh - What obstacles arise for researchers in Switzerland who seek funding from the European Union?
md - None. As an associated member of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7), Switzerland has the same rights as EU member states have. The EURESEARCH website provides a good overview of all research programs Switzerland is involved in.
A further, particularly interesting offer is the chance to participate in EURESEARCH workshops and info events, where various funding possibilities are presented. These events also provide the perfect opportunity to get to know people. What is also exciting is the opportunity provided by EURESEARCH to find project partners for funding.
In general, European funded research collaboration projects are very popular and difficult to obtain. Thus, it is very important that young researchers plan their career early and that they build up a good network. I recommend visiting the Mobility Portal of the EC (EURAXESS) or subscribing to Europe4Researchers, the newsletter about career development opportunities for researchers in Europe.
Alternatively, ask your supervisors about the international projects that they are involved in. Many senior researchers are in so called COST-Actions. COST-Actions for Food and Agriculture (FA) cover, for example, all aspects of research in the field of agricultural and food sciences in its widest sense. The primary aim of those actions is to encourage the networking of research in any field linked to these activities as well as to the related demands and needs.
Also, almost all large funding agencies offer E-Alerts. By subscribing to them, you will be well informed about ongoing calls and events.
fh - The independence of academic research from industrial and political interference is discussed extensively. If funding is provided by industry, how independent is research really?
md - There are special contract requirements for industry partnerships. Those contracts define and regulate intellectual property rights. Whenever the university in question makes a discovery that the funding industry wants to patent, that industry has to make a special agreement with the university. This means that researchers may shape their research the way they want to. However it might be that the industry partner wants to profit from the results.
Academic researchers are increasingly expected to present solutions to societal problems. Thus, science has to establish a dialogue with stakeholders and the public, and it also has to think about how results emerging from academia may be implemented in practice.
This new situation requires researchers to have new skills, such as the knowledge of policy processes or the acknowledgement of the needs specific to stakeholders or the public. In order to tackle these new requirements, the PSC implemented the PSC PhD Program Plant Sciences and Policy.
fh - What are the special features of the PSC PhD program Science & Policy?
md - The new PhD Program Science & Policy educates students to work and think in a policy-oriented way. In the context of 5 workshops, students have the possibility to get to know stakeholders and the relevant political processes. With this PhD program, we aim to show students how to apply academic results in practice. For example, we elaborate on the processes needed to implement a policy that addresses environmental issues.
Together with stakeholders from administration (e.g. deputies of FOEN, the Federal Office for the Environment) or NGO's (e.g. IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature), the PhD students discuss examples of particular cases. Students who passed our PhD Program Science & Policy have very good chances of getting a job as a research mediator, for example editing research results for politicians. This program also helps us to develop tools to improve confidence between politicians and researchers.
This program is particularly close to my heart for two reasons. Firstly, I believe that having a broad education is becoming increasingly important. Within the context of this transdisciplinary education, we provide young scientists with the opportunity to become active outside the area of academic research.
Secondly, I am very pleased that we have very prominent support: The Mercator Foundation is funding four PhD fellowships. A special feature of these fellowships is that the PhD students sign up to do an internship at an organization in the environmental field. The internship lasts for six months, and it has to be done in addition to the intern’s usual studies. To complete their internship, students have to report their experiences in the form of a policy paper. For further details, please contact Andrea Pfisterer
fh - What are the questions that students frequently ask about funding?
md - Often they want to know where and how to apply for a postdoc fellowship. For this reason, we initiated the course "Writing a postdoctoral grant" two years ago. There are no fees for PSC students; however students from ALPS or BeNeFri are charged CHF 300.
The next course will take place in fall in Zurich. In this two-day course, my colleagues Melanie Paschke, Andrea Degen from EUrelations AG, and myself teach the students the basics needed to write successful grant applications. In addition, we demonstrate the different possible ways to apply for a postdoc fellowship.
Our course is based on examples from practice. Step by step, we develop two grants applications: an SNF postdoc fellowship and a Marie Curie postdoc fellowship (International Outgoing Fellowships for career development, Marie Curie Actions). Thanks to this course, the students know exactly how to tackle the task. The students are always very grateful for the help they obtain on this course.
Because of our positive experience with this course, we’re planning to provide a similar course for postdocs. This new grant writing course will be part of our new postdoc fellowship program "Plant Fellows", which will start in October 2011. For now, this course is restricted to PSC members.
fh - What is the influence of the supervisor on the chances of a student being successful when applying for funding?
md - Of course, the CV of the future supervisor influences the chances of a student to be funded. However, for a funding application to be successful, other factors are also important. Highest priority is given to the proposed scientific projects. Of further importance are the host organization and the available scientific network.
Last but not least, it is up to the student to contribute to a successful application by trying hard to get a good place to study and a promising project. Once again, I have to emphasize the importance of long-term planning and networking, for example by referring to the SNF, EURESEARCH or CORDIS information portals.