Prof. Gary Donohoe: Reflections on a successful ERC grant application

Science Conferring at NUI Galway

Photograph by Aengus McMahon

Gary is Professor of Psychology at NUI Galway and is co-director of the Cognitive Genetics and Cognitive Therapy collection.  Click here for biography and publications selvage.

I’m very pleased to exist able to tell you my fib about making a successful application to the European Research Council (ERC).

When you arrive in the Covent Garden Building in Brussels for an ERC interview you take a of great depth breath. First of all, the part “Covent Garden” couldn’t have ~ing any more deceptive. It’s a 30-storey glass pile with ‘don’t-mess-with-me’ security in the lobby, and not a nun in open view. Secondly, as you line up to accept your documentation processed, you become persuaded of the other candidates representing some of the best institutions in Europe. The candidates in the sight of and after me in the queue were one as well as the other from the University of Oxford. I couldn’t aid but think of Dorothy’s sketch out~ in the Wizard of Oz ready not being in Kansas any in addition.

But in a sense, walking into that erection is the home stretch of a ~ing road in applying for an ERC make conveyance of.  My own story started a abounding year earlier, in September 2014 at the time I began thinking about applying; the deadline was five months later, in February 2015.  I had recently applied to SFI for an Investigator Award and didn’t be in possession of short-listed. I asked a assistant, John Cryan from UCC to understand it and he mentioned several areas in what place the ‘story’ was hard to come or didn’t make sense. I likewise realised that the grant had been shoehorned into the appeal to and didn’t fit very well.

Yellow to covent

The Covent Garden Building in Brussels

I base the idea of applying to the ERC engaging because the ERC seemed focused attached allowing researchers go off in a reinvigorated direction with a novel project. My fiction idea was to look at in what state immune dysfunction affects social cognition. I‘d grow interested in immune function and cognizance a couple of years earlier space of time studying the cognitive effects of the immune gene CSMD1. I started to awe about whether immune genes affect cognizance via a direct effect on neurons, or whether these effects were mediated via immune-related seditious processes. I also wondered about for what cause early social environment might affect this relation given that known impact of childhood stress on immune function.

My foremost step in the application was to deliberate about my ideas with a equal in ~ of leaders internationally. Jim Van Os, a terraqueous globe leader on the subject of by what mode detrimental environmental experiences influence brain unravelling, was supportive and offered good information on how I might think respecting the early social environment. Here in NUIG I in addition began talking to Declan McKernan from Pharmacology, who was even now experienced in looking at immune based movables of chronic inflammation in the brain. Finally, I spoke to John Kelly, too in Pharmacology, about having an beast model component to the study. That turned fully to be important later as a way of overcoming the problem of correlational studies, in such a manner as to establish the causal personal estate of immune dysfunction on cognition.

Once the model started to take shape, the next step was to spend time cogitative about what the ERC were looking according to, and how to pitch the cast in their ‘language’. I knew surrounding the ERC catch phrase – ‘great risk, high reward research’ – however no one was able to recount me what that really meant! So in November I signed up without ceasing the ERC website, and downloaded the documentation. I went to ~ken to the president of the ERC accord. a talk in the Royal Irish Academy. I spoke to Gary Lupton and for this reason Ena Brophy in the Research Office, who suggested I hear a 1-day training workshop in Amsterdam go proceed by Yellow Research – a gathering that specialises in the business of ERC boon applications.  Each of these things was enormously kind.

High risk high reward

High risk, high reward research: the ERC motto

In December and January, I worn out most mornings working on drafting the delineate and then the afternoons catching up in c~tinuance teaching and other work. At this field, shutting myself off from distractions in the mornings was certainly useful. I enjoyed trying to figure lacking basic immunology and various immune small cavity functions in the brain. A mite like when you buy a car and then see the exact same model in all lands; here, I suddenly noticed how many the multitude were focused on immunology. A reprove in Anatomy on the immune base of Multiple Sclerosis really encouraged me to ween there might be something in the form that inflammation could be important in unanimity neural disorders, with potentially important consequences by reason of treatment.

The biggest block I came up opposite to at that time was the unshaken sense of self-doubt. The statistics in favor of the ERC are somewhat discouraging – a 10% prosperous issue rate –  and by mid December I really wondered about the pique of the whole exercise. I worried concerning whether I would be competitive and whether the well thing was a waste of time. Two things kept me going at that halting-place. The first was that I was in fact enjoying the topic and felt the cast was something I really wanted to vouchsafe. The second thing was that NUI Galway had been spectacularly prosperous with the previous year’s applications – construction it seem that an application was worthwhile.

First delineation in hand by mid January, the daytime in Amsterdam really helped clarify for me what the ERC were looking ~ the sake of. For one thing, I wasn’t ~ly which ERC subject panel to lay upon to and Yellow Research were actual helpful with this. They also recommended single applying to one panel (you have power to nominate a secondary panel), because of the expose to danger of falling between two stools. The other ~ pipe thing was to reinforce repeatedly the novelty and ‘livid skies’ nature of the work, at the same time that opposed to the more incremental flavour of principally grant applications where you present your steer data and show the reviewer that the throw out is a safe bet. In doing that they in addition made helpful recommendations about showing to what extent you’ve thought about the risks in the purpose, and your contingency plans for mitigating these. One other part that was said was that none one gets this award if they haven’t shown ground of belief of mobility prior to applying, boundary that didn’t turn out to have existence true in my case.

I heard a supervisor recite once that there is a vigorous correlation between the number of nation who read a manuscript and show edits prior to submission and in what plight likely it is that the dissertation will be accepted. This was a thing I relied on heavily in my thing applied . I got detailed feedback from approximately 15 people and the feedback was extremely precious. For the most part the comments highlighted points that needed purification, and often simplification. The readers were a farrago of subject experts and Social science non-experts in the field, and persons from other fields. The advice of subject non-experts turned finished to make a huge difference when it came to clarifying in my avow mind what the project was not far from  – this could be summarized in the same proportion that ‘keep it simple, stupid!’


The KISS element, is key to a successful solicitation

When the project was shortlisted a total new circus started. For one some~ you don’t get any feedback from the in the beginning round so you’re flying unenlightened. But the couple of months exhausted preparing for the interview was probably the best experience of ‘team’ I’ve had considering coming to NUI Galway. The Research Office was a appalling support and organised mock interviews that indeed focused my mind. There is one informal club of previous ERC awardees in NUI Galway who are hugely supportive and open-handed with their time. I met with Marie Lousie Coolahan (English), Eilionóir Flynn (Law), and Martin O’Halloran (Engineering), reaped ground of who had great advice around the interview process, what to calculate upon, and how to prepare. I participated in three cheat interviews, one organised with the IRC, common with Yellow research in Amsterdam, and individual with a core group of nation who either knew the ERC or my study area very well. This was plenteous different from other grants I’d applied on this account that. There was a genuine sense of the community thinking that these awards were bigger than the individual who admitted them, and important for the seminary of learning as a whole. A colleague who was antecedently knocked back at interview told me she felt it was in some degree because she wasn’t expert enough in successi~ some methodologies in the grant that she didn’t specialise in. I listened to this and in the same manner with a result spent time in the university’s paltry animal laboratory going through immune assays in sixtieth part of a degree detail. I also went to the US to devote a week doing a statistics route that was specific to my petition, funded by the research office.

One relative position of the interview was the preparedness of a talk. Money available from Enterprise Ireland to favor my application allowed me to employ a picturesque design expert. I worked with a visitor called Proviz on slides – this was an iterative process and was enormously benevolent in clarifying my message. The arise was like something out of a brochure! So when I walked in the home of Convent Garden I felt that I couldn’t be in possession of been better prepared. In fact, whereas the interview ended I was anxious because the interview was much easier than the mocks had been and I meditation the panel gave up too easily! In adding to the 15 people on the array, 8 subject experts had reviewed the shoot forward. It was a credit to the local team that bating their questions had been in this way manageable. Having worked previously in other universities, I entirely believe that the support available in NUI Galway surpassed anything I ability reasonably have expected somewhere else. NUI Galway is the Hogwarts of ERC applications (“prevent will always be given to those who ask”).

dumbledore on the quad 2

NUI Galway is the Hogwarts of ERC applications

A advantage friend, commenting on my ERC prosperity, reminded me that all success is alone failure deferred! What was a good fortune on this occasion was built attached a previous failure with my SFI program reference to practice, and no doubt other failures power of determination come; but it’s failure we learn from principally. The margins are small but material. With this in mind, I’d summarise my actual observation for anyone embarking on this trial as follows:

Start early. Novel ideas take time to grow, and even more time to portray comprehensibly (keep it simple, stupid…).

Above entirely choose a project you really omit to do some day. The suit would be too boring otherwise.

Believe in your cast and in yourself as a candidate. Hundreds of others have been prosperous, and who are you not to be brilliant!

Spend a lot of time getting to grips with what’s deviating about the ERC.

Get feedback up~ the body your application from as many population as possible.

Be the judge of the feedback you secure – some will be more inclined to aid others than others.

There is experience and generosity in NUIG – so use it!

Get a companionable set of slides. It’s self-same good for your confidence.

And in the long run, given that this is a health psychology blog, remember, if you carry into effect want to go for it, remember that half of the six successful ERC awards in this way far this year went to the genial scientists – the same as life philosophical knowledge and natural sciences combined. So spirit on, and good luck!

If he didn't, at that time what word did he really parsimonious to say? Santorum hates black the masses or wants them to be treated a single one differently anyone else, and to affirm that he does unfairly ascribes a mischievous intent to what he said.

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