Last month, I gave a webinar on how to apply for a Marie Skłodowska Curie Action – Individual Fellowship (MSCA-IF). The webinar was organized by EURAXESS-Brazil and tailored for Brazilian researchers. After the webinar, I received many questions about my application.

Here, I answer a few questions that maybe relevant for a wider audience and include tips for those starting to write a MSCA-IF proposal. As I just began implementing my research, I cannot yet share my proposal with the community.

  • Finding your resources

Writing a successful MSCA-IF proposal is not easy. But it is doable. In 2018, nearly 10 000 researchers applied, only 10% got awarded with a fellowship. Like myself, the successful applicants probably benefited from the help of their peers or obtained professional assistance from their institutions. I think it is difficult to succeed without some ‘insider knowledge’ of supervisors who contributed to MSCA-IF or ERC research in the past or of research professionals who regularly apply for European funds. In my personal case, I also benefited from the feedback on a rejected proposal in 2017. Here, I compare what was “almost enough” with what was “good enough”. And here I describe (in Portuguese) in more detail format and content of the successful proposal.

  • Knowing your chances

In this link you can see the total number of proposals submitted, the cut off score for funding  and the percentage of approved proposals by area of ​​knowledge (year 2018).

  • Identifying your National Contact Points (NCPs)

In my case, the NCP in Spain provided valuable background information. National contact points can also provide useful information about the suitability of host institutions. Contact details of all NCPs across Europe can be found here. You can select the country of your host institution in “Select Country” and “Marie Skłodowska Curie” under the menu “Function”.

  • What nobody asked and was really important

How did I approach the writing? At the time I started to write my MSCA-IF application, I had a 4 years-old daughter and just moved to a new country. We had to find an apartment, school, arrange permits, visa, etc. and my husband was working full time in his new job. These were extremely busy times. How did I manage?

The family agreed on a time schedule. I wrote most of the proposal early in the morning, before everyone was awake. My husband took over house-work and child care on the weekends. I had a few weekends on my own at home (without Internet), these were the most productive days. Towards the end of the writing, my supervisor and I had daily rounds of revisions. These rounds were decisive: they speeded up the writing and gave me a sense that we were getting close to the final result.

A few months after I submitted the proposal, I read “First you write a sentence. The Elements of Reading, Writing… and Life” from Joe Moran. In his book, Moran gives advices on how to write but emphasises his book is not a “styles guide”. He condenses his advice in “Twenty Sentences on Sentences”. Four I liked most:

  • Learn to love the full stop, and think of it as the goal towards which your words adamantly move – because a good sentence, like a good life, needs a good death.
  • Vary the length of your sentences, and your words will be filled with life and music”.
  • Shorten your paragraphs: white spaces between sentences never fail to be welcoming.”
  •  “A sentence is a gift from writer to reader, one that should never have been bought – with boredom, confusion, the duty to admire the giver, or anything else.”

And here are a few “lessons” I took from his book:

  • “Using mostly short words in a sentence has a happy side effect: a richer pattern of sounds.”
  • “When the vowel sounds vary and there are lots of stresses syllables, each word seems distinct from its neighbours. Every word counts.”
  • “… fewer writers notice a bigger problem: repeated sounds.”
  • “Writing drifts into obscurity when it overuses a certain kind of abstract noun: a nominalization”.

I hope these tips help and inspire anyone planning to write a MSCA-IF application.

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