"Supporting top researchers from anywhere in the world" is the slogan adopted by the ERC (European Research Council). In ten years, ERC grants have become an unquestionable label of scientific excellence. Researchers from the Institut Pasteur are among the recipients, having been awarded 47 grants for their talent since 2007. We take a look at this system that has won the recognition of the entire scientific community.
"10 years of success, 10 years of serving excellence in science in Europe" says Prof. Matthias Kleiner in an ERC video made to mark its tenth anniversary. Prof. Kleiner is a member of the ERC Scientific Council and President of the Leibniz Association, which brings together research institutes in Germany.
What is the ERC?
The ERC (European Research Council) has now become a label of excellence in European research. Its role is twofold, attracting the best international researchers in Europe and, even more importantly, improving European scientific competitiveness. The ERC works towards "strengthening excellence, passion and creativity in European research," explained David Itier, the Institut Pasteur's European Affairs Coordinator. Launched on February 27, 2007, the ERC has a budget of €13.1b for the period between 2014 and 2020 – a sum that amply reflects its importance in terms of research support.
ERC grants usually comprise up to €3m over a five-year period. An ERC statement in December 2016 affirmed that "to date, the ERC has funded almost 7,000 top researchers at various stages of their careers and supported more than 40,000 team members". In addition, "its support has been acknowledged in nearly 100,000 articles published in scientific journals of international repute".
France among the leaders
In 2016 France was the third highest recipient of such research funding, behind the United Kingdom and Germany. The ERC offers four types of grant, with the sole selection criterion being scientific excellence.
- Two types of individual grant are aimed at young scientists in two categories:
- Starting Grants, for early-career scientists with 2 to 7 years' postdoctoral experience who show strong potential in their field of research;
- Consolidator Grants, for accomplished scientists with 7 to 12 years' postdoctoral experience, with the aim of giving new impetus to projects with strong potential.
N.B.: the period of postdoctoral experience taken into account can be extended in some cases: maternity leave, long-term illness, etc.
- Other individual grants are aimed at established scientists: these are Advanced Grants, for outstanding research leaders with a recognized record of research achievements and more than 12 years' postdoctoral experience.
- Proof of Concept Grants are aimed at existing ERC grant holders, to bring their research ideas closer to market.
- Synergy Grants are for funding small groups of European scientists.
The ERC also encourages scientific employment by enabling grant holders to recruit their research teams and offer doctoral grants, thus playing a part in training a new generation of outstanding scientists. This mission is encapsulated in the ERC slogan – "supporting top researchers from anywhere in the world".
47 grants for the Institut Pasteur
The Institut Pasteur has received a total of 47 grants, of all types, since 2007. "Results obviously vary from one year to the next, but our overall success reflects the Institut Pasteur's scientific excellence," explained David Itier. "In 2015, when the Institut Pasteur created a number of young teams [G5s, or Five-Year Groups], we obtained four ERC Starting Grants." These Five-Year Groups at the Institut Pasteur have been highly successful in providing opportunities for young, talented scientists to form their own, five-year teams and work independently on their projects. "The grant is allocated to a specific individual; in other words, a grant holder who leaves his or her research institute retains the grant in question. The Institut Pasteur welcomed two ERC grant holders in 2016, in addition to the four grant holders already on board."