Behind the curtains (or how I got the project). Part I: the application.
I like the idea of starting the NEWS section of RAINDROPS' s webpage with something that it is not technically a new story. But I believe every story has a prequel and this is the story of how I got this ERC Starting Grant.
I had briefly considered applying to the 2016 call (the one previous to that which got me the project) and desisted almost immediately as I had no time to fully develop an idea that would have take me down a path that was quite tangential to my actual research. To be totally honest with you I still think that was a great idea and I might pursue it in the future (but that's behind the point here). To make a long story short, I had to apply to the 2017. I guess many of the readers would be familiar with the situation: contract about to run out, last year I could apply for the grant, the realisation that it would have meant a lot for me and many of the people I work with, etc. But what really tipped the balance was getting the right idea. For the first time I thought that the project I had in mind was not only good, but potentially life-changing.
So there I go: download all the guidelines and the forms from the ERC website, set up the account on the participant portal, talk to the research service of my chosen host institutions, download hundreds of papers on the subject and start developing the idea. I won't spend much on the writing process. There is plenty of tips on the net on how to write a proposal, what ERC wants, what is a good idea and a successful way of presenting it. For all of you who are ever thinking of applying my only tip is: get a lot of help. Talk to as many people as possible about your idea since the very beginning. Schedule meeting with your mentor, ambush your colleagues at coffee breaks, annoy your office mates with unexpected random questions, even get your friends who are not from academia to listen to you. And this is not really to get their opinion, though ultimately that helps as well. The real value in this is that the more you talk about it the more your idea becomes real, takes shape, gets refined in your mind. And the sharper the idea in your mind, the more efficient you get at writing it.
The writing process is as stressful as it can get. Obviously it depends on your personality but if you are a bit of a perfectionist and generally get to submit 30 seconds before the deadline, well...expect some good amount of stress. I reckon I spent about 3 months working on it though only about one month full-time. I had the first draft checked by several people but then restricted the circle and in the end I only had two people looking (at least 3 times each) at the very last version of it. They know who they are and they know how thankful I am to them.
Anyway, that's it. The deadline comes and goes. You have submitted something that you think it's good and that you also hate a little bit (maybe hate is a big word, maybe just something you cannot read one more time). Next comes the waiting for the first stage result. But that's for the next post.