At the first Marie Curie Alumni Association General Assembly, we met Maria Bostenaru Dan and Lidia Galabova. They are two of the many Fellows having benefitted from an Intra-European Fellowship for Career Development (IEF), and for very different projects. Bostenaru Dan worked on the project “Preservation of historic reinforced concrete structures across Europe” in Italy, whereas Galabova dedicated her Marie Curie Project in Scotland to the relationship between intellectual capital, work and well-being and how this impacts on the performance of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). They shared their experience and advice with us.

Maria Bostenaru Dan Lidia Galabova

What is an Intra-European Fellowship for career development? The Marie Curie Actions Intra-European Fellowships (IEFs) are open to experienced researchers of any nationality, who have at least four years of full-time post graduate research experience or a Ph.D. The aim is to support researchers in attaining and/or establishing themselves in a leading independent position, for example principal investigator, professor or other in education or business. The action may also assist researchers wishing to resume a career in research after a break.

The project must be submitted by an experienced researcher in liaison with a host organisation, represented by the scientist in charge. Usually, the project must be carried out on the premises of this host organisation, in an EU or Associated country other than the researcher’s country of origin.

Projects are classified into the following areas: Chemistry, Economic Sciences, Information Science and Engineering, Environment and Geosciences, Life Sciences, Mathematics, Physics, Social Sciences and Humanities, plus a Career Restart Panel.

An IEF should be based on training activities (aiming at a career advancement objective) and outreach activities (dissemination initiatives).

A Grant for mid-career researchers and young researchers alike. Originally from Bulgaria, Lidia Galabova was a few years into her career when she decided to apply for an IEF “I was a mid-career researcher and worked at that time as an assistant professor. It was two years after my Ph.D.” Maria Bostenaru Dan, a researcher from Romania, decided to apply for the grant at an early stage of her career “I had my four years research experience in October 2003. And I applied in February 2004, so I was just eligible, as I had been 30 years old for one month!”.

Keep contact with the EURAXESS Network of your country! Before applying, Galabova attended numerous activities promoting Marie Curie Actions in Bulgaria, organised by the Bulgarian EURAXESS network and National Contact Points. Participating helped her to familiarise herself with the opportunities offered by a Marie Curie Grant “In my country, there have been a lot of activities promoting Marie Curie Actions, so I was aware of this Fellowship”.

Dedicate a great part of your time to identifying your host organisation! Finding the right host organisation is one of the most important aspects of an IEF. Galabova and Bostenaru Dan both stressed the fact that having an international network is crucial and it is therefore important to travel and to establish as many contacts as possible during international events and conferences. Both met the right person at the right time: “I was recommended by one of my Italian contacts working in the United Kingdom for my IEF in Italy!” says Bostenaru Dan. Galabova, on the other hand “was doing a post-doc in Finland through a scholarship established within the framework of a bilateral agreement between the Finnish and the Bulgarian governments. I had been doing my post-doc for 3 months and I met a professor from UK holding a background in sociology and after discussing mutual research interests she agreed to become my scientist in charge.

Anticipate and prepare your application carefully online! Bostenaru Dan highlighted the efficiency of preparing the application on the Internet “Applying for this grant was very easy on the Internet”. Nevertheless, time remains an important factor. Galabova explained that the application and the preparation of all the required documents were a real challenge. “We decided to apply for this Action in June and the deadline was on 18 August. My host institution and my scientist in charge told me that I didn’t have a high chance of receiving the grant, but I tried. I had a lot of support from the host institute and from colleagues as well. This helps a lot. And I had a lot of enthusiasm too, but I’ll remember this summer for the rest of my life!

Organise your work according to the duration of your project! During her Marie Curie project, Bostenaru Dan had the opportunity to travel a lot and to present her research results during several conferences. She stressed nevertheless the importance, for a researcher, of keeping an appropriate balance between conference papers and publications “What is better? Attending conferences and travelling, or writing papers for journals and sitting at home, it is something to reflected on.” Galabova divided her two year project according to different activities. She dedicated her first year to learning and training “I needed to develop more skills in academic writing in English and to improve my knowledge in policy analysis. I was assigned the tasks of managing the project and coordinating it, so I arranged all the meetings. This helped me to develop my leadership skills.

Apply for a visa in your host country enough time in advance! When Bosteranu Dan started to work on her Marie Curie project in Italy, Romania wasn’t part of the European Union. Obtaining a visa was difficult for her and she decided to go to Germany and to ask her professor for support. “I went to my professor in Germany and said that my IEF would be a good opportunity for my doctorate, and then I applied for an Italian visa directly from the consulate of Germany.” Galabova had to start her project later than foreseen because of her work permit “In the UK, you need a permit if you come from Bulgaria or Romania. It took for me three months to get a work permit and I consequently started my project three months later”.

Shape your project according to your area of research and EU priorities! Bostenaru Dan said that she was lucky to be funded as she was quite young when she applied. She advises researchers who would be interested to apply for this type of grant to stress the high quality of their project “Nowadays, as the level of competition is higher, so is the quality of funded projects”. Galabova stresses the importance of finding a project that might be supported by a host supervisor and by the European Commission “A researcher should try to find the crossing point between his or her own research interest, the host institution and the host supervisor in charge, and the EU’s scientific research priorities”.