The Co-funding of Regional, National, and International Programmes (COFUND) is considered the most well-known Marie Curie Actions, according the Fellows who contributed to this article. Despite the fact that the application might be complex, all of our eight Fellows, Martha Escárcega (Mexico) Gemma Giménez (Spain), Carrie Griffin (Ireland), Alessandro Jedolwski (Italy), Michael Kirkedal (Denmark) Jodi Schneider (United States), Emil Thybring (Denmark) and Chiara* recognise that COFUND changed or is changing their career.
What are COFUNDs? COFUNDs are open to public or private bodies responsible for funding and managing fellowships or research training programmes. They may be:
- research academies or agencies,
- international organisations,
- other similar bodies with a public mission, such as universities.
They aim to help regional, national or international fellowship programmes in order to increase the transnational mobility of experienced researchers, and improve their working and employment conditions. It is a mono-beneficiary action.
Researchers are able to choose the research topic, destination, research group or supervisor for their fellowship.
If you want to benefit from COFUND, keep a close eye on your network. In most cases, our Fellows heard about COFUND thanks to friends or colleagues – this was the case for Schneider and Jedolwski. Kirkedal was introduced to COFUND by a research collaborator. Chiara’s colleagues suggested she submit an application to a scheme, whereas Griffin heard about the scheme through her national funding agency. Other Fellows, like Escárcega, attended conferences where they picked up information on COFUND.
Apply for COFUND after a Ph.D or post-doc. Some of our Fellows (Chiara, Schneider, Thybring and Jedolwski) applied for a Co-funding action after a Ph.D. Kirkedal was particularly glad to receive this grant through the Bremen TRAC scheme, just one year after his Ph.D. This enabled him to further his research in computer science, develop scalabling methods for describing reversible logic, and formulating the foundations of the reversible circuit model “I had different teaching positions at my old university, but no open possibilities for longer contracts. This support gave me the opportunity to try something new and to get back to doing more research”. Giménez and Escárcega were doing their post-doc when they were awarded funding. So did Griffin, who was finishing work on a book, an edition of the Middle English Wise Book of Philosophy and Astronomy.
Contact people you dream of working with. Chiara received funding through the CARA COFUND scheme run by the Irish Research Council to study coverage of the Civil war and Francoism in the Spanish media since 2007. Having to conduct research in Barcelona, Madrid, as well as in Zaragoza, she identified a pool of leading cultural historians whose work she admired. She then short-listed two professors to mentor her. Giménez received funding under the Beatriu de Pinós Programme, from the Commission for Universities and Research of the Ministry of Innovation, Universities and Enterprise of the Autonomous Government of Catalonia, for research on microalgae at the Cawthron Institute in New Zealand. She contacted her future supervisor to propose collaboration and was thrilled by her enthusiasm. Griffin was funded by the IRCHSS CARA to investigate the impact of the first printing presses in England, and the ways in which texts were read, received, understood and organised. From this research she then created a monograph for publication She also contacted her future mentor – “because of her expertise and her extremely impressive publication record, particularly around materiality, manuscripts and early printed books. As well as the transmission and reception of texts in the later medieval and early modern period”.
Be open to new collaborations. Escárcega was happy to be contacted in advance about establishing an academia-industry Joint Venture. She was funded under the TECNIOSPRING Programme to conduct research on a technology that develops materials based on carbon nanotubes interconnected in a neural network fashion in polymer matrices. For Thybring, it was also very simple “My current Professor was in the process of gathering one of the best research groups within my field and wanted me on board.” Thanks to this new collaboration, he received funding to study the nano-scale and how chemical modifications change the way wood interacts with water. Funded through the ERCIM Alain Bensoussan Fellowship Programme, Schneider is working on social platforms such as Wikipedia to establish how well-maintained content and controversial content are both characterised by frequent editing. The objective is to understand what kind of content is controversial. She was recommended by her advisor to work with a team in France. For Jedolwski, collaboration started as follows: “A colleague from a Belgian university with whom I had worked on a number of other research projects put me in touch with the research group based at the University of Liege.” He was then funded by the BeIPD COFUND programme to work on a comparative analysis between Nigeria and two other growing sub-Saharan African cinema and television industries, in Ethiopia and the Cote d’Ivoire.
Prepare your application carefully. Schneider and Kirkedal regard their application process as straightforward because they could reuse some existing material (CV, biography, sample research papers, etc.). To Jedolwski, time was an important factor “It was hard to find the time to carefully fill in the application while working as a lecturer. Since application writing is highly time-consuming, it is hard to combine it with other work activities, and this can have an impact on the chances of the application being successful”. The rest of our Fellows concede that the application process was lengthy, especially because of the required coordination between the applicant and the home university and host university. Griffin emphasises, “As well as managing the bureaucratic side of things, the applicant must pay attention to the intellectual content of and the structure and organisation of the research proposal”. To Chiara “the most time-consuming issue was the selection of viable Home and Host Mentors. It is often the case that leading researchers find it difficult to take on extra work.” For our eight Fellows, it took between 2 weeks and 4 – 5 months to prepare the COFUND application.
Work individually or with a group. Because of their project, Kirkedal, Griffin and Jedolwski have had to conduct research individually. But it can be a good opportunity to be active in different ways, as Griffin emphasises “I also felt a strong responsibility to disseminate my findings as regularly as I could. I spoke at several international conferences. I stayed in touch with colleagues and made new connections. I also attended Marie Curie events in Dublin to meet with academics, administrators and fellow researchers, I published work as I continued to research for and write my monograph. I had to remain organised and focused.” To be able to participate in groups, Chiara drafted monthly research plans as well as activity plans. Schneider wrote a training programme at the beginning of her fellowship and arranged several meetings to discuss collective projects with her colleagues.
A position in a foreign country can sometimes be unclear. An unclear job description caused Giménez some difficulties, as she explains: “I was working at Cawthron, but I was not hired by them, as I was paid from overseas. I was a long-term visitor and they had no previous experience in this situation, so it was a challenge concerning basic administrative issues.” Chiara echoes: “Third level institutions in countries like Spain (and Italy) are often unfamiliar with the notion of a 'visiting researcher', so it is rather difficult to arrange for desk space, library privileges, an e-mail address, and to have our status recognised at faculty and departmental level.” Other Fellows stress the difficulty of integrating in a different environment – Kirkedal says: “Understanding a new university environment has, so far, been the largest obstacle.” Coming from the United States and needing a visa, Schneider highlights that dealing with an administration in a foreign language can be stressful. Nevertheless, the EURAXESS office at the host institution can be a source of useful information, as well as the host mentors.
Be prepared to cover any extra costs. Griffin, Escárcega and Jedolwski say that their funding covers all their needs. To Chiara, Kirkedal and Giménez, extra costs have included travel to conferences, research related activities and open access publishing costs. Chiara adds: “I was unable to travel to three important conferences (in the US, South Africa and Australia respectively) due to the fact that I did not have enough money for the flights and hotel accommodation.” Schneider points out that visas are not covered and mentions that she encountered difficulties in terms of housing “We also didn't anticipate how expensive the area is, and how difficult it is to find suitable housing on a one-year contract.”
An impact on you and your career. All of our eight Fellows agree that COFUND changed or will change their career. In the words of Giménez: “COFUND has boosted my career by providing me with international experience, new and interesting contacts, my two years of work have increased my publications in number and quality, and they will boost my career by giving me the opportunity to go back to my country with the experience and knowledge I’ve gathered overseas with a more competitive curriculum.” To Griffin, her experience thanks to COFUND had professional benefits but she also became “aware of the changing nature of research structures across Europe and of the necessity for collaboration and communication between scholars internationally”.
*This Fellow wishes to provide her testimonial under this name.