Silvia Puddu and Nikolaj Nielsen are two of the many fellows who have benefited from the Initial Training Network (ITN) Marie Curie Actions. They are still working on their projects and agreed to share their experiences with us.
The Marie Curie Action ITNs are open to researchers in the first five years of their career. Project proposals may take one of three forms:
- Multi-Partner ITNs
- European Industrial Doctorates (EID)
- Innovative Doctoral programmes (IDP)
Funding covers transnational networking, involvement of private commercial entities, and research in interdisciplinary and new, supra-disciplinary fields. Researchers from any science or humanities research field may apply for ITN funding.
Universities: sources of information and contacts. As an ITN is open to researchers in the first five years of their career, applicants are often still studying. This was the case for Silvia Puddu, who applied at the beginning of her PhD. Nikolaj Nielsen was finishing his master's degree and had been working as a research assistant for three months when put himself forward. Both originally heard about the Marie Curie opportunities, and the ITNs in particular, from their universities. Nielsen was lucky to be in the right place at the right time - his supervisor was setting up an ITN linking several EU universities and invited him to join. Immediately interested, Nielsen wrote to professors within the network in Germany, France and the UK and was rewarded with a fellowship in Münster, Germany.
ITNs grow your network! Each ITN must have partners from at least three different EU Member States or associated countries. Above this minimum, third countries (countries that are neither EU members nor have an association agreement for the EU's research programme) and international organisations may also participate. Puddu was able to gather her partners with a little help from her master's thesis supervisor, and considers the transnational aspect of the ITNs a very effective way to expand a network.
Get organised before applying! Applying for an ITN requires some time and some sense of personal organisation. Nielsen advises his peers to start collecting the necessary documents and papers in good time - preparing an ITN application can take one month according to Puddu. He also recommends launching collaboration between partners early and to have a precise description of all of them written down. It is also important to consider practical aspects at an early stage, such as looking for an apartment in your chosen country. Indeed, this was an area in which Puddu had difficulties when she moved to Switzerland for her fellowship.
Diversity in projects. ITNs enable young, motivated and talented researchers to shape their projects. Puddu has always been interested in detector technology and works with gas detectors, using them for neutron detection and radioactive waste characterisation. That's why she was attracted to a project on the applications of particle detectors conceived for high energy physics, for dosimetry in accelerators environments and medical physics. Chemist Nielsen is investigating the hypothesis that ion channels and transporters play a prominent role in pancreatic stellate cell (PSC) function. He believes identifying possible therapeutic targets could further understanding of the mutual interplay between PSC and cancer cells and more efficient cancer therapy.
No financial stress. Both young researchers are satisfied with the financial support received through their ITN. Nielsen's needs were covered, as were Puddu's - even if she has spent a lot on equipment and training and it is therefore sometimes difficult to cover all costs with the grants.
A career boost! Both Puddu and Nielsen consider they have increased their international network; they now have contacts from universities as well as from industry and are confident they have expanded their career opportunities. Puddu is currently in the second year of her project, while Nikolaj Nielsen is half way through his three-year fellowship.