Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships
The Marie Skłodowska-Curie program, funded by the European Union, has allocated over one billion euros to support more than 10,000 researchers across all scientific disciplines in the E.U. and partner countries. The program includes multiple grants, including travel grants to support exchange between researchers from different countries, funding for educational programs such as joint research training and doctoral programs in the “innovative training network,” and scientific and educational events that aim to bring research closer to the public. The most widely known grant is the “Individual Fellowship,” which provides a full-time salary, as well as travel and family expenses, for two to three years to “experienced researchers” holding a doctoral degree or at least four years of full-time research experience. These competitive fellowships aim to help recipients get back into a research career after a break or return to Europe after a stay in a non-E.U. country. The fellowships, which support work in all disciplines, are provided to a “host organization” generally in a different country than the one in which the candidate worked previously. Host organizations are mostly in the E.U. (“European fellowships”), but a smaller part of the global funding is also attributed to non-E.U. host organizations (“Global fellowships”). Providing full funding over multiple years to early-career researchers, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship offers an attractive funding opportunity for researchers in the social sciences, who often struggle getting a permanent job after completing a PhD.
The application consists of a 10-page research proposal, written in collaboration with a supervisor from the host organization, and the applicant’s CV. The research proposal consists of three parts, reflecting the official admission criteria: “Excellence” (quality, novelty, supervision of the host organization), “Impact” (career prospects of the researcher, dissemination of results), and “Implementation” (coherence of the work plan, management, institutional environment). Early career scholars are sometimes hesitant to engage in the uncertain application process due to the competitive nature of the fellowships, and while some international universities offer institutional support for the application, many do not.
The SASE Newsletter has collected testimonies from successful applicants in different stages of their projects, asking their advice on the experience of applying to and earning a Marie Curie Individual Fellowship in social sciences:
- Chiara Destri started her Marie Curie Individual Fellowship at Sciences Po in 2019. Her project, “Voting Citizens and the Ethics of Democracy,” follows a one-year post-doctoral fellowship at the European University Institute, funded by the Max Weber program, and a PhD in political science (specializing in political theory) from the University of Milan.
- Kjolv Egeland is a post-doctoral fellow, currently funded by a Marie Curie Individual Fellowship, at CERI, Sciences Po in Paris, working on a project titled “Strategic Narratives and the Global Nuclear Order” (2019-2021). He received a PhD from Wadham College, University of Oxford, in 2018 in the area of nuclear security studies.
- Bernhard Forchtner is an Associate Professor at the University of Leicester. He was a Marie Curie fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, Humboldt University of Berlin, from 2013 to 2015, conducting a research project titled “Appropriating the ‘Legitimate’: Far-right Discourses on Ecology.” He holds a PhD in sociology and linguistics from the University of Leicester (2011).
When did you decide to apply for a Marie Curie Individual Fellowship? What led you to apply?
Chiara: I decided five months prior to the official deadline and one year after completing my PhD. Since I expected to fail on the first round, I wanted to have as many tries as possible. At the same time, I waited one year after my PhD because I didn’t have a strong project at the beginning. My first post-doctoral fellowship helped me to understand my research question better… I think the best opportunity that a Marie Curie affords you is to pick you own topic and choose the people you will work with… A true exchange with the host institution is key. If you think there is a team you would really love to work with, then a Marie Curie is an excellent way to do it.
Kjolv: I actually was not aware of the fellowship until my current supervisor suggested I apply.
Bernhard: I applied in 2012, during a one-year post-doctoral fellowship at the Humboldt-University of Berlin, and started my Marie Curie fellowship in 2013. The professor I was working with in Berlin, and with whom I still publish, Professor Klaus Eder, encouraged me to apply. A close friend had also applied successfully and was very helpful. Without this support, I might not have applied, though the very generous and prestigious nature of the fellowship was, ultimately, motivation enough.
What resources helped you to succeed in the application process? What difficulties did you encounter?
Chiara: I spent my first post-doctoral year as a Max Weber fellow at the EUI. There were classes on project writing and a very good team of people tasked with helping you improve your scientific writing. Furthermore, my proposal would not have been the same if not for the contribution of my supervisor, who was kind and committed enough to read all of the Excellence section and give me great feedback. I would also suggest preparing a first draft of the application way in advance, so that other people can review it. In my case, both Sciences Po administrative staff and other scholars read my proposal before submission. The most difficult part is to identify the right institution and the right supervisor for your project. The second difficulty is to engage the supervisor with your project, and in that there is a little bit of luck involved.
Kjolv: I was invited to a “Marie Curie Meetup” in Paris a few months before the application deadline. The organizers of the Meetup explained how the application process worked and gave us a few tips. That helped a lot. After that, I also received a lot of help developing my research proposal from my now-supervisor and advisors at Sciences Po.
Bernhard: I had no institutional support, but I had successfully applied for PhD programs and, thus, had an idea of what to expect. Without this experience, and support from others, it could have been difficult to think appropriately about aspects beyond the scholarly—though in an academic career, one must learn how to write grant proposals and applications at some point anyway!
Could you briefly describe the research project you pursued during the fellowship and the partner universities?
Chiara: The research project I will be pursuing in the coming two years at Sciences Po and under the supervision of Professor Annabelle Lever is called VoiCED (Voting Citizens and the Ethics of Democracy). It is a project in normative democratic theory and its aim is to provide a diversified theory of political obligation for citizens, political parties, and elected representatives, by taking into account how these political actors relate to one another. The Cevipof (Center of political research) fits nicely with the project because of its focus on electoral studies and voting behavior. Professor Lever has written extensively on the ethics of voting and democracy.
Kjolv: My project explores the formation and projection of the politico-cultural narratives that help to constitute the “global nuclear order.” I investigate the emergence, projection, and contestation of what I call the “strategic narrative” of nuclear order in Europe. This narrative emerged in the 1960s as the ideological foundation of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, displacing alternative visions of nuclear politics such as comprehensive disarmament and a supranational European nuclear community. Navigating between the alleged extremes of immediate abolition and unrestrained proliferation, policy elites in Europe and North America converged on the goal of freezing nuclear politics in its current form. For the narrators of nuclear order—influential policymakers and defense intellectuals—the primary task of any diplomatic process should be to avert disruptive changes and secure stability through managerial control. To that end, they promoted the ideas that nuclear weapons are indispensable for the maintenance of peace, that extended nuclear deterrence provides a bulwark against proliferation, and that nuclear risks are controllable. This narrative has since been solidified through official government communication and incorporation into high-school textbooks, policy discourse, print and broadcast media, and other cultural products. Since the end of the Cold War, however, the narrative of nuclear order has collided with attempts at developing an image of Europe as a human-security oriented normative power. More recently, the prevailing narrative is under pressure both by norm entrepreneurs and technological developments that challenge the sustainability of deterrence.
Bernhard: My project (“Far-Right Eco”) explored environmental communication by far-right actors in Europe. At the moment, this topic—especially regarding climate change—is quite present in the public sphere, but it was less central at the time. We tend to associate environmental concern with the political left, although the connection between “the people” and “the land” is important to far-right thought. Indeed, far-right concerns over the environment have both a long history and roots in far-right ideology. My project explored why such environmental concerns for “the homeland,” the local and particular, does not always translate into concerns over global anthropogenic climate change. While not all far-right actors are climate-change skeptics, many are, especially when compared to the European mainstream. Climate policies are often associated with an agenda of “the liberal/cosmopolitan elite” who don’t understand “the little guy,” and far-right groups are thus opposed. At times, far-right actors simply reject the thesis of anthropogenic climate change and/or climate-change policies because the topic is perceived as “left-wing.” The Humboldt-University of Berlin provided a very good environment in which to explore this topic, as my mentor, Professor Klaus Eder, has long worked on environmental issues and the question of identity.
How did you organize your work? How much time do you spend in home and partner countries for example? How much time is dedicated to teaching versus research? Or fieldwork versus writing?
Chiara: I am still flexible concerning the organization of my work, as I just arrived at Sciences Po. Ideally, I think it is important to spend time at the host university, especially if one wants to teach and to establish fruitful collaborations with other scholars. For the time being, I am focused on research and article writing, but I hope I will manage to teach during my second year. Another important part of the Marie Curie is the dissemination and public communication side of the project, so quite some time and effort go into setting up a website, sending papers out for conferences, and organizing workshops.
Kjolv: I’ll be doing archival work in Brussels, and there’s travel for conferences and workshops, but most of my time will be spent doing research in Paris. My team at Sciences Po (“Nuclear Knowledges”) is great, so I’m keen to maximize my time in Paris. I’ll be doing a bit of teaching next semester.
Bernhard: Although I also did interviews with experts and far-right individuals, I spent most of my time analyzing sources and doing archival research in Berlin. One of the mistakes I made was to spend a bit too much time collecting data. We have all experienced this: delving into a topic, dealing with sources, one wants to know and collect more and more and more. However, I probably should have started to write articles earlier. I also taught a few courses, which took time, but as universities are increasingly concerned with the quality of teaching (and rightly so), this was time well-spent.
How did this period help you as a researcher in the next steps of your career?
Bernhard: Without this opportunity, I would have not been where I am now. The resources provided by the Marie Curie fellowship have enabled me to research and publish in the area and have consequently helped me to get a job. Since the beginning of 2016, I have worked at the University of Leicester and have just been promoted to Associate Professor. I have just published an edited volume titled The Far Right and the Environment and, as I type these words, return from an exciting conference on “Political Ecologies of the Far Right,” where I was invited to give a keynote. All of this would not have been possible without the Marie Curie fellowship.
Do you have any advice for other young scholar attempting to get a Marie Curie fellowship?
Chiara: Identify a research question that is timely and compelling. Single out an institution that fits with the project and a supervisor who is internationally renowned for her or his work on the topic. The perfect balance is rare, but I think one should take into account the following things: (1) the appropriate fit between the supervisor, the institution, and your project; (2) the supervisor’s availability and whether (s)he shows interest in the project and gives you feedback; (3) the international reputation of the supervisor and the host institution; (4) the distinctive contribution that you could provide to the institution; (5) the terms of employment that the host institution can offer you (office space, facilities, research funds, etc.). Once you have settled on a project and on a partner university, write a first draft in advance and share it with as many people as you can find, giving you time to review all the comments. Then fingers crossed and good luck!
Kjolv: Take the “Impact” and administrative parts of the application seriously.
Bernhard: Just try it and have all the complexity of your project present in the proposal—while being aware that the main objective and its significance have to be made clear in the first few lines and should be featured throughout the application. This is, of course, true for all applications, but it is something junior scholars, who have often devoted a long period to one project, might not consider enough. I did not, and I thus benefited very much from sharing the proposal with senior colleagues. It is your proposal—but without support and discussions with others, it is unlikely to fly.
Article and interviews by Valerie Arnhold