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Didem Gurdur Broo

This week was crazy! My proposal for Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, Individual Fellowship (MSCA-IF), apparently, scored 96/100! 

I will not say that I was not expecting to get a good score. I aimed to get more than 90 and knew from the earlier years that probably I need 92. I read everything I can find and did everything I can do before submitting this proposal. I am so happy and proud!

So after the University of Cambridge, I will go to Stanford University and start to work on my own project. To be honest, I could have not plan a future career any better than this. I am sure when I read this article in the future, I will probably find my excitement funny but now, the idea of me convincing the European Commission to give me the taxpayers money to conduct research on my own idea is just mind-blowing.

A year before submitting this proposal, I drafted another proposal of the same idea for Knut and Alice Wallenberg (KAW) Foundation Fellowship Program. I was still writing my PhD thesis, did not have a lot of time to prepare it but their call and evaluation criteria was very vague. At that time, I was a little bit lost and did not really understand what they were looking for. I still do not know it anyways but yeah I tried. At the end of that process, I did not get any feedback. They just informed me that they have chosen other candidate(s). It is a private foundation and the call is only for Sweden so I was not surprised. It is aways competitive to get grants. But, I was a bit shocked to learn that this was all I would get. You would know from my earlier posts, I am a brave soul who dares to take a step away from my comfort zone. Yet, I am quite sensitive also, I take things really seriously. As a new PhD who was writing her first proposal, I basically felt that I am putting my heart out there. Even though I knew that there was a really slim chance to get the funding, I was at least expecting to know the reason why my proposal was not selected. They crushed my heart man! They crushed it! And it was somehow a good thing. I just didn’t know it that time. So this is the first lesson: when we think that it is kinda end of the world, we should take a deep breath and stop being drama queen. Your sorrow can turn to be a good thing 🙂 If I got that grant, I would not apply for Cambridge. And I would have been so sorry about missing this chance. I love being in Cambridge. This place is not something that one can pass. I will always remember being in the University of Cambridge. Always! But probably never remember that first proposal that didn’t get any feedback.

At that time, I was questioning everything and no one was having the answers. I asked questions to several people with a hope to find some answers. Everyone was more like, yeah they are a private foundation, they can choose whatever they want to, there is not really well-defined criteria. I even heard that people call these kinds of fundings as black holes. You throw the proposal to that hole and never get anything back or know where they end.

I am smiling now but I was not happy at that time. I was full of questions: Was it me? Was it my idea? Was it the institution that I have chosen? This is the lesson number two: never apply to any call that does not promise to give you a feedback or explanation. I mean, it sounds so basic, right? But it is not. There are thousands of this kind of grants that you basically get a big fat no and no reasoning. They are not entitled to give any explanation about their decisions and you are just in the dark blaming yourself of not being enough good. I can assure you, it is not an easy thing after this experience to put yourself together, trust your idea, be confident and decide to go even bigger. 

The things we do for science! 

9,870 people applied for MSCA-IF this year. If the KAW fellowship was competitive, I don’t know what MSCA-IF is. But you know what, MSCA-IF is gold! There is so much documentation to guide you to write a good proposal, that you would not believe. They know what they want, they tell you what it is and they tell you how it will be evaluated. 

Yes, it was scary. Yes, it was even bigger. Yes, you compete with the world. Yes, it is hard work. But I knew that they will check my proposal according to well-defined evaluation criteria, employ knowledgable reviewers to follow these criteria and be sure that it was a fair yet fierce competition. And that was what I could ever ask for anyways. You know, none of us want to have anything that we do not deserve. Isn’t it?

When I was preparing my proposal, I was lucky to find documentation, guidelines, and blog posts that helped me to put together a good proposal. I read all of them, took notes, etc. I am very grateful for this support. Some of the documentation that I have found was quite dated and MCSA does some changes every year. So it is important to produce new resources every year to help the new applicants. And this is the lesson number three: we grow together, we learn from each other and noone does anything alone. (Oh if you didn’t yet, you should read Outliers from Malcolm Gladwell) Therefore, I would like to do what my fellow MSCA Alumni did. I will share some resources and provide some tips about my experience.

I aim to do that in the coming months because the deadline for this year is September 2020. I am sure there are some candidates that are like me and already started to read about the details. If I am not fast enough and you couldn’t find what you were looking for, do not hesitate to contact me.

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