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Has someone here an opinion or already experience (and recommendations) with online preparation courses for writing ERC grant proposals, or for other kinds of funding?

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Yes, but this is strongly dependent on the course. For example, will the teachers give you personalized feedback on your proposal, or is it simply a course that offers general guidelines and tips? Usually the "tips" type courses are helpful if you're a first-time grant applicant without a strong external network. However, if you have colleagues who have been awarded these grants or have served on review committees and are willing to look over your proposal, their feedback will be more valuable. Especially because they will be more similar to your actual reviewers (pressed for time, not in your field, etc.).

If it's a course that includes specific feedback on your proposal, or if it's a private grant preparation service, these can be more helpful because they are more tailored. I have some colleagues who run this kind of grant editing/grant preparation service, and they usually offer some statistics in their promotional materials. For example, of those whose grants went through this process, how many were funded? My colleagues' success rate is about 80% at the moment, so clearly these kinds of services can really improve your chances. However, they also require substantially more money that may not be reimbursable by your university.

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  • "My colleagues' success rate is about 80% at the moment, so clearly these kinds of services can really improve your chances." -- Correlation does not mean causation. Maybe those people who take those courses just generally take it more seriously. – user151413 Jun 29 at 21:21
  • 80% is incredibly high. An average ERC success rate is below 10%, and I recall some ultra-competitive calls where 2 grants were awarded out of like 1000+ submitted. – Dmitry Savostyanov Jun 29 at 21:38
  • @DmitrySavostyanov Indeed, rather unlikely an editing service or the like would raise this to 80%. – user151413 Jun 29 at 21:55
  • @user151413 Yes, these stats aren't for ERC grants, they're for typical US NSF funding so obviously the 80% figure isn't that relevant. My point was more that these personalized grant-editing services can substantially improve your hit rate. Whether that's from 10% -> 20% or 40%->80% or whatever. Whether that's worth it depends on the cost and what you think your grant writing skills are like to begin with. – roger-reject Jun 30 at 1:18
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I won an ERC-StG a few years ago. I worked very closely with the fundraisers at my university and found their (personalized) feedback extremely helpful. They had also managed to collect a good number of successful applications to use as references when creating my own application. Once I'd heard I got an interview, the university then sent me to a 2-day interview training course in the Netherlands (Yellow Research), which I found extremely useful. Not just for the advice they give, but because they put you in a room with 4-6 other hopeful interviewees with which to discuss and spar with.

Based on my experience, here's what I'd recommend:

  1. Work with the fundraisers at your institute. If they are not helpful, ask your institute to pay for outside help.
  2. Set aside at least 3 months full time to work on the proposal.
  3. Consider that some national funding agencies will offer smallish grants (something like €10k) to help support your salary while writing, or for training courses like I mentioned above.
  4. Find some reviewers that you trust to give you critical feedback. Some should be non-specialists in your field and very familiar with ERC grants, ideally by serving on a panel (most universities will have 1-2 current or former panel members in their faculty). Others should be specialists on your field, but not necessarily familiar with the ERC system. For this I used my collaborators.
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    "Set aside at least 3 months full time to work on the proposal." -- What??? This is completely unreasonable. – user151413 Jun 29 at 21:22
  • @user151413 it's reasonable if that grant will fund your lab for the next X years as starting grants can. It's basically front-loading your grant writing for the next few years. Also, even if the grant is rejected, it can serve as the basis for other grants, meaning that those 3 months will catalyze your grant-writing efforts for a while to come. – roger-reject Jun 30 at 1:24
  • I've heard several good things about Yellow Research. Thanks for the insight, although I too think that 3 months full time is unreasonable and I'm sure I don't need it since I already got all the literature work, preliminary data and a knowledge about the subject available. – DSVA Jun 30 at 2:03
  • @user151413 That's also what I thought when I was told this by our fundraisers. But what I learnt is that the standard of ERC-StG proposals is insanely high - everyone brings their A-game, and many applicants are tenured with large research groups and h-indices of >30 (I think mine at that time was ~9). Most of those 3 months (actually it was 2.5 months but I was very stressed at the end) were spent developing the idea and preparing the relevant arguments, figures and simulations. Had it not been successful I would have recycled the idea for national-level starting grants. – user2877148 Jun 30 at 7:47
  • @roger-reject I'm not necessarily saying that 3 months is unreasonable if you set it into scale (but then you must be quite certain that it will work!). I think it is unreasonable that you spend so much time on writing it. All people who I know & talked about this and who got it spent significantly less time on it. I don't think these things still get better after a certain point. (Of course, things might be different if you still need to do simulations etc., see the comment above.) – user151413 Jun 30 at 8:40
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A complementary perspective to the already good answers: Take into account how much time the course will take you, compared to how much time you spend in total on the proposal. So even if the benefit is not big, it might still be worth the time. And beyond some information, you might get to know people.

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