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Planting seeds of future EU projects coordinators 

During the last month 12 postdocs, researchers and associate professors of the Department of Earth Science have registered as «experts» to evaluate EU project proposals. This is the result of a longterm strategy to increase the number and the quality of project proposals submitted to the European Commission’s frame programs. Thus, evaluating proposal is the best training course a researcher will ever receive on writing successful proposals. 

The flag of the European Union

European funding opportunities are very often perceived by researchers as very time consuming and with low success rates. This is only partially true. If we analyse the statistics we can see that more than half of the submitted EU project proposal (53% in 2015) fell below the quality threshold and are immediately rejected. The true success rate, then, if we consider only the high-quality proposals scoring above the threshold is much higher. In 2015 this was 22.8% for the industrial leadership and societal challenges pillars of Horizon 2020, and up to 33.7% for the European Research Council. 

The success rates presented here show that scientists with excellent ideas and competitive proposals have a fair chance of receiving funding from Horizon 2020. Newcomers to Horizon 2020 must learn the rules, procedures and, most importantly, the evaluation process. The best way to learn the evaluation process is to evaluate Horizon 2020 proposals. This is why at the department of Earth science, together with the division of research administration, we motivate young scientists to register as experts in the European Commission’s database. They are our future project coordinators and they need to learn how to write successful proposals. We want to build a new culture at our department where the evaluation of project proposals is a regular task of a researcher’s activities, as it is today for the peer review of scientific manuscripts. 

To register as an expert is very easy. They need to log in or create an account in the EU participant portal and complete or update their “expert profile" accessing “My Expert Area”. It takes few minutes to complete the profile and it can be updated at any time. 

Once registered, researchers may be selected by the European Commission to assist with the evaluation of proposals. There is a continuous request for new evaluators with different profiles (age, gender, background, etc) but only individuals that demonstrate to have high-level of expertise in relevant fields will be contacted; It is just a matter of highlighting your strong points. It is therefore important to accurately complete and update the expert profile. Kristof Vlaeminck, the head of UiB’s Brussels office will gladly assist researchers to choose the appropriate keywords to improve your profile and make it more visible. 

Appointed evaluators usually evaluate 1-3 project proposals (may differ between programs) in about ten days. The entire evaluation process is performed online and new evaluators are continuously assisted by senior evaluators who also double check the quality of their job. If selected to evaluate a project proposal but the timing is not ideal at that moment, it is always possible to decline the offer. 

Through the evaluator experience the individual gains insight in Horizon 2020 and the evaluation process. They will be presented with the frontline research and research groups from all of Europe within their field of expertise. Moreover, through the interaction with the other experts, they will have an opportunity to strengthen and expand their science network in a European context. But, most importantly, reading several project proposals will allow researchers to understand what makes a good proposal better and why a bad proposal fails to meet the expectations. They will not only benefit from the best and fastest training course in writing competitive proposals to H2020 but the insight acquired can also be applied to other national and international funding programs. Finally, yet importantly, the evaluation job is well paid. So, do not hesitate and become an expert!