EU success for research centre

The Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities has been extremely successful with their EU applications. We asked centre director Matthias Kaiser to reveal the secret of their success.

Matthias Kaiser
A LUXURY PROBLEM: The Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities receive more invitations to participate in projects than the centre can handle, says SVT’s director, Professor Matthias Kaiser.
Jens Helleland Ådnanes, University of Bergen

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At present the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities (SVT) has five projects supported by the EU. A remarkable number considering that the centre only employs eight full time staff. In doing so, the centre showcases the broad research base and the focus on interdisciplinary research at the University of Bergen (UiB).

“We receive more invitations to participate in projects than we can handle,” says SVT’s director, Professor Matthias Kaiser. “Sometimes we must simply say no. We are not enough staff and there simply isn’t enough time to participate in all the interesting projects we are presented with. But this is really a luxury problem, which shows the good reputation the centre has acquired internationally.”

Finger on the pulse

Being recognised internationally is one of the key ingredients for the centre’s European success. The centre has its finger on the pulse and picks up trend early when it comes to what is hot or not at the moment.

“Many of us at SVT have been active in evaluating other researcher’s applications, which has taught us a little about what it takes to succeed,” Kaiser explains.

SVT’s research profile is among the broadest at UiB and the centre in particular is concerned with the crossroads where society and science meet. Another of the centre’s strengths is the staff’s broad knowledge in various fields of research.

“Many applicants limit themselves to a narrow field of research, whereas we are actively looking for opportunities within the broad Horizon 2020 (H2020) support system. Starting from this point we consider what subjects, networks and what else have you that is available in our toolbox.”

Kaiser points out that every application for funding needs to be planned carefully.

“We always think long-term: what are we competent in and what network do we have available to put together a competitive proposal? Preparation and collaboration are two our key words. Occasionally we have rushed head and shoulders into a project, but this isn’t always as successful,” suggests Kaiser.

Reasons for sharing

The researchers are, however, not the only key to the centre’s success. At SVT the administrative staff plays an equally important part when it comes to the very practical work of setting up budgets and timetables for proposed projects.

“This is true teamwork,” says Kaiser enthusiastically before adding, “the fact that we work together on the applications strengthens the whole team.”

Sharing and caring are other key words for the work at SVT, with the researchers collaborating closely on proposals and there is a culture of constructive criticism and feedback.

“I believe that without a good working environment, it is hard applying for funding – be it from the EU or from other sources. We work systematically to include everyone, although it is not always easy to get everybody on the same page,” he says.

EU-funding creates stimulus

For a small environment such as SVT is the participation in major framework programmes like the EU’s H2020 of extra importance. As there are no bachelor or master’s students at the centre and only eight regular staff, participation in these programmes creates stimulus at the centre.

“Without these external impulses we would run the danger of becoming dinosaurs. Getting funding means that we can recruit researchers and postdoctoral fellows. This constant flow of people gives us input and research partners. We become part of something greater than ourselves and we reap the benefits through access to great intellectual resources from all over Europe,” says Kaiser.

The SVT director believes more research environments in Bergen and Norway need to get serious with their H2020 applications. He suggests that it is a myth that securing funding from the European Research Council is too much paperwork.

“It takes no longer to apply for an EU grant than it does to apply for one to the Research Council of Norway. Also, if you are creative and a good listener, the opportunities are bigger in Europe. Horizon 2020’s goal is to solve the great social challenges, which creates a great opening for research in social sciences and the humanities,” says Matthias Kaiser, adding that the H2020 focus on the great social challenges ties in neatly with the University of Bergen’s strategy for 2016-2022.