ERC scheme panel and keyword selection

Choosing the right panel for your ERC application



Researchers applying to any of the ERC single-PI grants need to present groundbreaking ideas that push the boundaries of knowledge. However, one important aspect often overlooked in this process is to select the optimal evaluation panel. In this article, we discuss the significance of panel choice and provide a strategic guide to aid applicants in this critical decision.

Understanding the Importance of Panel Choice:

The ERC operates on a bottom-up approach, inviting proposals across the entire spectrum of scientific knowledge and scholarly research without setting thematic priorities. This freedom allows applicants to explore any topic. To ensure thorough assessment of these proposals, the ERC operates with a finite number – currently 28 – of evaluation panels, each dedicated to a distinct scientific area. Choosing the right panel is crucial, as it dictates the scientific expertise of the reviewers who will assess the application. Consequently, it is key for applicants to tailor the content of their proposal, including scientific challenges, methodology, and scientific impact to match the preferences and expertise of the chosen panel. Similarly, adapting the presentation style, such as terminology and technical language, is also essential in this regards.

When selecting a panel, it is also important to know that while the popularity of panels may fluctuate, success rates across panels remain largely equal. Therefore, we advise that panel choice should be guided by the relevance of the scientific content of your proposal and your research background, as further explained below, rather than opting for a panel perceived as ‘less challenging’.

Navigating Panel Dynamics:

The ERC panels play a fundamental role in the evaluation process, determining which applications receive funding. Each panel belongs to one of three main domains – Life Sciences, Social Sciences & Humanities, and Physical Sciences & Engineering – and comprises between 11-18 esteemed scientists and scholars who act as reviewers in both steps of the evaluation process. At step one, 3-5 panel members review each application, with 4-8 external experts joining in the second evaluation step. Panel members remain anonymous until after call results are announced. However, since they serve every two years and participate in up to four calls, applicants can guess who might evaluate their proposals by looking at past panel compositions. Analysing the scientific profiles of past members is therefore a key preparative step, since it not only aids in selecting the most suitable panel but also in refining your proposal to match the expertise of the evaluators.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Strategic Panel and Keyword Selection:

Strategic panel and keyword selection is vital to target your ERC proposal to evaluators with relevant expertise for your proposed research. Consider these key questions:

  • Which panel is best suited to appreciate the innovation and originality of your work?
  • Are the panel members likely to relate to the significance and broader implications of your research?
  • Does your methodology advance beyond the standard within the chosen panel’s domain?
  • How will your previous accomplishments be viewed by the panel?

To navigate these considerations, follow these steps:

  1. Panel and Keyword Discovery: Start by exploring available panels in the ERC Work Programme or the Guide for Applicants. This will help you understand the range of expertise covered by each panel. Each panel is further divided into descriptors, commonly referred to as keywords, and applicants must select between one and four keywords that best represent the scientific content of their proposal, with the first keyword being from the primary panel. Additional keywords may be selected from other panels*.
  2. Past Panel Member Analysis: From your panels of interest, investigate the composition from previous years, as published on the ERC website, taking into account that members serve every two years for up to four rounds (eight years). For example, if applying for the PE2 panel of the 2024 AdG call, examine the PE2 panel members from  2022, 2020, and possibly even the 2018 calls to identify potential evaluators. This historical perspective helps predict who is likely to be on your target panel this year.
  3. Evaluator recognition and Expertise: Investigate the background of the potential panel members to gauge their familiarity with your research area and their understanding of specialised terminology. Consider how they may perceive your CV and track record. Assess if a single panel can fully comprehend your project or if a cross-panel option is necessary to cover interdisciplinary aspects*.
  4. Previously Funded ERC projects: Also investigate what kind of projects have been funded by the panels in the past, available on the ERC website, to provide clues about the panel’s thematic preferences and trends.
  5. Keyword Connection and Selection: Strategically select the keywords for your application. Each panel member is typically associated with 1-3 keywords within a panel. Although direct correlations between panel members and keywords are confidential, by examining panel members’ CVs and scientific expertise you can infer which keywords they are likely associated with. Often, it is advisable to opt for 1-2 highly targeted keywords rather than spreading your focus across four less specific ones. A strategic choice ensures your proposal is directed towards the most relevant evaluators.

* For highly interdisciplinary proposals, identifying the most appropriate panel and keywords and can be particularly challenging. Consider the “cross-panel” option where you select keywords from two panels for comprehensive evaluation. Look out for our upcoming article on navigating “cross-panel” applications for multi- and interdisciplinary projects.


Selecting the right panel for your ERC application is more than just a procedural step – it is a strategic decision that can greatly influence how your proposal is evaluated. By carefully analysing the panel’s composition, choosing relevant keywords, and tailoring your proposal to match the panel’s preferences and the expertise of its members, you can significantly improve your chances of effectively communicating your research. Therefore, it is important to choose the panel before you start writing. By taking these factors into consideration, you can enhance your chances of securing ERC funding for your research.

Authored collaboratively by Malte Beringer and Stewe Bekk, this publication is the third in our series on effective strategies for ERC grant preparation.

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