Grant Consultancy and Pre-Submission Proposal Review

For successful grant applications, it is essential to harmonize internal elements – such as your motivation, research focus, and questions – with external considerations, for example the funder’s intention and evaluation criteria. Through our expert support, informed by our experience as scientists and proposal reviewers assessing numerous grant applications, we will guide and empower you to melt these aspects into a unique, coherent, and persuasive grant application. We achieve this by meticulously evaluating the proposed research throughout various phases of proposal development, both prior to and during the writing process:

 Scientific grant consultancy of the project idea and fit to the call

At the initial stages, we analyze the strategic project orientation and clarity of the scientific idea. Among other aspects, we provide feedback on central aspects such as the compatibility of the aims & objectives with the funding program, overall risk positioning and scope of the proposed research. We may suggest major changes to the work plan. The focus is on the broader concepts, allowing you to mold the project after reviewing our suggestions.

You will get a commented version of your proposal or proposal idea together with an ample set of specific recommendations for how to develop the proposal. Further, we prepare a summary of main discussion points. In a follow-up meeting with you, we clarify any doubts or questions, and define next steps.

Proposal Review and Scientific Editing

For proposals at advanced draft stage, we work with you to make sure that the proposed research is presented in a persuasive and easy-to-follow way, targeted towards the specific audience. As scientific grant editors, we analyse and make specific suggestions with respect to the logical inner structure of the proposal, to convey consistent, accurate, and clear messages in all sections. We may also comment on the visual appearance of the proposal and provide tips for the optimal representation of your achievements and CV.

You will get a commented and edited version of your draft with recommendations for changes. Further, we suggest specific changes to improve internal structure, consistency and  adherence to evaluation criteria.  We are also available for follow-up calls to clarify any remaining doubts or questions.

Examples from our Daily Practice

ERC Grant Consultancy

The European Research Council (ERC) offers some of Europe’s most prestigious research grants, including single PI grants such as Starting (StG), Consolidator (CoG) and Advanced (AdG). The ERC awards excellent investigators  across all scientific and scholar disciplines. Successful grantees benefit from substantial support, enabling them to conduct ambitious, groundbreaking and feasible research projects for a duration of up to five years.

Over the years, we have developed an in-depth ERC consultancy program tailored for applicants. Within our comprehensive ERC proposal review process, we collaborate with you to develop, refine and structure your proposal. The primary goal is to meet the rigorous expectations of panel members and external evaluators. We help you communicate that this ERC proposal is your dream project with potential for scientific breakthrough, aligning with the ERC’s evaluation criteria, overarching aims, and the spirit of the call. As your ERC grant consultants, we analyze various critical aspects:

  • Does the proposed research address a clearly identified and important scientific challenge?

  • Is the envisioned solution to the challenge original, novel, “non-standard”, aligned with the expertise of the applicant?

  • What arguments have been put forth to support that the proposed research is ‘ERC-like’ and groundbreaking?

  • Are the objectives connected to the overall aim? Are they ambitious, and have clear starting and verifiable end points?

  • To what extent is the research methodology appropriate to reach the objectives?

  • How coherent and effective are the work plan and risk mitigation measures in order to achieve the project objectives?

  • To what extent is the project likely to create scientific impact, by opening new research avenues?

  • Does the proposal convincingly argue why the research is timely and should be financed at this moment?

  • Are the candidates’ CV and track-record presented in a compelling way?

  • Does the proposal follow a convincing logical structure and is the language simple and persuasive?

Horizon Europe: MSCA-DN Proposal Preparation

MSCA-Doctoral Networks (DNs) have the objective of promoting international, inter-sectoral and multi/inter-disciplinary collaboration in doctoral-level training in Europe. They aim to train creative, entrepreneurial, innovative and resilient doctoral candidates, able to face current and future challenges and to convert knowledge and ideas into products and services for economic and social benefit.

We review both content and structure of the draft in the Excellence, Impact, and Implementation sections, at different stages of the proposal preparation process. Among others, we assess:

  • The composition of the consortium, in light of the required intersectorial, interdisciplinary, international and innovative aspects of the research and training programme

  • The scientific need and description of the research program, how it addresses important societal challenges and is aligned with European policies

  • The innovative aspects of the training program, keeping mind that any DN should primarily ensure that the doctoral candidates receive top-level training, in both academic and transferable skills

  • The impact of the program on the individual, organizational and European level

  • The expected synergies between the different doctoral projects

  • The presentation of the project in the implementation section, such as network management organisation and recruitment procedure

  • The importance of transversal aspects, such as gender, diversity, environment and Green Deal

Support for Applications to National Funding Agencies

National funding keeps being fundamental for most research groups and institutions. We have ample experience from our work for clients in Germany, Spain, Norway, Belgium, Switzerland and other European countries. Depending on the scope and aims of the funding program, we will enter into an in-depth analysis of your proposal, giving feedback and making suggestions on aspects such as:

  • The adherence of the research program and the profile of the applicant(s) with respect to the call

  • The consortium composition and complementarity between participants

  • A clear definition of the motivation and addressed scientific and/or societal challenge

  • A convincing overall aim and the specific research objectives, which need to be in line with the scope of the funding call

  • Impact description for the scientific disciplines and beyond, as intended by the funder

  • The coherence of implementation of the project with respect to the proposed scientific approach

  • Work plan, feasibility, risk positioning, as well as the presentation of the team

Training for scientists

 !NEW! ERC and beyond: Incorporating AI tools to excel in grant preparation – with Stewe Bekk and Daniel Mertens

This innovative workshop empowers participants to effectively and ethically incorporate AI tools to improve the quality of competitive grant applications, using ERC applications as a prime example. Under the guidance of ERC experts Malte Beringer & Stewe Bekk and AI writing pioneer Daniel Mertens, participants will commence writing their ERC proposal supported through a blend of traditional workshop exercises and AI tools.

Scientific grant writing is undergoing a revolutionary change with the advent of AI tools, especially Large Language Models. However, many scientists are hesitant to incorporate them into their writing routine due to reasons such as lack of knowledge, perceived barriers, doubts about privacy,and ethical concerns.

In this course, participants work to convert their project ideas into a draft ERC application and learn how AI tools can support them throughout the grant preparation process. The topics and skills covered in the course will not only enhance their ability to prepare ERC proposals but also improve their capacity to secure competitive funding from any source.

  • Success in ERC Projects: Understand the set of qualities that make projects ERC-worthy.

  • AI tools for the Conceptual Phase of Project Design: Practise creativity mode

  • Project Timeliness: Articulate the project’s importance and urgency.

  • Breakthrough and Project Aim: Develop a clear, innovative project aim.

  • Developing Solid Objectives: Learn to define ambitious, specific, verifiable, feasible, and interconnected objectives that lay the roadmap to reach the overarching aim.

  • Assessing Feasibility and Risk: Weigh the role of preliminary results,  main risks, and their mitigation/contingency plans.

  • Evaluating Project Impact: Learn to differentiate between project output and impact, identifying fields that stand to gain in short, medium, and long-term.

  • Why me: Effectively transmit your unique suitability for this project

  • Structure and language: Optimise guidance of the reader and engage with your audience

  • AI tools for text generation: Opportunities, limitations and good scientific practice

Our learning approach combines input from us as experts trainers with practical work of the participants, ensuring an engaging and effective experience. After short input sessions for robust conceptual understanding, participants will directly apply the newly learned skills in individual and group exercises. We also include peer-to-peer feedback sessions for collective growth and expert-led group discussions to clear up doubts and facilitate learning.

ERC Preparatory Seminars – with Stewe Bekk

Preparing an ERC application requires a sound understanding of the call’s aim, as well as awareness of the ‘ingredients’ that should be included in the proposal. Evaluators are looking for unconventional projects with the potential to become a benchmark on a global scale.

Our ERC preparation consists of two distinctively focused and complementary seminars in which we discuss what the ERC is looking for — both in terms of the proposed research and in terms of the investigator’s profile — and how to prepare a competitive proposal. Our ERC training will:

  • Raise awareness about what it takes to develop an ERC project.

  • Help potential applicants decide whether and when to apply.

  • Give exclusive insights for developing the project idea and the proposal draft.

  • In the first session, we explain the focus, scope, and application procedure of the ERC calls. We provide insight into what the sole evaluation criterion, ‘Scientific Excellence,’ actually means in terms of project characteristics and the applicant profile.

  • The second session focuses on how to prepare a competitive proposal, sharing unique hands-on tips and best practices drawn from our extensive expertise as ERC grant consultants who have worked with many successful applicants. We also discuss common issues that frequently result in rejection.

Both sessions offer plenty of opportunities for applicants to ask questions related to the ERC call and preparation. The seminars have been attended by hundreds of participants from scientific institutions all over Europe.

For further support, many institutions choose to combine the ERC training course with individual sessions in which we analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates and their ideas.

ERC Interview Training – with Stewe Bekk

The key to a successful ERC interview is transmitting the proposed research in a compelling and convincing way in a very short time frame. Most researchers struggle with adapting the narrative to fit the audience (panel members), often focusing too much on technical details rather than “zooming out” and providing a broader context. Another typical mistake is to try summarising all aspects of the project, instead of identifying key messages.

We help applicants make the most of their opportunity and prepare a strategy for how to impress the reviewers, with the aim to sharpen the transmitted message, develop a clear storyline and prepare convincing answers to typical questions.

Our ERC Interview Training consists of three pillars:

  • Interview Preparation: In a preparative video and three individual sessions, we help you refine your presentation skills. We support you to balance technical depth and broader context, identify key messages, structure the presentation, and practice the Q&A.

  • Post-Submission Analysis: We can conduct a thorough evaluation of your proposal’s strengths and potential weaknesses and thereby prepare you to anticipate potential concerns about your project.

  • Figure and Slide Design: We optimize visual impact to arrive at a visually compelling representation of your research. We improve existing or create new figures, organize the scientific content, and choose appealing visuals.

General Grant Preparation Workshop “The Road to Competitive Funding”:
Getting Funding with Good Grant Writing – with Daniel Mertens

This participatory course is a practical introduction into the process of grant preparation. We analyse the different steps of proposal development and work on aspects that are essential in any grant application. Participants will work on their own project idea and share knowledge gained through their own applications. We will:

  • Practice the fundamentals of how to develop the scientific idea and a logical internal structure

  • Learn about funding opportunities and how to identify relevant ones

  • Analyse the funder’s intention and the scope of the call

  • Discuss challenges when preparing key sections, such as Impact or Risk & Contingencies

  • Learn the use of tools for efficient writing

  • Share examples and insights from the experiences of the participants

Graphic Design and Scientific Illustration

A clean and easy-to-follow visual information is crucial for an effective communication strategy in grant applications and grant interviews. We support scientists in optimising the visual representation of the project and scientific content. We create figures from scratch, or edit/improve existing ones, according to the indications and available material. We can also create graphical abstract or cover designs, and communication toolkits for scientific projects. We work to:

  • Create an organised and appealing overall layout with a logical flow of information, guiding the eye

  • Present an appropriate number and sizes of figure panels

  • Propose a consistent and efficient use of colours, font type, and font sizes

Grant Editing. YOUR EXTERNAL PRE-AWARD GRANTS OFFICE. Proposal development, scientific editing and consulting services in the life sciences