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Reaffirming the ERC’s commitment to scientific excellence

22 December 2022

Professor Maria Leptin, ERC President

The ERC is based on a simple idea. We support the best researchers to work in Europe on their best ideas. The sole criterion for selection is scientific excellence. This approach is critical to the success of the ERC and we have no intention of changing this principle. It has been our clear strategy ever since the day the ERC was launched 15 years ago.

Nonetheless, the Scientific Council of the ERC has always been prepared to adapt and update the ERC’s specific processes and procedures as necessary. The Scientific Council set up its own task force on research assessment in December 2021 under the chair of the ERC President. We have looked at various ideas for reforming research assessment and have considered the ERC’s own processes, forms and guidance as well as how we brief our panels.  We held an analytical workshop with representatives of early career researcher organisations, funder representatives and independent experts in June.

Based on this work, during its December plenary meeting the ERC Scientific Council decided on changes to the ERC’s application forms and evaluation procedures for the 2024 calls. The current CV and Track Record templates will be combined and simplified and applicants will be able to add short narrative descriptions to explain the information provided. Applicants will also be invited to explain career breaks or unconventional career paths and to describe exceptional contributions to the research community. The Scientific Council has furthermore decided to explicitly weigh the project proposal more than the past achievements of the applicant during the evaluation.

The ERC panels will continue to assess the research project and the applicant principal investigator. In order to assess the applicants the panels look at their research output and the recognition they have received from their peers. We believe that past achievements, even in the case of applicants for Starting Grants, are an important indicator of whether a researcher can carry out a demanding, five-year frontier research project.

However, we also know very well that researchers, particularly in academia, have lots of responsibilities beyond carrying out research. Much of this work, such as reviewing, taking part in evaluation panels and helping to develop the next generation of young researchers, is essential for the research enterprise but does not lead directly to outputs or recognition. The Scientific Council does not want applicants to feel penalised for spending time carrying out these essential contributions. We have therefore decided to let the applicants describe exceptional contributions to the research community they have made in order to allow the panels to take this into account when assessing their achievements. By ‘exceptional’ we mean those that go beyond the regular duties of a researcher, such as acting as peer reviewer for journals or supervising their own students.

These changes reaffirm the ERC’s commitment to scientific excellence and emphasise our longstanding belief that ideas and quality count for more than reputation and quantity. At the same time, these changes will allow our panels to take a more rounded view of the applicants to the ERC’s calls and to take into account better their career stage, career breaks and their other contributions to the research community.

Full details will be found in the ERC Work Programme 2024 and the associated guidance documents expected in July next year.