Interview with Professor Andrzej Jajszczyk about his new role as Vice-President of the ERC and his thoughts about the future of the ERC.
What motivated you to join the ERC’s Scientific Council?
When I was asked if I would be interested in joining the Scientific Council in 2017, I felt really honoured because I was aware of the ERC’s reputation for excellence. It also seemed like a logical next step for me. I had been working with researchers from different European countries through consortia under EU research and innovation funding programmes. I was the founding Director of the Polish National Science Centre (which was inspired by the ERC). I was also a member of the Board of Science Europe, so I had contacts with other research funding agencies.
What are your impressions so far of the ERC?
I am very proud to be involved with the ERC. I have been particularly impressed by the members of the Scientific Council.
There is an extremely high level of motivation and integrity, and a shared sense that we are working for the general wellbeing of European and global research, rather than defending particular scientific disciplines or interests. The ERC has developed effective procedures and is constantly refining its operations, but we are not trying to start a revolution every year. My aim is to preserve the quality of the ERC’s evaluation process and its reputation for excellence. But we also need to adapt to new circumstances, including the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. After holding meetings online and via video for most of 2020, it may be difficult for us to return to a system of fully “physical” selection panel meetings, taking into account health but also climate considerations.
There is an extremely high level of motivation and integrity, and a shared sense that we are working for the general wellbeing of European and global research, rather than defending particular scientific disciplines or interests.
Is the ERC elitist?
In some ways, elitism is built into research. In all domains of science and scholarship, only a few researchers achieve the highest levels of excellence. Our mission is to fund excellent research, and we need to maintain this clarity of purpose. But it is vital that we avoid the ERC being perceived as a “closed club”. That is why, for example, in our evaluations, we make sure that the panel members and reviewers include top researchers who have not received an ERC grant. We need to find smart ways of opening the ERC to newcomers, while maintaining high levels of excellence. We need to find smart ways of opening the ERC to newcomers, while maintaining high levels of excellence.
You are taking over as chair of the Scientific Council’s “Widening” Working Group. What do you hope to achieve in this role?
We would like to encourage excellent researchers to apply and to support them in the process. The ERC is taking action to identify and tackle potential barriers. Our communication activities aim to explain the ERC’s application and evaluation process. Next year we are going to start a new mentoring initiative that will allow researchers from countries which are under-represented as hosts of ERC funded researchers (we call these “widening” countries) to meet with successful applicants, selection panel members and other experts who can give them some hints about how to prepare a proposal. One of the barriers I see in the countries that most recently joined the EU is low mobility of researchers. This can be mitigated by supporting opportunities to spend some time outside their own labs. Widening means we would like to encourage applications from excellent researchers in less represented countries, but it does not imply special treatment. My advice is to be bold, to study the ERC’s requirements carefully, to make use of the support available (from the ERCs network of National Contact Points, ERC grantees etc.) and to work hard on the quality of your application, given the high levels of competition.
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