Positive Results in the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme
“In the past eleven months we were able to increase our numbers even more”
The EU’s Seventh Framework Programme came to an end in 2013. The results for the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht were impressive. In the last eleven months alone the EU granted the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht (HZG) ten projects to coordinate or in which to cooperate. All European Union projects at the HZG are fostered and supervised in the application and contract negotiation phases by Dr. Hans-Jörg Isemer, Director of European and International Projects. We spoke to him on this topic.
How many projects has the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht successfully acquired during the Seventh Framework Programme?
During the entire funding period, we acquired forty-five projects, which translates to roughly one every two months. In the past eleven months we were able to increase our numbers even more and were granted ten projects in this timeframe alone.
That sounds like an impressive result. How did that happen?
Success in applying for EU projects can be due to several factors. For example, it depends on what topics are being advertised and funded. In the last year the calls have fit very nicely with our areas of research and the HZG has participated with targeted proposals. I also specifically solicited applications toward the end of the Seventh Framework Programme by saying: “This is the last year you can apply for the projects under the current terms.” We have several HZG scientists who can put together very strong proposals and we did in fact have many applications that met with a higher than average success rate.
How would one precisely describe your role as Director of European and International Projects?
Dr. Hans-Jörg Isemer, Director of European and International Projects. Photo: HZG/Vanessa Barth
It is my main objective to assist those applying for European and international projects until those projects begin. I initially filter the important information about the application process for the HZG and then forward that targeted information within the centre. I look at what would be interesting for a certain research area, an institute or department, sometimes even for individual scientists.
I share this information via different email lists and I also administer a section of the intranet site where users can access links and locate important information as well as details on presentations. If something really strikes me, then I speak to people personally: “Hey, that sounds like something for you.” I help the scientists as they write the proposals and take, for example, completing the administrative part of the application off their hands. Contract negotiation and execution later falls under my supervision.
Isn’t it difficult to decide what information is relevant for the scientists and what information is less so?
Yes, that is a critical part of my work. If I make my filter too narrow, then something interesting for the HZG might fall through the cracks, and if I make it too wide, then this can easily result in a flood of unwanted information going to the scientists. My aim is one where the scientists feel my efforts provide them with a useful service and that I am relieving them of some of the work.
How do you achieve that?
I read through the HZG’s research programs and, if necessary, talk to individuals in the respective departments. Based on that research, I customize my filter. I even assist in some projects all the way through to completion. Then I’m able to see with my own eyes how the project is carried out in “real” life. My assistant Silke Köppen supports me tremendously in doing so. Without her efforts, which are mostly invisible to outsiders, particularly managing the intranet and internet for example, my section couldn’t carry out the work necessary for the centre.
In your view, what is special about taking part in an EU-project?
Almost all EU projects are cooperation projects in which the HZG works together with other institutes in Europe or beyond. We thus use our expertise to answer questions posed within an international context. In most cases this is very fruitful for all participants as they become familiar with new techniques and, of course, with new partners with whom they can carry out further projects, either bilaterally or within a consortium.
Because all proposals for EU projects are intensively evaluated by international experts, we consider EU-funded projects as an international seal of approval for HZG’s expertise. Then of course there is also the cultural and – if you will – interpersonal enrichment when our scientists move into Europe’s international arena and beyond. I have always felt personally enriched in many respects when working on EU projects and with other international consortia.
How much time should the participants budget?
That’s difficult to answer with a single number. It is necessary to ascertain whether you will take on role of coordinator or of one of the partners. Generally, we’re talking about consortia consisting of ten to fifteen partners. The HZG, however, coordinates one project with twenty-nine institutions and we participate in projects with up to fifty partners.
Getting the entire consortium into place is very time-consuming. They say the coordinating institute can invest roughly up to several months of staff hours for preparing the proposal alone. As a project partner, the workload for preparing the proposal is generally between a few hours to a few work days. In the latter case it is then essentially about describing the respective work package and coming to an agreement with the coordinator. In a number of cases, however, the workload can be considerably higher.
What is your assessment of the competition for EU Projects?
The competition is extremely fierce. The average EU-wide success rate for the FRP 7 was roughly fifteen percent. That means that from one hundred submitted proposals, only around fifteen were successful and funded. There is only a ten percent success rate for particular EU programs. The HZG’s success rate is about thirty percent in the FRP 7, above the European average; I get the impression that the HZG is actually quite happy with that result.
Horizon 2020 is the new EU program that will replace the FRP. How do you plan to attract the scientists’ interest in Horizon 2020?
I gave special presentations at the various HZG institutes. In addition, I have invited the Helmholtz Office in Brüssel and external consultants, who are well-informed on the EU application process, for informational events. I have intentionally increased the number of informational emails in the second half of 2013 and during the beginning of this year.
But the same idea applies here: I don’t want to flood the scientists with information or even scare them away. Some things, especially administrative matters, I only explain in detailed individual conversations during the proposal preparation phase. At the start of May, HZG had submitted roughly twenty-five proposals to Horizon 2020, which I consider strong participation. We’ll see if we can follow up with the success of FRP 7.
This interview was conducted by Vanessa Barth