If you want to have a good shot at the MC Fellowships you need a strong CV, a strong project and credible host insitution/supervisors.
However, it is not enough, and a good “technical” preparation of the proposal goes a long way. When I was checking online for tips coming from previous MC winners, I was lucky enough to land on a webpage (I could not find it later on, probably it was brought down) that was basically reporting the “reviewer’s sheet”, the paper that reviewers had to fill out when judging the proposal. Every question was very specific and it was a repetition of the sub-paragraphs (almost) explicitly requested in the proposal, but in question form. For instance, “has the applicant clearly explained the potential for collaboration between the two institutions?” or “is the potential for the advancement of European scientific research clear?”. I decided to maintain all the sub-paragraph explicitly requested in the proposal and to add in bold the questions (with no bullets or numbers) I found on the “reviewer’s sheet”, but in positive form, that is
Benefit gained from undertaking the project at European Research Area (ERA) level
Scientific, technological, socio-economic rationale for carrying out further research in the field
Contribution of training provided to diversifying/broadening the competencies of the researcher, and how this will influence the researcher's career development
So, I explicitly stated and explicitly answered.
This helped me prepare a tight and concise proposal where I carefully explained each and every topic of interest for the reviewers. And in case of the repetitions in multiple sections of the same concepts, I simply did not care and carried on.
It was particularly challenging to prepare the “Implementation” section, in which I was meant to describe facilities and structures of the two institutions (UCSC and Polytechnic of Milan), language support, childcare, lodging, transportations, clearly topics I knew very little about. In addition, I never worked at the Polytechnic of Milan, so who knows about transportation and all the rest.
What I did was reading very carefully the websites of the to institutions, where a wealth of information (otherwise skipped) was provided. Language courses, number of apartments/houses available for faculties or research scholars, childcare facilities, everything.
Or how to write the section “Benefit of the mobility to the European Research Area”? Good question. In that case I stressed that Italy, my country of birth and residency and my return country for the reintegration phase of the MC, has been one of the founding members of the European Union and thus “I feel the need to give my contribution to ERA excellence and to Europe to fulfilling its research and innovation potential. I will bring back to the ERA newly acquired skills, knowledge and perspectives and I will transfer them through teaching, great scientific research and communication events and projects.” Maybe slightly off-topic, but quite moving nonetheless.
Last, editing. I do not know how many mistakes I made. Everything all right, do not panic, after reading so many times the same material it is very easy to (subconsciously) skip whole sections and thus missing weird mistakes that are definitely making an impression on reviewers of sloppy preparation. I remember that IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) became in my proposal the International Project on Climate Change and the Center for Stock Assessment Research (CSTAR) became the Center for Stock Analysis and Recruitment (weird, isn’it?). And I did not even catch them, my colleagues did. So, ask for help, reach out. Offer money, chat time when they break up with the girlfriend/boyfriend, eternal gratitude (does not work that well), dietary advice, share life experiences to create a stronger bond, some insights on the role of Bismarck in the Franco-Prussian war (maybe it works), roof repair, plumbing work, whatever, but ask for help. Ask for 3 hours of reading. And I am not talking about the research part, that should be set well in advance, but just looking for unclear sentences, typos, bad references, formatting, all the stuff that we don’t think it is absolutely essential, but in reality is. Because you can never make a second first impression and sloppiness is not something conducive to a good first impression.
And put in the proposal at least a figure explaining one critical part of the proposal and a GANTT. They help a lot.
PS, I now offer consultations for Marie Curie IF proposals.