Whenever you take the step to start preparing an ERC application, surely you have already collected a lot of information on how to write a successful proposal from various sources. However, we have recently heard new interesting takes on how to conceptualise your ideas and your writing process from ERC awardee Prof. Karim Lekadir at a webinar organised by Spanish ERC NCPs. 

Prof. Lekadir shared a tip for the conceptualisation of the project idea he received from a three-time ERC grantee: “Start with something impossible; If it’s impossible, it’s ERC material. Then take that ERC project idea and get it down to the real world, make it less impossible, until you reach the idea for a ‘frontier’ project.” Lekadir’s ‘frontier’ project, “Inclusive Artificial Intelligence for Accessible Medical Imaging Across Resource-Limited Settings (AIMIX)” was recently awarded a Consolidator grant. During the lifetime of the project his team will develop an AI that can provide insight on how to improve the development of accessible health solutions in depressed populational environments, such as those in Africa. 

Once your ‘frontier’ idea for your project takes shape, you need to communicate it clearly and enthusiastically to your review panel. To do this, you can structure your proposal to achieve the following:

  1. Intrigue: Spark the reviewer’s curiosity by describing and motivating your big scientific question in a way that pulls them into your story.
  2. Inspire: Explain how solving this big challenge will impact your field, adjacent fields, and science as a whole. What impact could it have 20 years from now? What new methodology will you use to overcome this challenge? Will this methodology be applicable to other fields of science as well?
  3. Convince: Include preliminary results that serve as proof of concept. This will help the reviewer understand that your project is feasible. Although the ERC targets high-risk, high-gain projects, it’s important to provide a solid foundations for your project.

Keep these ideas in mind when writing your proposal, especially B1. Once you have written specific sections of the proposal get your colleagues to read them and have their feedback. External opinions will help you understand the clarity of your message and the points and ideas that need further development. This is the recipe for a bulletproof project.