Love Letters from Marie Curie

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It’s That Time of The Year again. Talented* junior researchers all over Europe and the world receive that magical email containing the promise of joy and a better life: They get notified of having successfully gained a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship, arguably one of the best things that can happen to a postdoc in Europe. For those who do not know why, a few key characteristics :

  • In comparison to other postdoctoral study grants and contracts in most EU countries, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellwoships offer a very generous grant amount covering both living allowance and research/mobility costs. How much is this exactly?  The per-month base rate (which is adjusted based on the country you are moving to and can get a family allowance add-on, possibly preventing you from costing you your firstborn) for the current period covers 4,650 living allowance (taxable), 500 mobility allowance, 800 research/training/networking costs, and 650 management/indirect costs.
  • An employment contract is arranged for the postdoc so that the benefits of a regular contract (in contrast to a stipend) can be enjoyed – think very essential aspects like social security, which is all too often not a given for PhD students or postdocs, but also little things like canteen discounts.
  • The grant provides academic freedom for the postdocs, who are able to work on their own projects (together with their hosts and within the boundaries of what they wrote in their grants, of course).

Last year, on February 4th, 2015, Christina and I were among the lucky ones. We were indeed close to star-struck. We informed every single person in the lab that happened to cross our way. When there was nobody crossing our way anymore, we entered poor busy people’s offices just to share our happy news (including accidentally interrupting one of our lab’s PIs while she was giving a TV interview). We popped a bottle of champagne (each). We danced in the hallway (interrupting the same poor PI again, who was just acting a scene where she was walking down the hallway to her office).

Except that, in order to reach that stage, we had to decode the meaning of the unapologetically bureaucratic notification email. This email that we had waited for and dreaded since half a year and that would essentially determine the nature of the next few years of our future. The love or rejection letter from Marie Curie.

I got mine first. The header said: NEW TASK: Your EU proposal ABC; invitation to grant preparation phase. Ah! Marie! NEW TASK?!?! What did that mean? Yes? No? In essence, I think that Marie’s email was a test of each recipient’s optimism and confidence. I am a very optimistic and confident person. “New task” and “invitation” suggested to me that I was still in the game, and she even went so far to say Congratulations in the email body. Not too passionately, and returning to practical issues very quickly, but still. After all she was a busy woman, despite the fact that her husband found time for love and family during his short scientific career.

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I ran into Christina’s office to break the news. Christina hadn’t gotten any email yet. I lingered in her office for several minutes, trying to not look too happy, while Christina talked to me, trying to not look too nervous. Until her Inbox showed a new message: NEW TASK: (…) I jumped up and shouted out of joy. Christina sat down and turned silent out of shock. “I didn’t get the grant.” – “You didn’t??” – “No. Look.” I looked and saw: NEW TASK: Your EU proposal XYZ; invitation to grant preparation phase. “But of course you got it! I got the same email!” – “But it actually says nowhere that we got it!” For a few minutes, it seemed to me she got a point there, and we hurriedly both followed the instructions in our email, logging into the equally obscure and bureaucratic online platform, and trying to figure out whether we were in or out. Well, we were in. But I agree with Christina that in case you are not overly optimistic this email would seem rather subtle.

Marie, she noticed that. This year, for the lucky ones, the header said: Your EU proposal 123; evaluation results and start of grant preparation.

 

*and certainly lucky

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