Have you considered spending some time abroad, doing research in another European country? Alie Kwint explains the EC's Marie Curie Mobility Programmes, offering practical hints and useful background information.

There are 12 types of Marie Curie actions under Framework Programme 6 (FP6), and these are divided into four groups that are aimed at individuals who are at different stages of their academic career. The first article in our short series--Marie Curie Fellowships in Profile--deals with host-driven fellowships, primarily those directed at Early Stage Researchers (see Box).

Europe wants to be the world's most competitive, knowledge-driven economy by 2010. To achieve this objective, Europe needs to have well-trained, skilled, and highly motivated researchers. The European Commission therefore provides broad support for 'the development of abundant and dynamic world-class human resources in the European research system'. This support will largely be implemented through the Marie Curie actions.

Host-driven fellowships

Host-driven fellowships are initiated by host organisations, such as universities, research centres, businesses, and international organisations. A proposal for a research project, in any scientific area, is formulated by one or more host organisations. The major part of this research project is to be carried out by one or more fellows. In the project proposal submitted to the EC, the host or hosts indicate which part of the research is to be carried out by fellows, in other words where the 'vacancies' for fellows lie. If the proposal is selected, the host receives funding to recruit and pay the fellows' salaries and part of the project costs. The host must advertise the vacancies widely, for example through their Web site, scientific magazines, university networks, etc. The European Commission also advertises the vacancies on their Web site. Fellows who are interested in a Marie Curie fellowship vacancy apply directly to the host institute.

Four Types

There are four types of fellowships within the category of host-driven actions. First are the Research Training Networks. A network of host organisations writes and submits a research proposal that will be carried out in collaboration among the network members. If funded, the partners in the network may recruit early stage and/or postdoc fellows. Second are the host fellowships for Early Stage Training. These are basically the same, but now the project is written and submitted by a single host or a small group of so-called 'interrelated teams'. Third are the host fellowships for the Transfer of Knowledge. These are aimed at transferring knowledge to organisations that need to develop new knowledge (for a major part in the less-favoured regions of Europe) and to transfer knowledge from industry to academia and vice versa. Fourth are the Conferences and Training Courses. Strictly speaking, these are not fellowships. Nevertheless, they offer interesting training opportunities for young researchers. Organisations organise conferences or training courses and receive EU-funding to cover travel and subsistence costs of conference attendees.

Host organisations must be active in research or research training and can be universities, research centres, commercial enterprises (from a one-person company to a multinational), or international organisations (such as EMBO or CERN). For the host-driven actions, only hosts located in the European Member States and Associated States may submit proposals and receive funding. There are a few exceptions to this rule; for the minute details please refer to the Workprogramme for the Human Resources and Mobility programme and to the Rules of Participation.

All researchers have an idea of who and what a fellow is. However, when talking about the Marie Curie fellowships, a whole new set of European jargon must be learned and used. The European Commission distinguishes between Early Stage Researchers and Experienced Researchers. There are no age limits in either category; it is the extent of the researchers' experience that counts.

Early Stage Researchers

Early Stage Researchers are defined by the EC as researchers in the first 4 years of their research activity, or the period until the doctoral degree is obtained (if this is undertaken), whichever is shorter. The 4-year period starts from the point at which the researcher is awarded the diploma, master's degree, or other qualification that gives access to doctoral studies in the country in which the qualification was obtained.

Promoting Mobility

A major objective of the Marie Curie fellowships is to promote researcher mobility. This means that the fellow may not have the nationality of the country where the host institution is situated. In other words, a Dutch researcher cannot do a Marie Curie fellowship in the Netherlands. Furthermore, a fellow may not have carried out his or her main activity (work, studies, etc) in the country of the host for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately prior to the start date of the fellowship. Thus a Polish researcher who has been working in France for the past 6 years cannot apply for a fellowship in France, as this would not make him or her 'mobile'.

As stated above, as a fellow, you cannot submit a host-driven fellowship application yourself, you have to apply to vacancies that arise from submissions made by host organisations. However, this is no reason to sit tight and wait until something interesting comes along. Prospective fellows have been known to contact a host organisation, get them interested in their research plans, and persuade them to submit a proposal. However, it should be noted that the procedures used by the host institutions to recruit fellows must be open to all applicants, be transparent, and guarantee an impartial and objective treatment of the applicants after the vacancies have been advertised internationally. The host must recruit the best researcher for the job--which might not be you!

The first deadlines for host-driven fellowships in FP6 were in April 2003 and no results have been announced to date. However, vacancies for host fellowships submitted under Framework Programme 5 (FP5) are still available and can be found here. Vacancies in FP6 projects will be published on the Internet as well.

Meanwhile you can read testimonials from Marie Curie fellows in Research Training Networks funded in FP5 on the CORDIS Web site.

The European Commission has set up a network of National Contact Points (NCPs) that can provide information and support to researchers and host organisations wishing to submit a Marie Curie proposal. There are NCPs for the Marie Curie programmes in all European states. For a list of NCPs, please take a look at the help desk Web site. Further information about the Marie Curie programme in general can be found here.