Marie Curie Fellowships are individual research and training grants awarded to scientists from European Union (EU) countries by the European Commission (EC). In collaboration with a host institution, young scientists who apply are required to propose a research project of their own choice. After a peer-review procedure, a selection is made on the basis of the scientific merits of the candidate, the originality of the research proposal, and the excellence of the host institute.
During the Human Capital and Mobility Programme (HCM, 1992-1994) and the subsequent Training and Mobility of Researchers Programme (TMR, 1994-1998) of the European science budget, about 7000 individual Marie Curie Research Fellowships were awarded from more than 20,000 applications. The major proportion of awards are postdoctoral fellowships--these allow young scientists to receive training and to carry out ambitious research in some of the best European research institutions outside their home countries. The programme also provides a number of grants for experienced scientists. Marie Curie Fellowships cover all scientific disciplines ranging from social sciences to mathematics. Following this success the Improving Human Potential Programme  will fund more than 8000 new Marie Curie Fellowships within the 5th Framework Programme (the current European science budget).
The Marie Curie Fellowship Association
The Marie Curie Fellowship Association  (MCFA) is the representative body of all former and current Marie Curie Fellows. It was initiated by the European Commission, in recognition of the enormous potential of Marie Curie Fellows as scientific leaders of the future, and in acknowledgement of the need for an interdisciplinary network of young scientists on a pan-European basis . Soon after the establishment of the association was announced in October 1996, it became clear that there was great interest among Marie Curie Fellows in such an organization.
A small group of highly motivated Marie Curie Fellows took up the challenge to establish the association across Europe. The pioneers of the MCFA were based in the United Kingdom, France, and Sweden. Notably, the U.K. group with its large member base (about 30% of all fellows) was the first established MCFA national group to hold regular meetings; it led the way in shaping the structure of the association through setting up Web pages and creating mailing lists and topical working groups. In the last 2 years, the MCFA has gone through an intensive, exciting, and promising series of developments with the establishment of national groups in virtually all member countries of the EU and the election of an administrative board during the first Annual General Assembly in November 1998.
At present, the EC is generously supporting the association in the coordination of activities for approximately 1400 members. As the association develops, however, EC support will gradually be decreased, and MCFA is currently launching a major initiative to secure sponsorship from carefully selected companies in the world of industry and commerce.
Interaction With the EC on the Implementation of the 5th Framework Programme
In its first year of existence, MCFA focused on setting up a network of contacts between Marie Curie Fellows across Europe, and on tackling host country-specific issues (such as taxation and social security problems and fellows' contracts with their host institutions). This initial effort led to host country-specific "survival guides" for new Marie Curie Fellows in several countries. The aim is to publish such guides in all countries that host Marie Curie Fellows. Based on discussions of U.K. issues, the MCFA U.K. group provided the EC with a "position paper" in which Marie Curie Fellows and the association documented their views on the implementation of the fellowships within the 4th Framework and offered a number of suggestions for improvements within the recently launched 5th Framework.
Careers in Science
At present, the association provides an excellent environment for the exchange of information, discussion, and collective action on specific issues related to Marie Curie Fellows and on broader issues, such as careers in science, which concern the community of young European scientists.
About 1 year ago, a core group of active members in the United Kingdom started to focus on career issues with the aim of (i) increasing the flow of information between Marie Curie Fellows, (ii) increasing the awareness of career possibilities for Marie Curie Fellows, both in academia and in the world of industry and commerce, (iii) assisting fellows in their career paths by promoting the MCFA profile and establishing structured contacts between MCFA and potential employers in academia and industry, and (iv) encouraging and facilitating scientific entrepreneurship and company start-ups among members as an alternative career option for young scientists.
Since then, several key actions have been undertaken by fellows in the U.K., Sweden, and France to achieve these objectives:
The "mcfa-career mailing list"  was created in May 1997 to provide a means of communication between Marie Curie Fellows for news and views on issues related to their careers as well as to potential employers in academia, industry, and commerce. The mcfa-career list currently has around 400 subscribers from all over Europe, Japan, and the United States. The majority of subscribers are Marie Curie Fellows, but other scientists and some companies, such as EMDS--one of Europe's largest recruitment organizations in higher education---and Anderson Consultancy, are also represented.
The U.K. and Swedish groups host the European career opportunity pages of the association's Web site. Whereas the U.K. pages provide a very comprehensive list of links to industrial and academic jobs across the world, the job pages in Sweden provide a database  of more than 3500 current job openings in academia and industry relevant for Marie Curie Fellows.
Two major international symposia were organized in France and Sweden in 1998. The French symposium focused on the development of the interface between MCFA and industry, while at the Swedish symposium contacts and barriers between industry and academia were discussed by 80 participants. Both conferences were attended by key decision-makers from industry, academia, consultancies, research administrators, the patent office, and the EC.
MCFA career facilities are open to Marie Curie Fellows as well as to other young scientists and organizations interested in careers in science.
The association is currently developing activities in order to achieve another fundamental aim: the advancement of science in Europe. An editorial committee has been established to publish an interdisciplinary annual journal which will include selected highlights of outstanding research results obtained by Marie Curie Fellows during their fellowships. The results will be reported so that they are understandable by nonspecialists and this should help to increase the appreciation and understanding of science by the general public. The idea of this publication, the Annals of the MCFA , has been positively welcomed by fellows, and the selection process is about to be initiated.
MCFA also aims to be a strong voice for young, mobile, European researchers in current public and scientific debates. Representatives from the association have been invited to participate in several major international events, including the "Launch of the 5th Framework Programme" in Essen, Germany; the Salzburg seminar in Vienna; a Euro-American event described as "a centre for intellectual exchange that commands the attention of leaders around the world"; the World Conference on Science, jointly organized by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) and ICSU (World Council for Science) in Budapest in June 1999; and the International Forum for Young Scientists, one of the satellite events of the World Conference on Science. Moreover, the first issue of the Newsletter of the Association, MCFA News, is due this month and will keep members and the rest of the scientific community up-to-date with MCFA developments and views.
Finally, MCFA is actively seeking to exploit the interdisciplinary potential of its members by gathering fellows from different disciplines and organizing thematic forums around a scientific topic. For example, the association is currently planning a scientific symposium, later in 1999, in collaboration with Unilever Research Colworth on "Innovative Research and Technology in the Biosciences for Environmental Sustainability and Industrial Innovation." Such events will be increased in the future and it is intended to publish the proceedings from these thematic symposia in special issues of the Annals of the MCFA.
Toward a New Generation of Scientists
At the eve of the 21st century, discussions on the future of science and scientists show that there is a need for an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving, increased international cooperation, new forms of scientific training and career structures for young scientists, and increased participation of scientists in public affairs and public awareness of science. The MCFA network establishes bridges across frontiers, cultures, and disciplines to go one step further in the exchange of knowledge and a better integration of science and society, and it welcomes opportunities to share its ideas and initiatives with the rest of the scientific community.