Ilona Riipinen
Ilona Riipinen

After completing her doctoral degree at the University of Helsinki, Ilona Riipinen went to the US as a postdoc. During this period, she thought about career choices and funding opportunities, and she heard about the opportunity to apply for an ERC Starting Grant from other researchers. After studying the criteria and earning the necessary qualifications, she wrote an application with the support of the University of Helsinki. At the same time, she applied for positions in various places. Stockholm University was one such place, and she was employed here in 2011. While waiting to start her employment, she also found out that she had been awarded the ERC grant, and since the ERC allows grants to follow the researcher, she was able to transfer the grant to Stockholm University.

“The ERC grant was crucial to the start of my career as an independent researcher. It created the opportunity to implement research ideas and appoint doctoral students and postdocs in order to create the necessary research environment,” says Ilona.

The time of her Starting Grant recently expired, and she has formed a research team with over a dozen people. The research concerns the chemical composition of the atmosphere and the relationship between climate and air quality. The focus is on aerosols (small particles in the air) and how they affect cloud formation.

Innovative project

The ERC Starting Grant is well suited for young researchers with many, and wild, ideas that they want to implement, says Ilona.

“The ERC emphasises that they want to support innovative and risky projects. And since I try to think big and am willing to venture into risky projects, that suits me well.”

Besides innovation and risk-taking, research qualifications are of course critical as well – there is fierce competition for the ERC grants. Ilona also stresses that long-term and strategic thinking increases the probability of having your application granted. Before she started to write her application, she spent her first year as a postdoc earning the necessary research qualifications. It is also important to carefully study the criteria for the ERC grants, as well what type of research and researchers are in demand. Since the grants are personal, you must also be able to demonstrate that you are capable of leading a research team.

Ilona is now planning to apply for a Consolidator Grant. She has started to read up on the criteria and is trying to find an interesting research concept.

Applying for an ERC grant involves a lot of work, most of which entails coming up with a “winning concept” and writing the application. Reporting to the ERC is also time-consuming and can be complicated.

“But I actually enjoy writing applications. It becomes a way to organise my thoughts about the research. Even the reporting has positive aspects, as it provides an opportunity to reflect on what I have accomplished with my research.”

Ilona’s advice for an ERC application

  • Think big – do not be afraid to create your dream project
  • Set aside enough time to write the application
  • Do not underestimate the importance of those reviewing your application. Write an application that will convince them of what is interesting about your ideas
  • Let colleagues critically examine your application