HOW TO WIN A GRANT – Marie Skłodowska-Curie ACTIONS

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood

Marie Curie

I have recently won a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellowship, something I am obviously bragging about a lot. Add to that I got a score of 98/100, I should feel good at least until my next article rejection.

However, if I have to be completely honest, I didn’t win it because I am an absolute genius, but because I knew how to write the grant very well. Indeed, I already tried twice, and last year I almost got it, so I had a lot of time to practice.

Because I think that academia is about giving back, and because I would not have won this grant if it wasn’t for people helping me, I decided to put together some tips for Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) applicants. I’ll describe the grant, explain how to choose a host, and how to practically write the application. It is incredibly long and boring but hey, it’s hundreds of thousands of euros, worth a bit of your time. I’ll put some random pics of Dutch flowers to make the post more appealing.

What’s this Marie Curie thing?

When do I apply?

The MSCA is a grant fellowship scheme for people who already hold a Ph.D. Usually, people can apply up to 8 years after having gotten their Ph.D., but extensions can apply for career breaks (like women with children. Yes! Finally a scheme that takes that into account).

The calls usually open in June and the deadline is around September/October, but since it is a long application, better start it before the calls open.

The project is then reviewed by a panel of experts, but I have no idea who they are.

Results are then available around February/March.

What kind of results can I get?

When you receive your results, they can be:

  • Reject, if you get less than 85/100
  • Seal of Excellence, if you get more than 85/100, but there is no funding for your project (it’s basically a certificate saying you’ve got the glory but not the cash, more on that in the next section). If you get the Seal of Excellence, you can resubmit the exact same application the following year and hope for a kinder panel of reviews.
  • Accepted, where you get the funding. There’s no specific threshold for getting a project funded, but generally funding are given to projects that score above 91-92/100.

It is kind of competitive, but in my personal experience people who are stubborn persistent enough to try more than once, end up getting it.

Which type of MSCA shall I apply to?

There are various types of MSCA. The ones I am familiar with are:

  • The Individual Fellowship, which is two years and needs to be carried out in a European country
  • The Global Fellowship, which lasts three years, one in a European country, and two outside of Europe

MSCA includes mobility, so it comes with family allowances and mobility allowances.

People winning a MSCA carry out individual projects, but under the supervision of a supervisor in each host institution.

I know there are also other MSCA schemes, which include collaborative projects, and also a scheme for people who studied outside of the EU and what to go back to Europe, but I don’t know much about it.

So is the MSCA pretty cool, eh?

The cool thing is that you can write a project in any possible subject, and there are no specific topics you should address (even if some topics are cooler than others, and I suspect that hard sciences are generally liked more than social sciences and humanities).

The even cooler thing is that it covers full salary and research expenses, and it is kind of generous, even if it depends on where you carry out the project.

But what will you research and where will you go, Giulia?

To give some context, I won a MSCA Global Fellowship where I’ll research digital media, gender, and religion (more on that in a separate post, maybe). I’ll be one year at the University of Bologna, Italy, and two years at the University of Colorado Boulder, U.S.

It doesn’t seem you have all the info, where can I find more?

More info on the MSCA calls are here:

Also, each country has National Contact Points you can get in contact with.

Keep in mind that what I write here can change and/or be slightly incorrect because it’s based on my experience, so check the sites. Also, everybody is welcome to ask me questions, but I have no idea about all the technical stuff (or whether the UK is part of the MSCA. To be fair, I think nobody knows).

How do I choose a host institution?

After I won my MSCA, a non-academic friend asked me: “Why are you spending two years in Colorado that is cold, you should go to Hawaii or the Caribbean.”

While my friend had a point, choosing a host is very important both for maximizing the chances of success and to getting support writing the application.

Which is the most important, the European or the non-European institution?

The individual fellowship only needs one European host. The global fellowship has a European and a non-European host. For both, you need to identify a supervisor. In general, the European host is the one that gives you administrative support to practically write the application, and it is the principal host, so I would choose it particularly carefully. In a Global Fellowship you are employed and paid by the European institution also when you are outside of Europe.

Wait, you say one or two hosts, but what about this secondment thing?

With the Global Fellowship, you can decide to do a secondment in a third institution. I will do mine in Pittsburgh, for example. You can also do it in a company or private center. It is not mandatory, but it might make sense depending on your project.

So why didn’t you choose the Caribbean for your MSCA?

The hosts are pretty important for your project. They don’t necessarily have to be prestigious universities, but they need to make sense for your project. In general, you need to be able to carry out some research or learn something new in each institution. Also, each supervisor needs to offer some meaningful support to the project. My example: the supervisor in Italy is an expert in digital media and social movements, something I want to learn more about; the supervisor in Colorado is an expert in religion and media and gender, and the university can give me more skills on gender studies; the supervisor in Pittsburgh, for my secondment, is an expert in some methods I don’t know well.

But how do I find a supervisor, do I just email them?

Yes, you do not need to have a previous connection with a supervisor. Clearly, like everything in academia, if you have a good network already, it is easier to find a good department for your MSCA, but you can just email people. For example, I didn’t know my Italian supervisor, but I liked her work and contacted her. My U.S. supervisor is a close connection because he supervised my Ph.D., which I also did at the University of Colorado. Then, my Italian supervisor gave me some contact in Pittsburgh for my secondment.

Can I continue working in the European host institution after my MSCA?

This is an important question, because many scholars apply for a MSCA hoping to secure a permanent position. In theory, after 2-3 years, the funding stops, and you need to start applying for jobs again. In practice, there are some important things to consider:

  • Some universities might offer you a tenure-track if you win a Global Fellowship. That’s exactly my situation with the University of Bologna (but clearly nothing is set in stone in academia, so if you see me unemployed and complaining on Twitter in 3 years, it means it didn’t work out)
  • If you get the Seal of Excellence (meaning you get more than 85/100 as a score, but Mother EU doesn’t have funding for you), some unis might offer you some sort of research contract, usually to give you time to re-write and re-submit your application.

Therefore, it is a smart idea to ask the potential European host whether they will consider giving you a job if you win a MSCA or get the Seal of Excellence. This only applies to the European hosts, non-European universities usually do not offer anything like this. Of course, universities may decide to hire you after the MSCA because a position opens, but there’s usually no way of knowing for sure if they don’t have a practice of hiring MSCA winners in tenure-tracks.

So, what are the characteristics of the perfect host?

There are some things that, in my opinion, are useful to consider when choosing a host:

  • Find a supervisor who has experience with grants and is willing to help you write the application. It should be a collaborative process.
  • Get in contact also with the European host administration, specifically the grant office, they should help you write the application. Administrative people are usually the wizards that suggest the little things that get you the funding, so don’t underestimate them. Also, some departments offer training and courses to write a MSCA, so ask in advance whether something like this is available.
  • Some universities pre-select the people they want to have as MSCA fellows, and/or have some specific MSCA fellowships on a given topic. You usually can find this information on their websites.
  • In a Global Fellowship, usually the non-European host only needs to send a letter, but clearly if they can get involved and give extra feedback, it is a plus.

How do I write an amazing project that will give me a lot of $?

As academics, we like to think that every project should be about our scientific knowledge. However, my personal belief is that a MSCA is more about understanding exactly how to write a good grant proposal, and having a cool idea, rather than being the best scholar ever in the world (even if I’m sure you, who are reading these words, are the best scholar in the world).

How is the project structured?

In general, the project template is more or less the same year after year, so you can start looking at it even before the call opens. Here you can find some info:

The application is divided in:

  • Part A, which is administrative, and you compile it with the help of the host institution grant office and can be left as the last thing to do
  • Part B1, which is the project itself, divided in Excellence (50%), Impact (30%) and Implementation (20%)
  • Part B2, which is your CV, the description of the hosts, and any ethical concerns for the project.

So is the part B1 the most important?

It kind of is, because that’s the part that is assessed and where you describe your project. When I wrote mine, I did the initial mistake of making it too long and giving too much relevance to the scientific project, when they also want to read a lot of administrative stuff (which makes it so fun).

Part B1 is maximum 10 pages but it doesn’t have a word count, so you need to become a master at choosing short words. Also, it gets all packed because you can’t afford to use an extra space line, so a suggestion is to highlight important words and use bullet points or tables to make it more readable. Remember also that you need to talk about yourself in the third person.

How do you write this excellence, impact and implementation thing in part B1?

I structured my application as follows:


  • Overview of the project, including where I will conduct it and the supervisors
  • Three main objectives of the project, each connected with a research question. In so doing, it shows which research gap it addresses.
  • Description of the three methods I will be using, each linked to an objective/research question.
  • Interdisciplinary aspect, which is quite important. It needs to be interdisciplinary in the approaches/methods, as well as in the use of literature.
  •  Gender aspects, which was easy for me as the project is about gender, but it can just be the fact that you interview both men and women, or in general you consider that women exist. If you’re studying ancient manuscripts written by Byzantine monks, good luck with this part
  • Open access practices and data management (the host institution grant office usually helps with this, I frankly had no idea what to write).
  • Explanation of why the supervisors are the coolest possible supervisors for my project. Here I also discussed the skills I will gain through the project and the skills I offer to my host institutions.
  • A summary of my CV discussing why I’m such a cool person and I deserve all this EU money


  • The results I plan to have, such as a book, a permanent position in Bologna, etc etc. I divided them in short, medium, and long-term goals
  • Dissemination, including academic conferences, talks for the public, use of social media to talk about my research, organization of workshops
  • Contributions, which include the academic impact (project is so scientifically cool!) societal impact (project is so useful for EU think thanks/ Horizon 2020 objectives!), economic impact (frankly I invented something about EU policymakers for this one as I have zero economic impact), and environmental impact (I will use train and zoom instead of planes when possible!)


  • The Work Packages (WP). Basically, each WP is a part of your project. You need to have one about management, one about training, and a couple about communication and dissemination. Then, I have one for literature review and three for data collection and analysis (one for each method). Each WP is divided in Tasks (the things you will do, e.g., interview people), Milestones (measurable goals: e.g. complete 50 interviews) and Deliverables (results, e.g. a journal article)
  • The Gantt Chart, which looks like the one below. I know what you think: how do I know now when I’ll go to a conference or publish an article? Truth is, you don’t, but part of the project is being able to predict the future. Also, you might be wondering how you make a Gantt Chart, and I’m sure there are all sorts of cool programs to do it, but I just used Excel.

  • The risks of your project (ok, not risks like “my project is going to attack me!”, but more something like “people don’t want to be interviewed so I will do more participant observations”)
  • How the host institutions will support you practically, basically the fact they’ll give you a computer and a lot of love

What about part B2?

Part B2 is much easier, and it doesn’t have a page limit like B1. In includes

  • Your CV, which needs to be only 5 pages and partly narrative. So basically, you don’t list all the publications, but the 5 you like the most and then you add a paragraph discussing why you’re such a cool and innovative scholar. I still feel guilty for all the bragging in this section
  • The description of the hosts, including the projects they are carrying out, the people you want to work with, the facilities you need to use.
  • Ethical considerations
  • For the Global Fellowship, a letter from the non-European host saying that they will host you and all your money gladly. I suggest asking for the letter well in advance.

What about if I’m a real scientist, not a fake one who studies social media?

If you’re needing a lab, or human/animal testing, or patents, I know you should do things a bit differently, but I don’t know how, because I’m a social scientist

What about the budget?

You don’t really need to do a budget; you need to input some information (e.g. whether you have a partner or a family so you can get family allowance) and the budget is pretty much done for you in part A1. You have some budget for conferences, open access, language editing, printing material, analysis software, so all of these can be included in the project.

Is there something else important to note at this point, after all these words?

Yes, a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • MSCA is really all about learning new things. Doesn’t matter if you’re 8 years post-Ph.D., you are a leading scholar and you have published in every possible journal in your field, you need to learn something. And good news is, in academia we never stop learning! Better is to individuate training you can do in the host institutions. This includes language training, seminars and certificates in disciplines that are not your own, learning new methodologies. For instance, I promised I’ll get a certificate in gender studies and learn how to code to perform a Big Data Analysis (please don’t comment, my impostor syndrome is already spiking).
  • It is important to disseminate your results also outside of academia. In this, you can get a bit creative, like promise you’ll be on podcasts (I’m already regretting this part), give talks in high schools or for the community, create flyers. There are some MSCA initiatives, like the European Researchers’ Night, that you should mention (not sure what it is, but I’ll discover)

Any final tip?

Try to be precise when you write. For example, don’t say “I’ll learn more about gender”, but write “Under the supervision of professor X, I’ll do a literature review about religion and gender. Also, I will take the following postgraduate seminars in order to obtain a certificate in gender studies…” The host institutions can help you a lot with writing things more precisely.

How do I contact you at this point?

Do you want to thank me for this wonderful post? Do you want to read my application? Do you want to insult me because you hate everything you just read? Do you want to correct me? Do you want to add new tips and share your experience? Do you want to ask me whether the UK is included in the MSCA program so I can tell you I don’t know and you should blame Brexit?

If you have any of these questions, you can leave a comment here, or find me on Twitter, or send me an email you’ll find under “contacts”

Good Luck!

PS: I want to add that the selection procedure of MSCA is, to my understanding, a bit random. There are a lot of good applications and not enough funding for all. Perfect applications can be rejected. So if you try and you don’t get it, it sucks, but it doesn’t mean that you aren’t a good scholar.

11 thoughts on “HOW TO WIN A GRANT – Marie Skłodowska-Curie ACTIONS

  1. Zamira says:

    Hello Giulia,

    Thank you for being so authentic and generous to share precious advice.
    You deserve a TT position and I hope the University of Bologna will not let you go. Best of luck! Zamira


  2. Eric says:

    Hi Giulia,

    Thank you so much for producing this valuable resource. I have been following your trajectory and posts for a while, which helped me a great deal in raising (self-)awareness about structural precarity and how to confront it.

    Congratulations with the MSCA! Wishing you loads of interesting research and learning experiences. Enjoy beautiful Bologna and Colorado.


  3. Amanda L says:

    Thanks for such a great guide! Very generous and definitely useful. Your write in a really approachable way too! Good luck with your fellowship. Also Id love to see your application if you would be willing to share. Different fields but Im sure it could help.


  4. Lilian says:

    Hi Giulia,
    First of all, congratulations on this huge achievement! Thank you very much for sharing your experience and I wanted to ask you a few questions about your experience on resubmitting your application. I applied for the same panel as you, SOC-GF but different field. And just like you I also wrote my application last year while nursing my newborn. You said that last time you almost got it, so I assume you were put in reserve list. Do you know your position in the list? Also, I would like to ask if you changed much of your application. I was put in reserve list this year and I was wondering about my real chances and if resubmitting the project the same way would be wise. There is not much I can do related to the only weakness in part one (few publications, but alas, I had two kids since finishing my PhD), but the two weaknesses in part 2 can definitely be addressed (part 3 got 5, so not touching this one). Thank you again for your post and have a great day.


    • giuliaevolvi15 says:

      Thanks a lot Lilian! And kudos to you for getting on the reserve list while caring for two tiny humans – I had one and seemed more a lot to handle together with writing the MSCA application. I had 28 people in front of me when I was on the reserve list and didn’t make it. I didn’t change the project much, re-sent it, and got a much higher score… so I cross my fingers the same will happen to you!


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