What makes a successful Marie Curie Fellowship candidate?

Matteo Legrenzi - ph. Laura Kauppila

A couple of weeks ago the Marie Skłodowska-Curie individual fellowship call opened, Ca’ Foscari is top in Italy and number four in Europe as a host institution. What lies behind this success and what are a few tips for young scholars who are thinking of applying? We talk about it with Professor Matteo Legrenzi, professor of politics and international relations, who is supervising eight of them at Ca’ Foscari, seven Global and one Europe.

First of all the “secret” of Ca’ Foscari lies in an exceptional team of research facilitators that is the envy of the rest of Europe. Applications have to be curated meticulously, the excellence of the research project is just the starting point, the  administrative and management sections of the application are equally important. Research officers are crucial and we are lucky to have some of the best people on hand to help applicants at Ca’ Foscari.

What is the role of the supervisor? 

Supervisors have a lot to do but it is a very satisfying job. They are crucial in helping the applicant, who is often but not always a younger colleague, with the drafting the project and  subsequently they assist with the management and the dissemination of research results. In other words, they are instrumental in placing the fellow on the disciplinary map. International exchanges are essential for both supervisor and supervisee and this is recognized by National, European and International funding bodies. I smile when I hear people saying that a professor or a student travels too extensively, we are part of a global epistemic community with which we need to integrate as much as possible.

Could you give us some practical tips for someone who wishes to apply for a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship or to obtain grants from institutions such as the Gulf Research Center Foundation and the Luce Foundation? 

As for Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowships it is essential to enlist the support of the extra-European institution as soon as possible. It usually takes much longer than expected even when an esteemed colleague is willing to serve as a supervisor there. The reason is that the formal letter of commitment has to comply with European guidelines. This particular language is difficult to comprehend for office holders who live and work in universities and research institutes outside the EU, e.g. Chairs, Deans, Office of Sponsored Research, even if they eager to help. Usually it takes much longer than initially envisaged to obtain such a letter so it is better to start asking early. In our case it usually takes between two and three months even with institutions such as Harvard, Duke and the American University in Beirut that deal with European counterparts all the time. Therefore, the advice is: start early! As for direct grants from international foundations mobility is still important but we have to add the importance of managerial and administrative flexibility. In other words, Ca’ Foscari has to adapt to the world because the world will surely not adapt to Ca’ Foscari. This holds true as well for double degrees, visiting professors and international exchanges.

What is in your experience the profile of the winning candidate? 

The winning candidates are usually the ones who have already traveled the world and therefore have a notion of where their discipline is headed globally. In particular, interdisciplinary projects have a winning edge, the opposite of what happens in Italy where careers are made, and unmade, within disciplinary “silos”. Winners also usually display a painstaking attention to detail and are willing to go through two or three drafts of the project with the essential help of Ca’ Foscari research officers. Bottom line, the process has to start very early and be carried out meticulously, with attention to detail. There is plenty of talent out there and we need to search for it globally, once found I am convinced that Ca’ Foscari is an adequate platform for carrying out this sort of project building.

Can Ca’ Foscari stay on the podium? 

We start from a good place but we have to work hard every day to consolidate and improve our achievements. In particular, teaching has to be internationalized alongside research. There are opportunities in the realms of sustainability, global and area studies, and environmental humanities but a lot more remains to be done. Ultimately, though, when our fellows, as well as students who have benefited from international exchanges and courses entirely taught in English, do well, we are blissfully reminded of the reasons that lie behind our daily work.