Tallinn University of Technology

In order to increase the capacity of young researchers at TalTech to prepare research, development, and innovation projects, support their successful participation therein, and ensure the next generation of competent young researchers in the field of projects, the Grant Accelerator training programme was launched a year ago and is currently preparing for its second round.

katseklaasid värviliste vedelikega

Siim Läänelaid, Marika Lunden | Photo: TalTech

Just over half of TalTech’s nearly 2,000-strong personnel is made up of academic staff. Among them, in turn, almost two thirds have a doctorate. There are 150 young researchers who obtained their doctorate less than seven years ago and another 150 who obtained their doctorate 8–12 years ago. In a situation where most research funding has to be found, applied for, received, and spent in compliance with the rules by researchers themselves, it is crucial that universities support the acquisition of the skills required for that.

Within this group, there is a very clear distinction between applying for and receiving research funding. For example, in 2016–2020, only 16 applications for Horizon 2020 funding were submitted by young researchers (no more than 7 years since obtaining their degree) of TalTech, and only one of them received a positive response. However, those with slightly more experience (8–12 years since their PhD) submitted 121 Horizon 2020 applications in the same period and received 14 positive funding decisions. The difference in participation is sevenfold and the difference in success is almost double for those who are more experienced. Successful applications are created partly, but not exclusively, due to experience.

In order to increase the number of project proposals and to improve the capacity of young researchers (up to 12 years since their PhD) to apply for funding and manage projects, the university’s Research Administration Office put together a nine-month training programme called the Grant Accelerator.

We aimed to find participants from all of our schools and departments/colleges to give all units equal opportunities and to create a university-wide network of training participants who know each other and can and will support each other, not to mention the interdisciplinary group of participants. Out of the nearly 300 researchers who qualified by the time since they obtained their education, 31 candidates were put forward by schools and 21 (12 women and 9 men) were invited to participate in the programme.

The training sessions took place over nine months, once a month, for three hours at a time, and usually face to face, so that everyone could focus on what was going on at the time. The main body of the training personnel was made up of the Research Administration Office (Siim Läänelaid, Marika Lunden), but in addition, 11 people from within TalTech and elsewhere came to train our young researchers.

As a result of the training, young researchers will be able to formulate and structure their project ideas, search for funding sources to realise their ideas and reorganise them if necessary, know the main components of funding applications and are able to contextualise them, and know the importance of intellectual property and ethical standards in preparing and implementing funding applications, are prepared to participate in funded projects in different roles, are better able to avoid burnout, know their way around academic career management, are aware of the support structures of TalTech, their project support services, other participants, and are able to use this knowledge in their work.

All participants had to submit a description of their idea for a research project, which they received feedback on from the organisers, together with potential sources of funding to make it a reality. For example, we were able to work on ideas for solar panels made from lunar materials on the Moon and the tax behaviour of Europeans. All participants provided extremely varied and interesting ideas!

Already in the 9-month period of the Grant Accelerator, several participants achieved positive results with research grants of both the Estonian Research Council and Horizon Europe, confirming that the selected participants are highly promising researchers and that supporting them with project-related knowledge and skills will also support the progeny and competitiveness of TalTech’s successful young researchers. According to the participants, the training programme will help them to set project targets in time and increase their confidence to apply for international grants.

Planning for the second year of the Grant Accelerator is in full swing: we are looking for trainers and hope to soon bring together another class of ambitious young researchers to add to the European research space. While in the first year, training was conducted in Estonian, the second year will be international and in English.

The Research Administration Office is extremely grateful to all participants and offers support services for the development of researchers and the realisation of their ambitions, including the identification and introduction of funding opportunities, project writing services, advice on the management of already funded projects, and much more.