19 July 2012
Written by Mark Thomson
The EU doesn’t just fund fishing and farming, it also helps to drive new research. On Monday 16 July 2012, Sanger Institute staff met with Vicky Ford, Member of the European Parliament for the East of England, to discuss the benefits and challenges of European Union research funding. Vicky is a UK representative on the European Research Council (ERC) and is heavily involved in improving the EU Funding Programme for Research and Innovation 2014-2020.
As a research administrator involved in BASIS (Breast Cancer Somatic Genetics Study), Sancha Martin, was able to share first-hand experience of opportunities and the hurdles you come across with EU funding. “Funding from the EU allows our findings on the genetics of the most common form of breast cancer to be rapidly released with minimal restrictions. This provides the foundation for other researchers to develop their studies into diagnostic tools and treatments,” Sancha explains.
“We really value EU funding to help us to carry out and coordinate our research, but working across countries and nationalities can be a challenge. For example, the EU uses terminology to describe projects that can be quite alien to our researchers and the differences in languages mean administrative terms could easily become ‘lost in translation’. So we have to work hard to regularly and clearly communicate between all the collaborating institutions, to make sure that everyone clearly understands their role in the project and their delivery outputs.”
From his perspective as a member of faculty and research collaborator on EVIMalaR (European Virtual Institute of Malaria Research), Matt Berriman guided Vicky through the benefits of collaborating with a large number of Institutes throughout Europe. The programme is funded by the EU as an FP7 Network of Excellence and he is grateful for the exciting and empowering work he and his fellow researchers are able to carry out. But, he also notes that the reporting needed requires strong administration and communication skills for success.
“EVIMalaR is a great success story of European research integration, enabling us to share knowledge and resources extensively across institutes and continents,” Matt says. “However we did find the EU’s language of ‘clusters of activities’ and ‘work packages’ rather contrived because it sometimes created the impression that activities were isolated or stand-alone, when they were actually deeply embedded within one another. We also found that the simple move of hiring an administrator with good communication skills alleviated our reporting burden almost overnight and freed us to carry on our research.”
The meeting was a very useful opportunity for Vicky to understand the needs of researchers and administrators, while our staff found it was a great chance to help influence the future of EU funding. By working with the ERC and colleagues at other European research institutes and universities, our researchers and administrators are hoping to create organisational frameworks for sustained European collaboration in a wide range of research areas.