Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Day in the Lake District

The weather was great - even with that invisible volcano ash cloud in the sky. And so I decided to drive to the Lake District this Saturday. Lake Ullswater has been compared with Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstaetter See), and when one sees it in reality, one can understand why. The mountains are not as high as the ones in Switzerland, but the overall atmosphere is somehow similar.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Travel to India - With Obstacles

After the proposal submission which had kept me busy for the past few weeks I finally could relax - and prepare for the next venture: I had one day to get ready for the travel to India, in relation to the "Rivers' Movement" project. We had postponed this travel already twice: an original travel plan back in November did not work out due to schedule conflicts, and a travel in March was not possible because of that proposal work. But now I was ready for the 600 movie channels on Emirates Airlines, and for the scorching summer heat in Gujarat where it is now about 48 deg C.

In the morning of Thursday, Brian Lewis called me, telling me that he heard about a volcanic cloud from Iceland which prevented airplanes from taking off. But we decided anyway to go to Manchester airport and see the situation there. Well, the flight was cancelled. Pretty strange: the airline employees at the help desk were not able to help us, we had to call the central reservation line. And that was broken for a while, a voice message was played "this is a test message" and nothing else. But finally we got through, and were able to rebook our flights for Tuesday, 20.April. Then we had a cup of tea and sat down for a while, before returning back to Leeds.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Submitted a Proposal for Funding

These past weeks I have been very busy with mainly one activity: to prepare a proposal for funding from the European Commission. As some of you may know, there is the FP-7 programm which provides several billion Euro 2007-2013, for all kinds of activities. It is quite difficult to find out which funding opportunities would be available, although the EU has published all of that on various web sites and portals, one of them here on their CORDIS portal.

What I did in this process:
1. I registered on CORDIS to have a user ID. This allows to post profiles and project ideas.
2. Then I posted a profile of myself, plus another one with a specific idea here on CORDIS. This allows other interested parties to find the project idea. One important thing is that in most EU-funded projects there need to be partners from three different countries represented. This is often difficult for "newcomers" who do not yet have any links or ongoing collaborations. Therefore one can use this partner facilities to find other partners with whom one would want to collaborate in a project.
3. I received a few replies and began "building the consortium". Through other institutions within the UK I advertised my idea, and they in turn won a few other partners across Europe with whom they had collaborated. So the consortium grew, and in the end we had a total of 12 partners, from six different countries.
4. Important in the consortium building is of course that the partners are complementary, in terms of expertise, topics, but also in terms of size and sector. It is good to have academic university partners, SMEs, research institutions, and also a large company it it.
5. Writing the proposal then follows the templates that are available for a specific call. Our idea was suitable for a so-called STREP project, a specific targeted research project. These usually have a total budget between 2-5 Million Euro, often go over 3 years, and have anything between 6 - 15 partners. There is guidances on this on the EU web site for the specific call available.
6. Since I had the original idea, it was up to me to bring it into a form that would engage all partners equally and would ensure that each of them would contribute with their expertise. Not an easy task... at one point I made a phone call to each of them, to discuss for 15-60 minutes the idea and their possible contribution to it.
7. One very important task in such a project is the coordination/management. This is a special activity: to keep contact to the European Commission, to submit the paperwork, to administer the finances. It is important to have someone in the consortium who specialises on that and has done that before. Fortunately we won a partner with that expertise, and that partner took then the role of the proposal coordination. One needs to set up the EPSS for electronic proposal submission and needs to collect the financial data for each partner. This also requires an estimate of the average monthly salary cost, because the whole resourcing will be done in terms of person-months in the proposal.
8. Then everybody prepared their part of the proposal: state-of-the-art, and a few specific bits on their own contribution. The proposal form requires more things to consider, e.g. exploitation, risk management, project management etc.
9. We submitted the first proposal draft Sunday, 2 days before the deadline, just to be on the safe side and have something in. The next few days, however, I kept in contact with the coordinator, via Skype and email, often until late after midnight, to shape the proposal, use proper formulations, and balance the cost of the project properly according to the tasks that we were planning to do.
10. The very final version of our proposal was submitted just 1 minute 36 seconds before the deadline.

And now we just have to wait... the proposal will be evaluated according to the normal procedure, and I hope that our proposal will convince the evaluators to give it high marks in those three categories: Science/technology contribution, management, and impact.