[HORIZON EUROPE] Horizon Insights - Key ingredients for successful MSCA Doctoral Networks proposals

The results of the first Doctoral Networks call of Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions (MSCA) under Horizon Europe allow us to take stock of the first successful proposals in which Ghent University participated and draw some conclusions on the key factors contributing to success.

Purpose of the funding scheme

Doctoral Networks are collaborative research projects with the aim to train the next generation of researchers who will be able to bring new knowledge developed in recent years and in different disciplines, towards  implementation in non-academic settings.

This funding scheme has annual bottom-up calls for proposals, usually with a deadline half November, in which all research areas can be addressed. However, there are some specifics about this programme which need to be understood thoroughly by applicants in order to be successful.

A Doctoral Network should address the lack of highly skilled staff, both in academic and non-academic sectors, to bring forward the research and non-academic usage of current knowledge and/or technologies. Positioning your project as an urgently needed solution for training researchers in a recently emerged exciting field helps. For this, several PhD students can be hired on a project, who will be trained both through research activities as well as through a dedicated training programme.

These projects will fund salaries, research and networking costs, management costs and overhead costs, using a fixed amount of money for each category, per Person Month funded in the project. The unit costs are multiplied with a country coefficient to correct for national differences.

On each project, lasting 48 months, 10 PhD students can be hired for 36 months. In Joint Doctorates or Industrial Doctorates, 15 PhD students can be hired, see our previous BOZI article on this funding scheme. For PhD students hired by Ghent University, the fourth year will be foreseen with central budgets.

All recruited staff should be subject to the mobility rule: researchers must not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in the country of the recruiting beneficiary for more than 12 months in the 36 months immediately before their date of recruitment. Check the Guide for Applicants for more specifics.

Overall aim of the project

For each project a consortium of renowned institutions and industry partners should be established to work on an overall aim.

Here are some examples:

  • a comprehensive study and solid development of a new generation of electrical machines for key applications (automotive, aviation, automation)
  • take polymer science into the 21st century through incorporating the fundamental knowledge gained over many years of research into the training of machine learning systems
  • lead the green and digital transformation of pharmaceutical manufacturing, both in academic and industrial environments
  • targeting Circadian Clock Dysfunction in Alzheimer’s Disease by harnessing neurobiology, medicinal chemistry, pharmaceutical nanotechnology, neuroimmunology, big data, bioinformatics, and entrepreneurship
  • improving our understanding of the role of expectation formation and social influence for economic dynamics and for the optimal design of economic policy
  • develop a new integrated theoretical and methodological framework in cultural heritage preservation, management and promotion
  • develop regulatory intervention in the hydrogen economy by training legal specialists, enabling sustainable circular use of hydrogen

Consortium building

Based on the chosen project idea, the bigger picture needs to be developed and presented to potential partners in Europe. 

Partners are to be identified based on the expertise needed in order to train the young cohort of researchers in a multidisciplinary and cross-sectorial way. The Doctoral Candidates will need to be trained in scientific and technical skills, as well as transferable skills, such as communication skills, entrepreneurship, time management, ethics, Open Science, market exploitation, presentation and grant writing skills, etc. 

Both academic and non-academic institutions should be involved and take active part in the training programme.

Appointed supervisors at all institutions should be identified and described, listing their expertise, supervision experience and other important accomplishments. A fair number of experienced supervisors should be included.

The number of Beneficiaries (institutions hiring one or more PhD students) involved in the approved DN projects with Ghent University participation, ranged from 3 to 12. In about half of these projects, these were all academic institutions. The number of Associated Partners involved ranged from 2 to 12. Often the majority of these were non-academic partners. The number of countries involved in the projects ranged from 4 to 12. A minority of the projects also included Third Countries.

Scientific objectives and research plan

In order to structure the project, the overall aim will be addressed through 2 to 5 specific research objectives. Each of them can be addressed in interlinked Work Packages.

In the Excellence section, the overall concept of the project, the approach and methodology will be explained, also addressing the interdisciplinarity of the approach, as well as gender dimension and Open Science aspects. All Doctoral Candidates can then be positioned over the project's structure, e.g. all having their main activity in one of the Work Packages, and having optional additional activities in one or two other Work Packages.

The detailed activities and Deliverables of each Work Package will be described in prescribed Tables under the Implementation Section. In the next set of Tables, the Individual Research Projects for all Doctoral Candidates will be described, including their secondment plans (stays at other partner institutions).

Training plan

Being equally important as the research plan, the training plan needs to be extensively described. This plan should be based on clear Training Objectives. These should be met by 1) organising training-through-research, both at the Host Institution but also during secondments and/or short visits to other partner institutions, and 2) by organising training events and courses, both network-wide events or local training at the Doctoral School of the institutions involved. 

The training plan should be very detailed and giving all information on the planned activities, the content of the courses, the timing, the location if possible, and the speakers or trainers.

The evaluators will also assess wether the active participation of Doctoral Candidates is sufficiently shown in order to be credible on the skills acquired after the project. It can be useful to include active learning approaches, such as case studies, peer-to-peer learning, presentations by Doctoral Candidates, etc.


Doctoral Networks should lead to a more structured Doctoral training at European level in the fields of research involved in the project. This means that the developed training programme should (partly) be implemented further after the project, e.g. by integrating courses into the Doctoral Schools programme or by offering joint training modules. Non-academic partners should continue to play a role in this.

Projects should also lead to better career perspectives and employability of the researchers, both in academia as in non-academic settings, by an increased set of interdisciplinary, intersectoral and transferable skills. They should be able to tackle the problems of tomorrow and keep Europe at the forefront of the research field.

Not only should the project have an impact on the institutions and the researchers involved, but also on the broader scientific community, as well as on society. If there is an industrial component, economic impact should be addressed including some figures, and a well-considered Intellectual Property management.

In order to maximize impact, a proper dissemination, exploitation and communication plan should be described in detail.

More information

Are you inspired by this article and wondering if you should consider applying for a Doctoral Network?

Ask for individual guidance.  Ghent University's EU team is very experienced in this funding scheme.

About Horizon Insights

Horizon Insights is a feature in the BOZI newsletter where the EU team wishes to share own insights, going beyond information. 


10 juni 2022 17:51