MSCA PhD Funding – A Guide
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MSCA PhD Funding – A Guide

Written by Ben Taylor

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) offer funding for PhD students to study across Europe.

Under the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme, MSCA funding for PhD students was previously offered within university partnerships called Innovative Training Networks (ITN). With the introduction of the Horizon Europe funding programme, running between 2021 and 2027, these partnerships are now known as Doctoral Networks.

This guide explains what kind of PhD funding is available through MSCA actions, who is eligible, and how to apply.

How does MSCA funding work?

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions don’t just provide funding for a PhD – they also offer a unique doctoral training experience, with several additional benefits.

The purpose of the scheme is to bring together organisations such as universities, SMEs (small/medium enterprises), research centres and non-academic organisations in order to train early-stage researchers.

At PhD-level, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions fund specific projects within groups called Doctoral Networks.

These are groups of universities and other partners that have come together to offer unique doctoral training and research opportunities in a specific area.

There are three types of Doctoral Networks available for PhD students. Though they differ slightly, all offer unique opportunities to work with academic and non-academic partners in an international setting.

Please note that funding calls for Doctoral Networks only concluded in November 2021, which means that the precise details of the networks won’t be known until later on in 2022. Funded projects are due to start in August 2022.

Standard Doctoral Networks

MSCA Doctoral Networks can be established by groups of academic and non-academic institutions, aiming to provide PhD researchers with a range of transferable skills (as well as the opportunity to engage in a particular research specialism).

Career prospects are a big focus, as well as professional networking and engagement with the public.

Each Doctoral Network must have a minimum of three independent organisations in an EU or Horizon Europe country, with at least one established in an EU member nation. Organisations from anywhere else in the world can join in addition to this.

Industrial Doctorates

These networks combine training from academic and non-academic partners. This allows them to offer specific training that addresses the needs of business and industry.

As a result, you’ll need to spend at least 50% of your time on Industrial Doctorate undertaking training in the non-academic sector. This is likely to involve placements with specific organisations that have partnered with your university.

You’ll normally have two supervisors – one each from the academic and non-academic sectors.

Joint Doctorates

These are similar to the previous Erasmus Mundus Joint PhD programmes.

Their is to promote international training and non-academic partnerships, through multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary collaborations.

They award either joint, double, or multiple doctorate degrees.

A joint degree is a single PhD issued by two higher education institutions offering an integrated programme. The PhD will be recognised officially in at least the countries where the degree-awarding institutions are located.

Double or multiple degrees are two or more separate national PhD diplomas, issued by two or more higher education institutions. These will be officially recognised in the countries where these degree-awarding institutions are based.

Time spent in different sectors varies, and supervision will be tailored to this.

Studying within a Doctoral Network

Although the remit of each network differs, there are general activities that all student researchers will undertake on their given programme.

This is because the MSCA programme is not just a source of funding, but a means to undertake research in a controlled, professional, and measurable way.

Career Development Plan

In conjunction with your supervisors, you will establish a Career Development Plan, which will set out the research objectives between yourself and your beneficiaries, as well as planning training to cater to your career needs. Alongside this, the CDP will plan for the production of publications, and participation in conferences.

Networking

As well as attending conferences, there are many other forms of networking activities which you can expect to undergo during your Doctoral Network programme. These may include:

  • Attending network meetings
  • Visiting participating organisations in order to exchange knowledge
  • Meeting with external experts to gain specialist input
  • Attending workshops
  • Collaborating with other Doctoral Networks or research groups

Public engagement

Public engagement is all about promoting research to the general public in order to create awareness of the work being performed, and stimulate understanding of its implications for society.

Conferences, presentation evenings, talks at educational institutions and taking part in research festivals are some of outreach activities which PhD students might do while within a Doctoral Network.

One such event is European Researchers’ Night which is coordinated under MSCA to encourage young people’s interest in research careers. The annual event takes place on the final Friday of September, with activities in cities all across Europe.

Funding amounts and eligibility

MSCA funding is open to PhD students of all disciplines, irrespective of nationality, for up to four years. Unfortunately you won’t be eligible for funding if you already hold a PhD. Because one of the main aims of MSCA funding is to boost student mobility, you can’t have lived in the country you want to move to for more than one year out of the three years preceding your start date.

MSCA Doctoral Network funding includes:

  • A living stipend
  • Mobility support
  • Family and special needs allowances (if applicable)
  • Financial support for research activities

The exact amount you could receive will depend on the nation(s) you’re doing your research in.

Participating countries

Each Doctoral Network is comprised of a minimum of three EU member states or Horizon Europe participants, at least one of which must be an EU member state. Organisations from anywhere else in the world can join a Doctoral Network if it satisfies those requirements.

Despite Brexit, the United Kingdom is a full member of Horizon Europe, with the exception of European Innovation Council (EIC) funding.

View a full list of participating countries in Horizon Europe (PDF), as well as EU member states.

Applying for MSCA funding

As of November 2021, details of which Doctoral Networks will be offering PhD funding have yet to be announced.

However, when they’re available, Doctoral Network PhD vacancies will be advertised on the EURAXESS job website.

It’s likely that the application process will be similar to that of a traditional PhD, with candidates asked to provide:

  • Proof that you are qualified to undertake a PhD. You will usually need to have obtained a relevant Masters degree or equivalent qualification
  • A transcript of your grades
  • A CV detailing prior experiences of projects, and any publications
  • A personal statement detailing why you are suitable for the project
  • Contact details for two or more individuals that can provide a reference/letter of recommendation
  • Certificate of language proficiency (if required)
Last Updated: 16 November 2021

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