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

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

They are part of the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research funding scheme and replace the joint-PhD funding previously offered within the Erasmus Mundus programme.

MSCA funding for PhD students is offered within university partnerships called Innovative Training Networks (ITN).

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), public and private (non-commercial) research centres, non-profit organisations etc. in order to train early-stage researchers in professional environments.

At PhD-level, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions fund specific projects within groups called Innovative Training 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 ITN available for doctoral students. Though they differ slightly, all offer unique opportunities to work with academic and non-academic partners in an international setting.

Each network has slightly different participation requirements, so you should be able to choose one suited to your needs.

European Training Networks (ETN)

As their name suggests, these placements are based in Europe (though short periods of training may take place at centres in other parts of the world).

The objectives of this network type are to encourage creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

The beneficiaries that employ you are likely to be from different sectors. Projects focus on interdisciplinary training and a combination of academic and industry expertise.

Supervision between beneficiaries and/or partner organisations is usually shared equally, allowing for a well-rounded training experience.

European Industrial Doctorates (EID)

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 spend at least 50% of your time on an EID 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.

European Joint Doctorates (EJD)

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

The objective of the EJD 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.

Network structure

Each variety of ITN includes at least one host institution and one partner organisations:

  • Host institutions are the universities or training providers within which your PhD will take place. They will implement and host your research activities, contributing to your training (organising external training where necessary), and supervise your progress. They are in charge of funding the network as a ‘beneficiary’ of the MSCA. Host institutions are located in EU Member States only.
  • Partner organisations contribute to the implementation of the research, and will oversee some of your research activity. Partner organisations can also be jointly responsible for your supervision on a given programme. Partner organisations may be SMEs, charitable organisations, research centres, and so on. Partner Organisations may be in either the EU or in one of the Associated Countries listed above.

How much time you spend at each will be tailored to the requirements of your research project.

Studying within an ITN

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 ITN. 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 ITNs or research groups

Each ITN should also organise a final network conference to discuss its outcomes and establish ongoing relationships.

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 in its implications for society.

Conferences, presentation evenings, talks at schools and Universities, partaking in research festivals etc. are some of many available outreach activities which may be undertaken on the programme.

One such event is European Researchers’ Night (NIGHT) which is coordinated under MSCA to stimulate young people’s interest in research careers. The annual event was held in September this year, with activities in cities all across Europe. For more information, visit the website.

Funding amounts and eligibility

MSCA funding is open to PhD students of all disciplines, irrespective of nationality, for up to four years. It covers full costs of accommodation and travel, as well as providing a monthly living allowance, together with support for mobility (between different institutions within your ITN) and a family allowance.

All student researchers are financed throughout the period of the ITN they apply to.

Participating countries

Although the nationality of each student researcher that applies to an ITN is not restricted, there are only a select number of countries involved in MSCA within which your placement will be undertaken.

Alongside the European Union Member States, there are many Associated Countries which are also involved in the scheme.

Associated countries are those which are not a part of the EU, but which share agreements with the EU.

The full list can be viewed here.

Applying for MSCA funding

Applying for an MSCA position is very much like applying for a job.

Projects have already been set by the Beneficiaries and Partner Organisations involved in a given ITN - all you have to do is apply to one that interests you.

For most positions, this will mean providing:

  • 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)

Eligibility for the different ITNs varies. However, all available ITNs are advertised on the EURAXESS Jobs website.

Last updated - 22/09/20

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