Researchers choose to be active: summary of the MINIATURA 1 call

Thursday, 22 February 2018

The NCN’s first MINIATURA call for single research activities instrumental in basic research has attracted a truly massive response. In the recently concluded programme, funding was granted to 828 researchers, the resources allocated reaching the sum of € 7 million. The initiative sought to support the researchers who have had no experience as beneficiaries of the NCN’s grant system.

The MINIATURA funding opportunity is addressed to holders of a doctorate degree that has been obtained within 12 years of submitting the proposal, who have not acted as principal investigator to a research project, and have not been NCN-grantees. A prospective candidate in the call must be employed by the host institution applying for the grant.

Research activities in the MINIATURA 1 would be funded with sums from ca € 1,200 to ca € 12,000, and their duration cannot exceed 12 months. Salaries for researchers, scholarships or funding the purchase of research equipment were not covered by the funding in this scheme. Eligible for funding were only actions instrumental in the completion of basic research, such as pilot or preliminary studies, research travels and conferences, library surveys, fellowships or consultations.

We are happy about the large response to the MINIATURA 1 call. Unfortunately, contrary to our expectations, the programme fell somewhat short of its intended role, i.e. that of support and encouragement to researchers from smaller research centres. In MINIATURA, just as in our other calls, we have seen the dominance of the centres from the provinces of Masovia, Lesser Poland and Greater Poland. Of course, we are happy that the list of the host institutions that have carried off the largest number of “small grants” includes also universities from Olsztyn or Lublin, said professor Zbigniew Błocki, director of the NCN.

Initially the resolution by the Council of the NCN of 10th November 2016 set the budget of the call at ca € 4.64 million. Since the demand proved to be much higher than expected, in October 2017 the Council decided to increase funding by ca € 2.32 million. This notwithstanding, in one month nearly 70 % of the total of ca € 7 million was committed, while the sum called for in the pending applications was manifold in excess of the remaining resources of MINIATURA 1. This prompted the decision to discontinue the call earlier than initially planned, i.e. on 10th November.

The scale of participation in the MINIATURA 1 call has outpaced our expectations. While it shows that with this initiative we have responded to a real demand on the part of the research community, we can also see the need for improvements, since our primary objective is to encourage universities from the regions so far underrepresented in NCN calls to step up their participation and win more grants. Owing to an earlier conclusion of the call, we do not intend to introduce any substantial changes to the MINIATURA 2 programme. Nevertheless, the Council of the NCN has worked for a good time now on significant modifications to the terms of the call, which we mean to apply to MINIATURA’s third edition, said prof. Janusz Janeczek, the Chair of the Council of the NCN.

It is believed that such a massive response to the call was caused in no small degree by a number of improvements in the simplified call procedure and evaluation of proposals. New features of the MINIATURA call included: a continuous call mode, an abbreviated review procedure thanks to which an applicant can receive a funding decision within three months of submitting the application, and the replacement of the customary grant agreements with the General Terms of the Contract, annexed by the applicant to the proposal. These solutions, as well as the replacement of paper proposals with digital-only policy, served to significantly shorten the time of the funding procedure.

Since the publication of the call on 4th March 2017 until its conclusion on 10th November 2017 as many as 2,120 proposals were sent to the NCN. 828 of those were recommended for funding, which accounts for 39% of all applications. Laureates of the MINIATURA most often requested funding for preliminary research (520 proposals). The second most popular application type was for pilot studies (87 proposals); 56 applicants requested funding for their research travels, 45 – conferences, and 35 – library surveys. The applicant institutions with the largest number of “small grants” were the Jagiellonian University (51), the University of Lodz (39) and the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn (37).

The launch of MINIATURA’s second edition is planned for April 2018.