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“You can be a grant winner no matter if you live in the countryside or in the mountains or work in a small organisation,” says Prof. Robert Mysłajek, Vice-President of the Association for Nature WOLF with its office in Godziszki, Silesian (śląskie) Voivodeship. Between 2014 and 2017, Prof. Robert Mysłajek performed a post-doctoral fellowship funded by the NCN under the FUGA call at the University of Warsaw where he was later employed. “I have never worked at a research institution before although my work there was the same as at the Association,” he says adding that the Head of the Association who has worked at non-governmental institutions for over two decades is yet another NCN grant winner which helped her to get employment at a university.

“Everyone has the same funding opportunity. Grants are awarded for the best projects,” says Prof. Zbigniew Błocki, NCN Director. The success of a proposal depends on its quality and researcher’s academic and research track record.

Between 2011 and 2021, the largest number of grants went to researchers from the largest academic centres that employ the largest number of researchers and produce the largest number of proposals. According to the study drafted by the NCN’s Evaluation Team, the largest number of grants went to researchers from the following Voivodeships: Mazowieckie (32.3%), Małopolskie (18.5%.), Wielkopolskie (11.2%), Dolnośląskie (8.8%) and Łódzkie (5.6%). In seven Voivodeships, the total funding awarded per number of PhD holders was over 100 thousand (Mazowieckie, Małopolskie, Wielkopolskie, Dolnośląskie, Pomorskie, Łódzkie and Warmińsko-Mazurskie). The lowest number of grants went to Lubuskie, Świętokrzyskie and Opolskie Voivodships.

In Mazowsze, public, non-public and church-owned universities alone employ over 14,500 researchers who are PhD holders, in Małopolska almost 11,000. These figures do not even include employees of the Polish Academy of Sciences and other research institutions. Higher education institutions in the Świętokrzyskie and Opolskie Voivideships employ approx. 200 people, whilst the smallest academic centre (Lubuskie Voivodeship), merely 1,000 people.

Over the last decade, more than 33,000 proposals have been submitted to the NCN by researchers from Mazowsze, almost 20,000 from Małopolska, over 13,000 from Wielkopolska and over 10,000 from Dolny Śląsk. At the same time, around 1,000 proposals came from the Świętokrzyskie and Opolskie Voivodeships and only 600 from the Lubuskie Voivodeship.

“In order to receive a grant, a researcher must prepare a good and well-grounded research project,” says Dr Magdalena Kolańska-Stronka from the University of Zielona Góra who received funding a few years ago under the PRELUDIUM call. She consulted her project with other researchers, including foreign researchers. “It takes time to prepare a proposal but allows you to plan your work for the nearest future well. Funding allows you to carry out your research more efficiently, as well as to publish and present your research results at international conferences. In my case, it also helped me to get a PhD,” she adds.

Support for smaller research institutions

According to Prof. Błocki, science in Poland is too decentralised and although the NCN cannot affect the reason for that state of affairs pertains, it strives to equalise the research potential of various research institutions. The NCN promotes research mobility, introduces quotas on the number of grants, organises training courses for applicants and NCN Days at smaller research institutions. 

“Our regulations may foster decentralisation of science. Our proposal evaluation criteria do not include evaluation of a research institution,” says Prof. Błocki who believes that academic and research centres should actively attract researchers and the NCN “gives them measures to do so”. “Universities should attract researchers who are our grant winners, especially that at the beginning it is entirely cost-free ,” he says.

Maciej Juzaszek was conferred a PhD degree at the Jagiellonian University and later worked at one of the Warsaw universities. “I conducted preliminary research on how to educate doctoral law students. I co-prepared two proposals to the NCN but was both times unsuccessful, so I followed experts’ advice and modified my research idea,” he says. His next proposal was recommended for funding last autumn under the OPUS call within the framework of the Centre for Legal Education and Social Theory (CLEST) of the University of Wrocław. “If I had not been awarded that grant, I would not have had the opportunity to work at the CLEST, and I might have had to look for employment elsewhere, outside academia," he adds.

Grants can be used to fund the employment of principal investigators and salaries for the team members (post-docs), research funded by the grants strengthens scientific communities and counts towards evaluation. “A sports analogy can be used here. Can a football club achieve success relying only on its own football academy? It almost never happens,” says Prof. Błocki

We have recently presented information on how the NCN supports early-stage researchers