On stage. I just got back from Brussels where I had to defend my ERC Starting Grant in front of the Neuroscience Panel. The European Research Counsil (ERC) Starting Grants are prestigious excellence grants and I was lucky enough to be invited for the famous second round. This second round requires the applicants to go to Brussels in order to give a 10-15 min presentation and defend the application on the 24th floor of the Covent Garden building. It provides a wonderful view of the city, but nobody really bothered taking this in. Let’s use the opportunity to quickly discuss grants, funding and the future of epilepsy genetics.
What the ERC grant was about. ERC grants ask for projects that have a “higher chance of failing than usual”. This, in combination with a permanent focus on excellence, provides an interesting backdrop for writing the grant and for putting this into a ten minute presentation. We put together a proposal on genomic imaging, combining state-of-the-art genetics with functional MRI, aiming to assess the genetic contribution to changes in resting state connectivity seen in epilepsy. I eventually opted for a Steve Jobs-inspired minimalist slide design using the design of this blog. I think my presentation went well. I literally practiced so much in the end that I still have my own voice in my head. However, some of the questions were difficult to answer. Personally, I am not very optimistic about this grant given the fierce competition, but I guess we will see in 1-2 months. If you ever end up being asked to go to Brussels yourself, I would be happy to tell you a bit more about my experience.
Grants failing. Talking about the funny feeling I had when leaving the Covent Garden, I just wanted to mention that so far, we have not been very lucky in obtaining grants for epilepsy genetics this year. EuroEPINOMICS will end in the middle of next year and so far, we do not have a follow-up consortium in sight that will take over the large-scale genetics that we need to translate single exome gene findings into recurrent variants. It might very well be that some of the questions we currently feel to be important simply won’t be answered. One possibility to maintain large-scale genomics might be constructs like our RES exome fund, which uses crowd funding to generate a large fund for trio exome sequencing. We will see whether models like this can cover some of the gap that will open in the near future.
Family. I would like to thank everybody who helped me prepare for this presentation in Brussels. I believe that there few other occasions when I had so many people helping fine-tuning in what I can put into 10 minutes. I also want to thank my wife Katie who –not being healthy herself- heroically took care of our two kids while I was gone. On my way back, I could catch a direct train to the airport, jump directly on the next plane and had the shuttle bus to Kiel waiting for me in Hamburg. It took me a little less than three hours from Brussels Covent Garden to our front door, which is a new speed record. I just wanted to get home to my family asap. And when you really want something, “all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” (the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho).