Newsletter October 2016

electronic letter


By the time you are reading this, the FWO will have completed yet another busy few weeks. Each year in September and October, the FWO's Expertpanels evaluate the applications for new grants and research projects, and this year too we have registered an increase in the number of applications as compared to the previous year. The evaluation and selection of these research proposals invariably represent a real challenge for both the FWO staff and for the members of the Expertpanels. The steady increase in the number of applications over the past years is proof of the commitment and ambition of researchers in Flanders, but has also inevitably led to a lower success rate. This is a well-known problem and the source of frustration and disappointment among many researchers, but also among the Expertpanels, which have the almost impossible task of selecting projects that qualify for funding.  We have to consider carefully how this can be solved. 


I am delighted that the Flemish government has earmarked an extra budget of no less than 100 million euros for the FWO.   Minister Philippe Muyters thus heeds the appeal of researchers, who due to lack of resources see opportunities and talents drain from our universities and research centres to foreign countries. This financial incentive will enable the FWO to finally raise the chances of success in virtually all funding channels.  This extra budget will also be used for the new EOS programme – Excellent Science, a worthy successor to the former IUAPs, about which you can read more in this newsletter.


However, more thinking is needed. Also the FWO needs to review its strategy. The increase in financial resources will allow for a better selection, and here too we aim to meet the expectations of researchers. Earlier this year we started with the development of a new evaluation procedure to optimise the processing of applications for fellowships and research projects. In this new procedure, too, the quality of the research remains the sole yardstick, but we also want to boost the efficiency and transparency of the process wherever possible. For the preparations we have been able to benefit from all the comments, criticism and reactions that we have received in the past years, both in the Expertpanels and from the academic community in Flanders. In consultation with the stakeholders, we are working to shape the new structure and implement it as soon as possible: we will keep you posted!


As you can see,  instead of dwelling in the present, we are busy thinking about the future! Fundamental research that inspires and advances knowledge and expertise, remains without any doubt Flanders' most important resource, and provides a vital basis for innovation and future-oriented thinking. It will be needed more than ever in Flanders, in Europe, and worldwide. As an agency that supports fundamental and strategic research at the universities of the Flemish Community, it is the role of FWO to continue to create opportunities for research, to stimulate scientific breakthroughs from the start, and to support young, talented researchers with a passion for knowledge. With the extra budget available for this purpose, I am confident that we will be able to continue to play this role in the future!


Willy Verstraete

President FWO

In the spotlight

Kom Naar Buiten

The Kom Naar Buiten event is organised by the FWO, vliruos, the Young Academy and the KVAB. On this day devoted to scientific communication, you will receive practical tips and inspiring examples from journalists, communication experts and peer researchers.  The target group are researchers and lecturers at universities, university colleges or research institutes who want to bring their research more into the public domain. 


The event takes place on Monday 14 November 2016 at the Paleis der Academiën (Hertogsstraat 1, 1000 Brussels). Participation is free after registration. The full programme is available at


In the autumn of 2016, the FWO, together with the F.R.S.-FNRS, will launch the brand new EOS programme. The EOS programme is a fully reworked version of the InterUniversity Attraction Poles (IUAP) and aims to support fundamental research in all scientific research areas between researchers from the Flemish and the French-speaking communities through the funding of joint four-year research projects. A call will take place every four years, the first with a deadline of 1 April 2017 - 14:00 for research projects to be launched on 1 January 2018.

Details about the conditions, the eligibility criteria and the evaluation procedure of the EOS programme will be announced later this year on the websites of the FWO and F.R.S-FNRS and widely disseminated within the research community.

Andy Gijbels wins first Flemish PhD Cup

The first Flemish PhD Cup was awarded to Andy Gijbels, PhD in Engineering Science at KU Leuven, in Brussels on September 28. With this award, Scriptie, a non-profit organisation, seeks to encourage fresh PhD scientists to share their research with the global community.


Andy Gijbels (former SB fellow) impressed the jury, which included VRT journalist Annelies Beck and VUB professor Dave Sinardet, with a presentation on his robot technology for ultra-precise eye surgery.


FWO postdocs Heleen Dewitte (Universiteit Gent & VUB) whose PhD focused on a new method for cancer immunotherapy and Didier Snoeck (Universiteit Gent) who developed self-healing concrete, were elected as second and third laureates.


More information:

Former FWO postdoc Johan Auwerx is awarded "Swiss Nobel Prize"

Former FWO postdoc Johan Auwerx is the laureate of the Prix Marcel Benoist 2016, also known as the "Swiss Nobel Prize". The 59-year old Auwerx was FWO postdoc at KU Leuven from 1988 through 1990 and since 2008 professor at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and is awarded the prize for his work on mitochondrion and its role in metabolism.


The Prix Marcel Benoist is a monetary prize that has been offered annually since 1920 to a scientist in Switzerland who has made the most useful discovery, particularly in the field of human life. The prize is worth almost 46,000 euros. It will be awarded in Lausanne on October 31.

FWO postdoc Isabel Beets lands title of New Scientist's Science Talent 2016

FWO postdoc Isabel Beets (KU Leuven) has landed the title of New Scientist's Science Talent 2016, a competition for the biggest young scientific talent of the Netherlands and Flanders. The jury was not only impressed by the scientific quality, but also praised the way in which she shares her research with the outside world.


The prize was awarded on September 22 during the New Scientist's live event 'Brain'. Isabel Beets was presented the award, worth €2,500, by neuropsychologist Erik Scherder.


Isabel Beets investigates how ‘associative learning' takes place at the molecular level in the brain. She was a FWO PhD fellow from 2009 through to 2013 and has since then held a FWO postdoc fellowship.

First FWO call for doctoral (PhD) grants for strategic basic research (SB) closed

On 15 September 2016, the FWO closed the call for doctoral (PhD) grants for strategic basic research (SB). This programme, known for years as 'the IWT grants', has since this year been managed by the FWO. The IWT (Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology) was merged on 1 January 2016 into the Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, with the strategic research programmes being transferred to the FWO.

The call for doctoral (PhD) grants SB is aimed at young researchers who want to develop into strategically thinking and innovation-oriented scientists. The doctoral (PhD) projects stand for challenging and innovative research offering the potential to generate, in the longer term, innovative applications (products, processes, services) with economic added value. Such potential applications may lead to innovations for companies or sectors, and/or fit into the VRWI transition areas.

A total of 694 applications were submitted, continuing the downward trend since 2013. Applications for the last call (2015) by the IWT still amounted to 767. 

After the eligibility analysis, a total of 53 ad hoc expert panels, one for each research topic, are composed for the evaluation of the candidates and their project proposals.  Each panel consists of 5 or 6 Flemish and foreign experts having a broad scientific expertise and an in-depth knowledge of innovation and economically oriented applications. Both academics and experts working in research and development in industry are invited.

The SB panel sessions take place at the premises of the FWO between 7 November and 8 December 2016. Each panel evaluates 12 to 16 candidates, and the evaluation also includes an oral test.  Each expert will also be asked to prepare a short preliminary report on a limited number of files. The oral test consists of a short presentation ('elevator pitch') by the candidate, followed by an interactive discussion with the experts. The evaluation criteria focus on the candidate, the project and the potential applications, with the candidate's qualities (potential doctoral skills, technical knowledge and application-oriented insight) carrying the greatest weight.


Each SB Expert panel is overseen by a representative of the FWO, who acts as moderator during the session. He/she may be an FWO policy officer or an adviser of the Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The composition of the panels is also carried out in close collaboration with advisors from the Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.


Based on the findings of the SB expert panels, the FWO Board of Trustees will allocate 200 SB grants on December 15th.


Amendments to the regulations

  • Payment schedule for fundamental research projects: two advances (40% and 35%) will in future be paid on new allocations. Balances will be paid during the first 4 years and in years 5 and 6. (See regulations for research projects, art. 23)
  • Nationality requirement: this requirement has now also been removed for travel grants and the applicant only needs to be in possession of a master's degree obtained in the EEA or Switzerland. (See web page International Mobility)
  • New main host institutions: the Institute for Tropical Medicine, the Vlerick Business School, Antwerp Management School and the Antwerp Maritime Academy may in future also act as main host institution for fundamental research projects and postdoctoral fellowships. (See regulations research projects and postdoctoral fellowships)
  • Eligibility for applications: appointments required for FWO funding will in future explicitly be required to be remunerated appointments. (see general regulations, art. 5)
  • Ethics: in the general regulations (art. 4), the notion of ethics in relation to research has been broadened and described in detail. In this respect, you may also check out the updated page on research ethics.

International news

Call for PhD fellowships at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence EUI

The European University Institute (EUI) in Florence is a renowned institute that offers young researchers a unique opportunity to complete their PhD research in an international and outstanding scientific context. The focus is on European research projects in Behavioural and Social Sciences: History, Law, Economics, and Political/Social Sciences. For the academic year 2017-2018, the FWO will provide funding for two PhD fellowships at the EUI. The call opens on 1 November 2016 and applications can be submitted via the online application portal of the EUI until 31 January 2017.

» More information on eligibility criteria and selection procedure

Results Joint Research Projects with China (MOST)

The call for joint research projects by researchers from the Flemish Community and China closed on March 1, 2016. The applications submitted have been evaluated, and in consultation with our Chinese partner organisation, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), it was decided to fund 4 excellent research projects.

» The list of successful applications which were launched on 1 October 2016 can be viewed on our website

Prior notification new travel grant: Grants for a long stay at an ERC Grantee abroad

Are you planning to apply for an ERC grant (starting, consolidator, or advanced) in the near future? Would you like to strengthen your ERC application by bolstering your foreign research experience and optimising your research profile/vision? Then you may consider travelling abroad to carry out research in the excellent research environment of a former or current ERC Grantee. 


As of November 2016 the FWO will be offering 'grants for a long stay at an ERC Grantee abroad'. This travel grant allows researchers to conduct research for a minimum of 3 - maximum of 6 months at a former or current holder of an ERC grant abroad.

» More detailed information

Participation from Flanders in Dragon Gate Programme (MOST, Taiwan)

To encourage (mainly young) Taiwanese researchers to spend part of their research career at foreign partners and thus also establish new partnerships with first-rate research institutions, the Taiwanese Ministry of Science & Technology (MOST, formerly the National Science Council of Taiwan) in 2012 launched the Dragon Gate Programme, officially known as the “New Partnership Program for the Connection to the Top Labs in the World”. Under this programme, Taiwanese research teams can submit a project proposal to MOST.


This programme is not an initiative from the FWO and therefore no Flemish funding is provided, but interested research laboratories from Flanders can nonetheless participate in it. Until the end of May 2017 they can in fact apply to act as host institution and thus build up powerful and sustainable networks with Taiwan. If they are selected by MOST to act as host institution, they undertake to open up their laboratories for the full project duration (max. 2 years) and to provide a workplace for the Taiwanese researchers concerned. For this, they can in part rely on the funding provided under the MOST programme.

» More detailed information, conditions and deadlin

Appointment new Assistant Director Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo (NVIC)

Founded in 1971, the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo (NVIC) is used by the participating universities in the Netherlands and Flanders to stimulate and develop their teaching and research activities in the Middle East. The main focus of these activities is on Arabic & Islamic studies, Egyptology, Archaeology, Social Sciences and Humanities in general, but the institute also represents researchers and students from participating institutions that are active in other disciplines.


The FWO was looking for an Assistant Director Arabic/Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies for the NVIC. After a selection procedure, it was decided to appoint Dr. Ifdal Elsaket as the new Assistant Director Arabic/Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies of the NVIC. She will, in collaboration with the Assistant Director for Archaeology/Egyptology, assist the Director of the NVIC in the initiation, organisation and coordination of the Institute's activities and contribute to the dissemination of Flemish and Dutch culture in Egypt.

Across the boarders

Info session ERC Starting Grants and Consolidator Grants 16/9

On September 16, the FWO, together with the other Belgian NCPs, organised an information session on ERC Starting Grants and Consolidator Grants. Dr. Ino Agrafioti, panel coordinator of the Molecular and Structural Biology and Biochemistry (LS1) evaluation panel, explained the conditions of the next calls and the statistics for Belgium. Her colleague Dr. Filipa Ferraz de Oliveira, head of sector for ethics at ERC Executive Agency (ERCEA), gave a detailed account of the ethical screening procedure of ERC applications. Professor Adrian Liston of the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology and ERC Consolidator Grant holder, and Dr. Jean-Michel Lafleur, ERC Starting Grant holder at the Liège University, shared their valuable insights on the application procedure for an ERC grant. Professor Roel Baets of the Ghent University who in recent years acted as panel member of the Starting and Consolidator grants for the Physical Science and Engineering panel ‘Systems and Communication Engineering’ (PE7), provided applicants with a number of useful tips.


Results ERC Starting Grants 2016

On September 8, 2016, the ERC Executive Agency (ERCEA) published the results of the 2016 call for European Research Council Starting Grants. The 325 laureates include 12 researchers from Flemish research institutes:

  • Rob Ameloot (KU Leuven)
  • Matteo Campioli (Universiteit Antwerpen)
  • Dave De Ruysscher (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
  • Bert De Rybel (Flemish Institute for Biotechnology)
  • Peter Dedecker (KU Leuven)
  • Ilse Derluyn (Universiteit Gent)
  • Jutho Haegeman (Universiteit Gent)
  • Annelies Kusters (KU Leuven)
  • Diego Miralles (Universiteit Gent)
  • Kris Myny (Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre)
  • Marian Verhelst (KU Leuven)
  • Bart Vermang (Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre)

Science Europe

Science Europe, the umbrella organisation of 47 European RFOs and RPOs, continues to provide the scientific community and policy makers with fresh ideas and insights. Publications released over the past few months include the following:

These and many other papers are available at: .

Another mission of Science Europe is to promote the interests of science. In September it issued a statement on the allocation of a sufficiently high budget to the European Framework Programme (Horizon 2020).  For this and other news go to: .