Technische Universität Braunschweig
  • Braunschweig, Lower Saxony, Germany

ERC Starting Grant for research on small bodies in the solar system

2nd Feb, 2021
Jessica Agarwal transferred from Max Planck Institute to TU Braunschweig

In summer 2020, physicist Jessica Agarwal moved from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen to Technische Universität Braunschweig. Agarwal researches the activity of asteroids and comets in the solar system. Her focus is particularly on the question of what information these small bodies can provide about our solar system and its origins. In addition to the Lichtenberg Professorship funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, she also brought an ERC Starting Grant to TU Braunschweig. The individual grants of the European Research Council are aimed at outstanding scientists who stand at the beginning of their careers. In this interview, Jessica Agarwal reports on her experiences in the application process for the ERC grant and gives valuable tips to interested researchers.

Credit: Max Fuhrmann/TU Braunschweig

Ms. Agarwal, what were your first steps before you applied for the ERC grant?

Agarwal: I had an incredible number of research ideas that I wanted to investigate independently. The ERC grant offers exactly that - independent research funds that bring excellent opportunities to advance one's own research. For example, by hiring staff. Before applying, I talked to people in my environment, experienced researchers and people who had already applied for an ERC Grant in some cases. I needed feedback on whether it was the right time for me to apply and what my chances might be. The reactions were very positive and fortunately it worked out successfully.

What convinced you to transfer to TU Braunschweig?

Agarwal: The Institute of Geophysics and Extraterrestrial Physics at TU Braunschweig is one of the most prestigious institutions in Germany in my field of research - the professional work done here was therefore decisive for me. In addition, I already knew the members of the institute from conferences, so a good personal contact had already developed beforehand, which I can only confirm since my arrival in Braunschweig.

What is your impression of TU Braunschweig after the first few months?

Agarwal: At TU Braunschweig, I really appreciate the practical orientation and the openness to new approaches and paths. The support I receive even outside my institute - for example, from TU Braunschweig‘s research service and EU university office - gave me the feeling that I was in the right place here right from the start. Unfortunately, I haven't seen much of the campus and the city of Braunschweig yet due to the Corona requirements, but there will certainly be time for that at some point.

You have also been awarded an Agnes-Pockels-Fellowship at TU Braunschweig - what advantages does the fellowship offer you?

Agarwal: The financial support of the Agnes-Pockels-Fellowship for example gives me the opportunity to hire additional staff. Of course, that helps me a lot in achieving my research goals. As a young scientist, I really appreciate that TU Braunschweig creates very good conditions for its young researchers with funding opportunities like the Agnes-Pockels-Fellowship.

What advice do you have for other young researchers who want to apply for ERC grants?

Agarwal: It is important to have your own goal clearly in mind and to focus on that. That means asking yourself again and again: What are the scientific questions that I consider urgent and that I want to answer? If you are convinced of your project yourself, it will help to convince also the reviewers of it. I also think it's important not to be intimidated by the ERC's reputation. You often hear that the chances of success are low and that the application process is very competitive. It was therefore very helpful for me personally to talk to people who had already written the proposal. That showed me that it is possible. And especially when it comes to the second part of the application, the presentation, I found it helpful to practise it multiple times. Of course, in the best case, again in front of experienced researchers.

More information about ERC funding at TU Braunschweig:

(Credit cover image: NASA, ESA, and J. Agarwal)
Posted 2nd Feb, 2021
Read more from Technische Universität Braunschweig
10th Dec, 2020

Clever minds are the key – welcome to TU Braunschweig!

With the European Research Council (ERC) the European Commission fosters excellent researchers and innovative research aims. The Technische Universität Braunschweig welcomes aspiring ERC grantees in one of Europe’s most active research regions and offers great advisory and mentoring support.
Light-weight, fuel-efficient vehicles suitable for serial production, quiet, low-emission aircraft, active agents for combating infectious diseases, personalised medications, metrology for nanotechnology, or strategies for the interlinked city of the future: by focussing our research activities in these four areas, we make significant contributions to the great challenges our society faces today.
To reach this goal, we cooperate closely with the internationally renowned research facilities in the Braunschweig region. In your research work you will benefit greatly from this close-knit scientific network. 36,000 people working in research and development, 27 research institutions and 250 companies in the high-tech sector make Braunschweig the most active research region in Europe. With 9,5% of the GDP spend on research and development it is also Europe’s top investment region, with the highest level of spending on sciences (Eurostat 2018). This is why the region is a driver of innovation attracting a large international scientific community.
Young scientists at TU Braunschweig can rely on a broad range of advisory, mentoring and further education offers. Participants benefit from individual career counselling and best practice examples taken from the careers of outstanding TU Braunschweig scientists. Our team in the Research Services and European Office has many years of experience supporting EU funding programmes. Our service is designed to support you in the development, application and management of projects in such a way as to ensure optimum project preparation and implementation.
Extra support for highly-qualified external researchers is offered through the Agnes Pockels Fellowship Programme. External junior researchers who would like to come to TU Braunschweig with an ERC Grant can apply for an Agnes-Pockels Fellowship as part of the Early Career Programme and receive up to € 40,000 per year for a period of three years.
The city of Braunschweig is a middle sized German capital with some 250,000 inhabitants, located between Hanover and Berlin. If you need a break from your research, take a little shopping stroll and discover the lively inner city with its historic centre, the cathedral, and the half-timbered houses. Enjoy the many cultural events offered at the „Lion City“, with theatre plays, concerts, readings and numerous exhibitions at museums and art galleries. And nature enthusiasts will love Braunschweig’s many parks and will particularly enjoy canoeing on the Oker River or strolling through the Harz Mountains.
As you see, TU Braunschweig has a lot to offer. But don't just take our word for it – come and see for yourself!