Scientific Service and Third-Party Funding

Last update: July 2023

Head: Imke Kruse

Taking into account the increased demand for coordinated science management, the directors created the position of Institute Research Coordinator in 2021. Under the leadership of Imke Kruse, the newly-established Scientific Service Unit offers a range of services to all researchers at the Institute. It seeks to create synergies throughout the Institute to save resources and professionalize available services. Service offers include support for international colleagues by the International Office, management of third-party funding, support for PhD students in our structured graduate programs, access to the Institute's core facility at the Max Planck Dahlem Campus of Cognition, scientific editing, and the Office of the Research Groups. In addition, the Office of the Managing Director was established as part of the Scientific Service Unit in response to the challenge of rotating management among directors. Its purpose is to ensure continuity and preservation of knowledge of cross-institutional operations.

One of the Scientific Service Unit’s central tasks concerns third-party funding. The team supports the Institute's staff in the application, administration, and accounting of third-party funds. Third-party funding is of great importance for the Institute's research. In the period 2020–2022, researchers at the Institute newly acquired 11.4 million € in third-party funds. The years 2020 and 2021 were unusual years, also in terms of the expenditure of third-party funds, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which delayed data collection at the Institute. In 2020 and 2021, research was third-party funded amounting to about 2 million € each year. In 2022, third-party funds rose to about 3 million €.

During the reporting period, the German Research Foundation (DFG) was the Institute's major external funder: Almost 40% of third-party funding came from the DFG. In second place were German federal agencies such as Federal Ministry of Education and Research with a share of 18%. The European Union (EU) followed in third place with 12%. Indeed, the EU is becoming increasingly important for the external funding of the Institute’s research. Nicolas Schuck, head of MPRG NeuroCode, received an European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant on “The Function of Hippocampal and Cortical Memory Replay in Humans” in 2020, followed by Bernhard Spitzer, former member of the Center for Adaptive Rationality (ARC), who won an ERC Consolidator Grant to finance his new group on “Adaptive Memory and Decision Making,” which started in 2022.

Within the EU’s Horizon 2020 program, ARC research scientists Stefan Herzog and Ralf Kurvers received a grant for the Hybrid Human Artificial Collective Intelligence in Open-Ended Decision Making (HACID) project in 2022 in which they collaborate with colleagues from Ireland, Italy, and the UK. They are developing a novel hybrid collective intelligence for decision support for professionals facing complex open-ended problems, promoting engagement, fairness, and trust. Furthermore, towards the end of the current reporting period, a group of researchers from ARC were granted a project in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences and other European partners, such as Sciences Po in Paris and the University of Venice. The project “Understanding the causal mechanisms of digital citizenship” proposes to take the diagnosis of a structural change through the large-scale adoption of social media seriously and seeks to develop solutions that help make it work for, rather than against democracy.

The Institute has also been successful in the context of the EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action during the reporting period. Marwa El Zein (ARC) started her research under this EU-funded program in 2021 and is working on social individual’s decisions and how they are shaped by group affiliation during collective decisions. Another researcher, Shweta Suran, will join the Institute in 2024 with funding from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action.

In the last round of calls (2022), the Institute was able to acquire two additional ERC Consolidator Grants, which will start in July 2023 and January 2024, respectively. Simone Kühn, head of the Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience, received funding for the project BrainScape, in which she intends to study how the physical environment shapes the human brain, well-being, and mental health. BrainScape aims to spearhead the emerging field of Environmental Neuroscience and will make an impact by building a knowledge base for evidence-based urban planning to promote healthy living environments with significant practical implications. Siawoosh Mohammadi, who very recently started as head of the newly-established MPRG MR Physics, received an ERC Consolidator Grant to study non-invasive staining of tissue microstructure in temporal lobe epilepsy using in-vivo MRI (MRStain). MRStain will exploit the sensitivity of the MRI signal to estimate aggregated histological metrics in the human brain non-invasively. Like established histology staining methods (e.g., myelin-basic protein), MRStain will be sensitive to changes in cellular populations, axons, myelin, and iron.

Given the increasing importance of third-party funding for the Institute's research activities, the professionalization of the third-party funding position, which the Institute began in 2022, was of great importance. As part of the Scientific Service Unit, the Institute’s Third-Party Funding Officer, Claudia Vinent, a position existing in this form since March 2022, advises the Institute's researchers on potential national and international third-party funding lines. She offers individual consulting and active assistance in the application for, and during the use of, granted external funds. She coordinates with third-party funders, checks the project budgets of the Institute's third-party funds, prepares budget plans and allocations, and monitors project costs and compliance with contractual terms and conditions. During the funding periods, the third-party funding officer also prepares data for reports, statistics, and analyses. Where necessary, she coordinates with the Max Planck Society’s Administrative Headquarters. Towards the end of a project, the officer provides advice on the reporting and documentation obligations and takes care of audit documents and cooperation with reviewers.

Taken together, the Scientific Service Unit fills a major gap in the support offered to researchers at the MPI for Human Development so far and represents a significant infrastructural improvement.

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