Grant-funded doctoral studies

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There are hundreds of grant-funded researchers active at the University of Helsinki who are working on their doctoral theses and postdoctoral research with personal grants. In fact, personal grants awarded by national and international foundations are an important funding option for doctoral research. The number of grant applicants is high and competition for multi-year grants in particular is fierce, which makes success in the application process also an academic merit!

Do you already have a grant?

Congratulations! Have you already concluded a grant-funded researcher agreement? The University’s HR Services handles matters related to grant-funded researchers. More information on grant-funded work at the University of Helsinki is available in Flamma.

Are you applying for a grant?

Drawing up grant applications and applying for funding from different funders are elements of researchers’ professional skills, which should be practised right from the beginning of your research career. Doctoral researchers can apply for a personal research grant individually or as a member of a research group. Grant periods range from months to years. Grants can be sought for various purposes: long-term work, brief visits abroad, equipment or, for example, organising a conference. The process of writing grant applications improves the research plan at every attempt and makes personal goals increasingly specific.

In Finland, doctoral research is funded particularly by private non-profit foundations and funds. The Finnish foundation sector is broad and invests hundreds of millions of euros in research every year. The Aurora database of the University of Turku offers a comprehensive list of current Finnish funding calls. Each foundation has a unique purpose for their operations. Foundations are committed to awarding funds to carry out the purposes set out in their rules. For this reason, you should carefully read funding calls and always draw up applications specifically for individual calls. Additional information can always be sought from foundations, which organise various information sessions both virtually and in person.

When applying for a grant, take at least the following into account:

  • Read the call for applications and instructions, and adhere to the instructions and deadlines.
  • Make sure well in advance that you have all the necessary attachments.
  • If a letter of recommendation can be attached, ask for one (e.g., from your supervisor) in good time, preferably several weeks before the deadline.
  • When writing your research and funding plan, be precise, concise and understandable, and bear in mind that reviewers do not always represent your specific research field. Also justify the topicality and societal significance of your project.
  • Always keep your research plan and CV up to date. Remember to check the length and format specifications for these appendices for each individual funder.
  • In conclusion, be honest, realistic and optimistic. Do not understate your abilities, but do not make promises you cannot keep either.

While personal research grants are often sought for doctoral research carried out in your own university community, grants can also be sought for research carried out abroad. Among others, the following award funding for doctoral studies pursued abroad and for work in international research communities:

  • The Fulbright Center offers scholarship programmes for students and researchers in support of mobility as well as higher education and research collaboration.
  • The Osk. Huttunen Foundation offers grants to young Finns for the completion of doctoral studies outside Finland.
  • Finnish Foundations’ Post Doc Pool supports postdoctoral research in universities outside Finland. Funding can be applied for immediately after receiving the permission to publicly defend your doctoral thesis. The preliminary examiners’ statements on the thesis must be attached to the application.

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How are grants different from employment?

Personal grants are intended for research and exempt from tax up to a sum determined annually by the Finnish government. Grants are always gratuitous, which means that grant-funded researchers are not employed by the University or the funder. Consequently, grant-funded researchers do not enjoy all of the benefits associated with employment, including occupational healthcare. Correspondingly, they are not bound by all of the obligations associated with employment. The work or working time of grant-funded researchers is not supervised or monitored.

However, some salaried work is permitted during the grant period, such as hourly paid teaching. However, separate compensation is always paid for teaching. In fact, grant-funded researchers should check the funder’s guidelines on how much salaried work is permitted in the grant period. Some foundations provide doctoral students with the opportunity to combine their grant with salaried part-time (50–56%) employment at a university or another research institution so that, together, they make it possible to carry out full-time research and complete studies required for the doctoral degree.

Remember to conclude the grant-funded researcher agreement!

While grant-funded researchers are not employed by the University, they are valued members of the University community. It is quite typical for funding sources to change over the years, and such variance should not affect researchers’ opportunities to participate in the activities of the research community. Grant-funded researchers should always conclude a grant-funded researcher agreement with the University to ensure the required access rights and coverage by the communications of the relevant research community. With the grant-funded researcher agreement, researchers ensure their integration into the research community for which the agreement is made. The grant-funded researcher agreement confers the following benefits to researchers:

  • Researchers are added to faculty mailing lists and granted access rights to workgroups equal to those of employees.
  • Researcher's personal profile in the University’s Research Portal does not expire after you graduate and your study right ends.
  • Researchers are added to the University of Helsinki People Finder.
  • Researchers have the right to vote in the University’s administrative elections.
  • Researchers have the right to participate in staff training offered by the university. In the case of the most popular training offerings, employed staff may have to be given priority.
  • Researchers can indicate their affiliation with the University of Helsinki in conferences and other academic contexts.
  • Researchers have the right to utilise support provided by Research Funding Services according to the same terms as employed researchers (main focus on postdoctoral researchers).

In other words, the grant-funded researcher agreement is more than an agreement on work facilities. Grant-funded researchers should conclude the agreement even if they do not need a workspace. The University and the grant-funded researcher can agree that the researcher organises their workspace and other preconditions for work independently as they see fit. In such cases, grant-funded researchers are still entitled to the services and rights stated above. Most often, the grant-funded researcher agreement is also used to agree on working conditions, such as fit-for-purpose work facilities, printing as well as computers and phones provided to researchers. Among other things, the agreement can lay out provisions on the rights and responsibilities related to work and laboratory facilities as well as on keys to these facilities. Such details are always agreed on a case-by-case basis at the time of drawing up the agreement. For concluding the agreement, please contact HR Services at your home faculty.

Please note that a grant-funded researcher agreement does not automatically give you the right to a workspace in all faculties. In these faculties, a separate application procedure for workspace is arranged which grant-funded researchers can participate in if they wish to be allocated work facilities at the faculty. Check the unit-specific instructions for grant-funded researchers in Flamma (NB! Choose your unit at the bottom of the page).

Useful tips and links for grant-funded researchers

Grant-funded researchers should take a proactive stance and attend the meetings organised by their doctoral programme and research community. Many foundations also organise various events for their grant recipients, including the Grants+ services by the Kone Foundation, or offer work facilities to them, such as the Nessling Nest of the Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation. Below are a handful of useful links: