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PEGASUS - giving wings to the career of experienced researchers

Final Report Summary - PEGASUS (PEGASUS - giving wings to the career of experienced researchers)

In 2012 the Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO) launched the Marie Curie Action COFUND programme “PEGASUS, giving wings to your career”. Endorsing the value of international mobility as an important driver to enhance human resources in science on a regional, national, and/or international level, the PEGASUS programme was specifically designed to raise the number of international fellows in Flanders via incoming fellowships that offered the fellows a unique opportunity to boost their career. By providing support and training all within an optimal research environment and enjoying the best working conditions, the fellows could improve their research-specific and transferable skills via acquisition of new methods and techniques, interaction with group members and mentoring. In addition, the fellows could benefit from the intellectual and socio-cultural exchange with their peers and through immersion in a highly qualified research environment, they helped FWO to reach its strategic goal of keeping Flemish research in line with international standards. By installing a transnational mind-set, both among the fellows and their colleagues at the Flemish host institutions, the programme contributed to dissolving regional and national boundaries and bringing the European Research Area nearer to completion.
To achieve this, the PEGASUS programme included a 1-year (SHORT) and 3-year (LONG) incoming fellowship scheme. The 1-year scheme served to replace the former FWO visiting postdoctoral fellowship programme and as such raised the standards of this programme with respect to selection procedures and appointment conditions of the fellows. The 3-year scheme intended to open up and expand the current FWO fellowship programme aiming to attract a larger number of experienced researchers to Flanders, a goal which has been reached with great success (see Periodic report 1).
The PEGASUS programme targeted experienced researchers working abroad of any nationality and any scientific background. As planned in the programme proposal six calls have been successfully launched and evaluated (See periodic Reports 1, 2, and 3). In total 711 applications (33 ineligible and 55 withdrawn) were submitted out of which 91 (26 LONG and 65 SHORT) were granted, resulting in an overall success rate of almost 14,61%. 30% of the awardees were female. Out of these 91 fellows 19.78% renounced their fellowship. No less than 31 different nationalities (17 EU MS – 14 non-EU MS) were represented among the fellows with 61 and 30 fellows having a nationality of an EU MS and non-EU MS respectively. Project proposals in all research domains ranging from medical sciences, science and technology, ... to social sciences and humanities were submitted and granted. The beneficiaries of a PEGASUS grant were spread over all five main host institutions in the Flemish Community (KU Leuven, UGent, UA, VUB, and UHasselt). Selected fellows were offered the same employment conditions as resident researchers and were provided with excellent career development and training opportunities, all in line with the European Charter and Code. Following the European Commission’s directives on ethical issues, the FWO monitors ethics in all applications. In total 23 fellowships were granted for which permission from the universities’ ethical committees was provided. None of the applications included human embryonic stem cell research.
In the course of the PEGASUS programme two surveys were conducted: the first one in 2014 by an external and independent agency (IDEA consult) mainly focusing on the procedural aspects and involving both accepted and rejected applicants (for the main conclusions see sections 2 and 7 of this final report, the entire IDEA consult report is attached); the second one in 2016 by FWO mainly assessing the impact/benefits of the programme on the career perspectives of the fellows as well as on research in Flanders/Europe. This questionnaire only involved successful applicants which had completed their fellowship. 63 of the 91 Pegasus fellows, completed the questionnaire, resulting in a solid 69% response rate.
The vast majority of the PEGASUS fellows was either satisfied (19%), very satisfied (49%), or extremely satisfied (29%) with their fellowship. In addition, the results clearly demonstrate the positive impact the PEGASUS programme had on the career perspectives/research capabilities/network of the fellows. 49% of the respondents experienced that their Pegasus fellowship highly contributed to their career. 14% even indicated that it was decisive for their career. 24% of the respondents obtained a permanent position. 83% of the respondents described the impact the fellowship had on their research capabilities/skills as (very) high. Regarding the impact of the fellowship on their professional network 55% of the respondents described it as (very) high, while 39% thinks the fellowship had a positive impact on their network. Some of the respondents to the survey quoted:

“Excellent opportunity to develop independent research, collaborate with field experts, and establish networks with Flemish scholars and institutions”
“PEGASUS was really important to support my position in a very important institution in my field and this was decisive to be able to remain in the research field and be able to be visible”

Furthermore, the survey clearly demonstrates the positive impact the PEGASUS programme had on increasing the international character and visibility of research in Flanders. At the moment 44% of the fellows is still active in Flanders, while 29% is currently active in their home country or elsewhere abroad (27%). 40% of the fellows successfully applied for funding in Flanders, 16% was unsuccessful, while 44% did not apply for funding. Most of the fellows still collaborate on a frequent (62%) or occasional (27%) basis with their PEGASUS host group and claim to have positively (70%) or highly (27%) contributed to the scientific level of the Flemish host research group. This statement was backed-up by the IDEA consult survey in which promotors of the PEGASUS fellows stated that the scope of research in Flanders is widened, that existing fields of research can be developed in a more efficient way, and that the international background of the fellows revitalize the knowledge base in Flanders.
The management and the project planning was executed as described in the initial PEGASUS programme (see Annex 1 of the Grant Agreement). The only minor issue that FWO faced during the implementation of the project was drop-out of granted candidates (See Periodic Report 2). As reserve candidates were not always able to start their fellowship on the scheduled starting date due to relocation arrangements, the FWO made the starting date of the fellowships flexible enabling all selected fellows to comfortably start their fellowship. As a result, the programme could not be completed in the initial time frame. To ensure a neat closure of the programme for all parties involved, the FWO requested and was granted a six month extension of the PEGASUS programme, i.e. until 30 July 2016.
Managing a programme focusing on incoming international mobility involves many challenges, not in the least for the HR department, arranging contracts, scientific visa or social security. Nevertheless, the experience in employing international scholars gained of the first PEGASUS calls, was invested in launching every next PEGASUS call, optimizing as such our supportive structure for PEGASUS fellows to assist them in all extracurricular activities, training and facilities showing again that the FWO HR Excellence in Research label was well deserved. Moreover, the gained experience in managing an international mobility programme helped us to rethink and optimize the PEGASUS programme. Based on an external evaluation of this programme and the lessons learned, we submitted a fully revised Horizon 2020 MSCA COFUND application called ‘[PEGASUS]2’ in 2014. The ‘[PEGASUS]2 programme this time focusing on both incoming and outgoing mobility (3-year fellowships) received Horizon 2020 funding and is currently being implemented (No 665501).