Skip to main content

Starting Investigator Research Grant

Final Report Summary - SIRG (Starting Investigator Research Grant)

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) funds oriented basic and applied research in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) which promote and assist the development and competitiveness of industry, enterprise and employment in Ireland.
The SFI Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG) supports excellent early-career-stage investigators to carry out independent research for a four-year period. The award also provides funding for a postgraduate student, who will be primarily supervised by the Starting Investigator (SI). The 2011 SIRG Programme was funded in part through the Marie Curie COFUND scheme. The aim of this scheme is to allow for transnational mobility, such as incoming or outgoing mobility of researchers or an action to reintegrate them into research employment in Europe. Hence, the SIRG Programme places a significant emphasis on either bringing early-career international researchers to Irish Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), or on allowing Irish researchers who have recently been employed outside of Ireland to return to work in an Irish HEI.

Objectives of the SFI 2011 SIRG Programme:
• To enable those at an early career stage to establish themselves as independent researchers
• To provide the support and infrastructure to carry out novel research in areas that underpin biotechnology, information and communications technology, and sustainable energy and energy-efficient technologies
• To gain important experience towards a full-time academic position, including the supervision of the postgraduate student supported by the award
• To enable the award holder, together with his/her postgraduate student, to carry out their work in Ireland’s public research bodies, including Universities and Institutes of Technology
• To offer funding opportunities that help third-level institutions attract and develop researchers and their careers
• To allow early-career investigators of all nationalities to enhance their experience in Irish HEIs
• To allow early-career investigators who have been employed outside of Ireland to return to work in an Irish HEI

The Applicants to the SIRG 2011 Programme were researchers with 3-8 years of relevant experience beyond the award of their doctoral degree, who had ultimate responsibility for the scientific and technical direction of the research programme and the supervision of the postgraduate student (which was wholly funded by SFI). For the SIRG COFUND Programme, it was required that the applicant be a transnational, that is a researcher of any nationality (including Irish) who has not resided in Ireland for more than a total of 12 months in the three years prior to the call deadline.

The Mentor associated with the award was required to be an established researcher within the host institution whose role was to give advice and provide laboratory space and related infrastructure to both the Starting Investigator (SI) and the postgraduate student. The mentor also took the role of co-supervisor for the postgraduate student; however, the SI acted as the primary supervisor.

Programme Outcome
SFI Starting Investigator Research Grant awards are of a value of €400,000 direct costs for a period of four years. The call was launched in May 2011 and SFI received 57 applications to the SIRG COFUND.
11 fellows were funded under the SFI SIRG COFUND scheme. Details on their research programmes are listed below:

• Dr Shane Bergin, Trinity College Dublin, working on surface energetics of low dimensional nanostructures
• Dr Ian O’Driscoll, Cork Institute of Technology and the Tyndall National Institute, researching ultrashort pulse generation in InAs quantum dots
• Dr Cindy Smith, National University of Ireland Galway, whose project is entitled ‘molecular microbial ecology of anomia oxidation in coastal bay sediments’
• Dr Nicola Piana Agostinetti, Dublin Institute for Advanced Sciences, working on seismic imaging and monitoring of the upper crust: exploring the potential for low-enthalpy geothermal resources in Ireland
• Dr Ivana Savic, Tyndall National Institute, whose work is focused on thermoelectric properties of complex bulk materials from first principles.
• Dr Kristin Nicodemus, Trinity College Dublin, whose project was aimed at studying systems biology approaches to elucidate the genetic architecture of schizophrenia: synthesis of genomics, structural/functional magnetic resonance imaging and cognition
• Dr Manus Biggs, National University of Ireland Galway, is engineering neuroelectrodes for deep brain stimulation through biomimetic conducting polymers
• Dr Eoghan McGarrigle, University College Dublin, is working towards the development of 21st century synthetic methods for glycoscience – catalyst-controlled stereoselective glycosylation
• Dr Mark Ahearne, Trinity College Dublin, who is working on the development of a novel stem cell based approach for corneal tissue engineering.
• Dr Judith Coppinger, University College Dublin, is characterising the Hsp90 trafficking proteins in cystic fibrosis.
• Dr David Croucher, University College Dublin, working on the crosstalk between ErbB2 and breast cancer associated receptor tyrosine kinases in resistance to ErbB2 targeted therapies

The SIRG COFUND Programme has been instrumental in supporting young researchers on the path to research independence. As outlined above the impacts include:

• 6 COFUND Fellows obtaining permanent academic positions to date
• Over €4M of additional research and outreach funding secured by the COFUND Fellows including an ERC Starting Award
• Research publication outputs of the highest calibre include publications in Science Translational Medicine, Science Signalling and Angewandte Chemie (International ed. in English)
• Shane Bergin was the winner of the communication section of the 2014 MSCA Prize for his The ‘DART of Physics’ science communication initiative which involves an innovative poster campaign on the Dublin Metro. This mass outreach effort involved some 50 scientists and 300 students, and caught commuters' attention by intriguing and inviting them to visit a dedicated website to learn fun and educational physics facts.