Interview with Jaroslav Koča about Czech Science Foundation

29. Jan. 2018

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Perhaps not everyone knows that apart from the function of scientific director at CEITEC you have also a very important position within the Czech Science Foundation. Would you like to tell us more about your role?

At the end of 2016 I became a member of the Presidium of the Czech Science Foundation. It is a five member body appointed by the Government of the Czech Republic and each member is elected by the Research, Development and Innovation Council (RVVI). Each member is responsible for a respective scientific area, my field of responsibility is Medical and Biological Sciences. Czech Science Foundation itself is the key body for basic science funding in the Czech Republic.

The executive role of the Presidium is to supervise the process of grant applications evaluation, to approve results of the individual calls for proposals, to approve grant awarding, and to approve the results of finished grants. All the above on the basis of recommendation of the Discipline Committees, which are advisory bodies to the Presidium. The key conceptual role of Presidium is to create strategy how the money to support basic science in the Czech Republic will be distributed, what will be success criteria, and to design corresponding grant schemes and programs for the near or more distant future.

You’ve been working for the Czech Science Foundation for more than a year. Could you please try to summarize how this position benefitted you and what it took away from you?

What this role took away from myself is clear, it’s simply time. Some decisions require really deep and long discussions. On the other hand, I was given an opportunity to talk to many interesting people not only from basic science field, but also politicians, people focused more on applied research, and people from international advisory boards.

Also, the possibility and the task to see the issue of public funds distribution on the whole country level (and not only from a viewpoint of one institution or an individual researcher) forces a person into a much more general viewpoint and thus is beneficial.

Finally, this position requires considering the way how the public funds are distributed in different countries in Europe and in the USA and what is the role of these funds in the whole science funding system. In comparison with the most of western countries, the Czech Republic is underfunded in the “institutional funding” section which brings an enormous pressure on agencies as the Czech Science Foundation and artificially increases the pressure on success rate of the applications.

What would you like to point out as a member of the Presidium, what was your success?

We work as a team so I would prefer to make a statement on behalf of the whole Presidium because at the end, everything must be its decision. Since the beginning of our mandate our effort was to simplify the administration related to grant applications and above all, administration related to the reporting of the research itself. There we were successful with some things and they will already be a part of this year’s tender documentation. These include simplification of disbursement and use of personal costs, simplification of relocation among individual items of the budget, possibility to transfer the grant to another institution.

Another task that the Presidium has focused on since the very start of its activity is the issue of excellent research. It is well known that for instance Czech Republic does not belong among the very successful countries when obtaining prestigious European grants of ERC type (European Research Council grants). That is why we have proposed to the Czech government a new grant scheme called EXPRO, which is very similar to the above ERC grants. The Czech government approved this scheme in autumn 2017. An application of an ERC project within the period of the project implementation or shortly after its completion will be one of the conditions for a successful completion of the EXPRO project. By this we want to increase the success of Czech scientists within this scheme. But the main goal of this program is to identify the focal points of highly competitive research in the Czech Republic and to very specifically support this research.

You probably have ambitious plans for the upcoming period, could you uncover them for us a little bit?

We would like to further improve the aforementioned EXPRO scheme. Our plans also include a change of projects for young scientists who (usually after their return from the foreign postdoctoral internship) would like to start their own research team in the Czech Republic. Similarly to the EXPRO scheme, we would like to make this grant scheme five-year long and highly selective. We will also try to ensure that the projects disbursement would not be related to individual years, instead, it would be related only to the total period of grant duration. This would significantly simplify not only the investigator’s disbursement but also the institution’s administration related to the grant as well. We are also planning to significantly simplify the scientific reporting for the investigator.