OptiVisT enabling everyone, regardless of their visual capacities, to reach their full potential in life

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Frans Cornelissen, professor at the department of ophthalmology of the UMCG received a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovation Training Network (ITN) grant for his project entitled OptiVisT to help people visually impaired (2021–2025).

The background

I am a biologist by training and currently a professor in ophthalmology specialised in visual neuroscience; my research focuses both on fundamental aspects of vision and on solutions for visual-ophthalmic issues that visually impaired people have in their everyday life.

About the project

Currently, tests for visually impaired people are designed by and for ophthalmologists. The current tests give insight about the visual limitations but do not provide information on what people can actually do in their everyday life: Will they be able to do shopping, to go to school, to cycle or drive a car? That is not entirely surprising, as the current tests are designed for diagnostics but not for rehabilitation. With OptiVisT, we want to change the current setting by developing new and innovative tests to measure functional vision, which will give much better information on what these patients are able to do.

The application

I decided to apply for an ITN because I have experience with this kind of grant and because there is a need to train people in our field. On the one hand, not many researchers are trained to design and use the right tests and since new technologies are emerging that can be applied to study functional vision, such as virtual reality, new training is needed. On the other hand, I like the idea of the training network and I knew how to write it, so I decided to apply for an ITN with my consortium. Still, even with experience, we had to apply twice to get it.

Lessons learned from the first ITN

On the one hand, it was easier than for my first ITN, because I had Hinke Halbertsma, the project manager on our running programs, helping me getting the relevant information from the partners, so I could focus on writing the grant. I knew how to write it, which also helped. On the other hand, it was more difficult because the competition has grown in the last 5–6 years, when I applied for our first ITN.

One of the great things of an ITN is that you have a group of young researchers growing together, becoming confident in their research, discussing about it and coming up with new ideas, which we never thought about when we wrote the proposal. Some of the young researchers become scientists, go on with their academic career and others start a business. If they achieve this, it means that our training was right: this is the best part of a project like an ITN.

The network

I selected colleagues in academia and industry that I knew had experience in the field of functional vision and virtual reality; I also involved people from a rehabilitation institute we collaborate with intensively; and then I looked for partners that could broaden the scope of the project, such as the International Paralympic Committee and a group from Denmark who uses visual tests in children who undergo surgery for brain tumors.


Get a good idea and make sure to have a core group of knowledgeable people you trust and who you know will dare to be critical and actually help you with the writing. Having people who actually put effort in the writing as well is nice and makes you feel it is a collaborative effort. Nevertheless, realize that the majority of the work will still be on you as main applicant, and it is a lot of work. Also, do not only focus on the science. Without the other parts, like the training, being excellent too, your chances will be negligible. Find examples of excellent grants to inspire you, and then write your own story in which you put your soul and passion.

Take-home message

Have a good idea; write it with a core group you trust; it is a lot of work; do not focus only on the science; get inspiration from excellent previous granted projects; put your soul and passion into it.