The quality of higher education and research is strongly connected to the quality of the people working in the academic sector. For excellent science, excellent scientists are needed. The pool of competent scholars with academic career ambitions has been growing for the past decades. As public funding of universities has not matched this rise of (potential) staff, academics have become more dependent on competitive external project funding and individual funding. Publishing and grant proposal writing are two activities of major importance for especially early career researcher who aim to advance in academia. Funding organizations therefore play a crucial role in the development of academic careers, next to universities that increasingly focus on attracting and retaining academic top talent. The research questions of this study, ‘What is academic talent and how is it selected?’ aim to create a better understanding of the process of talent selection within academia, especially in the context of grant allocation.