Research funding for postdoctoral researchers
BY JULIA BECKER
Immediately after being awarded their doctorates, many researchers want to focus on pure research for a few years. But even researchers at this stage of their careers will find a wide range of funding opportunities on offer from German sponsors.
Support for general research: DFG research grants
Scientists in all disciplines who have already obtained their doctorate can apply for a research grant from the German Research Foundation (DFG). These funds can be used for concrete research projects with a high level of scientific merit. Researchers can apply for money to fund their own position, for staff, scientific equipment, resources, travel costs and other expenses. The duration of funding depends on the length of the project being supported.
Support for projects and young scientists: The Fritz Thyssen Foundation
The Fritz Thyssen Foundation also sponsors research projects, primarily those in Germany but also international projects. Researchers with outstanding academic records who have obtained doctorates are eligible to apply for scholarships. Applications will only be accepted from researchers who are affiliated with a university or a non-profit research institution. In addition to extensive evidence of previous work, applicants must also submit a cost analysis for their research projects which details how much money is required and what it will be used for.
In addition to this project-specific support, the Fritz Thyssen Foundation also offers a scholarship for young researchers who have completed their doctorate within the past two years. There are no age limits for these scholarships, and the monthly amount paid to recipients is €1,700 gross. Scholarships are generally awarded for a period of one year.
Supporting research between the USA and Germany: The NIH/DFG Research Career Transition Awards Program
The NIH/DFG Research Career Transition Awards Program organised by the German Research Foundation (DFG) is aimed at highly-qualified scientists who want to carry out research in the USA and Germany after completing their doctorate. The programme is designed to run for five to six years and is divided into two phases: The first two to three years will see researchers visit one of 13 NIH institutes in the USA. During the remainder of the project, participants will attend a research institution in Germany. Researchers will receive a monthly stipend and will also receive support for travel expenses and materials up to a predetermined maximum amount. Applicants to this programme will need an outstanding research background and an original, international research project.
Support for research networks
An important part of the research landscape is broadening horizons and developing cooperation with other research institutions. This is what the German Research Foundation (DFG) seeks to do with its "Scientific Networks" programme which is aimed at young scientists who have already completed their doctorates. This programme is also aimed at researchers outside Germany who will have the opportunity to help establish international networks. The support provided consists of funding for travel, material and publication expenses incurred as a result of carrying out joint research between two locations and is provided for a maximum of three years. Anyone interested in establishing a scientific network must present a concept which has a clear collaborative research goal.
Funding for foreign scientists in Germany: Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation provides support which will be of interest to foreign scientists looking to carry out research in Germany. The Foundation provides, among other things, a monthly research stipend of €2,450 for postdoctoral researchers. In addition, recipients also receive financial support for travel and language courses. The requirements for applicants include a doctorate completed within the previous four years and scientific publications in internationally recognized scientific journals. The Foundation uses this general scholarship to provide funding programmes for scientists from specific countries and with specific specialisms.
Funding for foreign researchers in Germany: opportunities from the DAAD
The DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) offers a wide range of scholarships for foreign scientists who want to carry out research in Germany. To help researchers find the most appropriate programme, the DAAD has created a search engine which allows scientists to enter details about their scientific status, their country of origin and their subject area.
Support from the European Union: Marie Curie Individual Fellowships
The European Commission provides support in the form of Mari Curie Individual Fellowships for scientists from the EU who want to carry out research outside their home country. The fellowships are also available to international researchers who want to carry out research in the EU. The Marie Curie Fellowships comprise a number of different programmes: The Intra-European Fellowships (IEF) are aimed at researchers from within the EU who want to carry out research outside their home country (in another European country). The International Outgoing Fellowships (IOF) support European scientists working on research projects outside the EU. The International Incoming Fellowships are scholarships for non-EU citizens looking to set up research projects in the EU. The Marie Curie Fellowships offer a number of other programmes in addition to the three programmes mentioned above. Applicants for all programmes must have completed their doctorates or have completed a comparable amount of research over a period of at least four years.
Support for the humanities: The "Pro Geisteswissenschaften" funding initiative
Academics involved in the humanities who have recently completed their doctorates can apply for funding from a special cooperation programme run by the Volkswagen Foundation, the Fritz-Thyssen Foundation and the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft (the organisation representing donors for German science). These institutions have created the "Pro Geisteswissenschaften" funding initiative for the humanities which is aimed at providing financial support for highly-qualified researchers in the humanities.
The initiative comprises several components of which the Dilthey Fellowship is particularly relevant for postdoctoral researchers. The support provided under this initiative is initially limited to a period of five years but can be extended for an additional five years subject to a successful evaluation. The annual funding amounts to €80,000 and can be used to pay for a researcher's salary, materials and travel expenses. The funding period can also be used to write publications which will form part of the researcher's habilitation.
Scholarships for the historians: Research scholarships from the Gerda Henkel Foundation
Postdoctoral researchers who are active in the area of historical research and are planning large, fixed-period research or projects can obtain support in the form of research scholarships or funding from the Gerda Henkel Foundation. Of particular interest to individuals are the research scholarships which are granted for a maximum of two years. Recipients, who can be from Germany or abroad, receive a monthly stipend of €2,000 as well as supplements for childcare, materials and travel expenses. Applicants are expected to demonstrate outstanding grades and a doctorate.
academics :: July 2009
Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation is a renowned address for funding international research cooperation projects. Whether for postdoctoral researchers or internationally established scientists, the funding programmes of the Humboldt foundation create specific areas of research.
The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation supports an active network of researchers around the world. Its unique feature is that it allows the funded researchers to freely choose their host research institution. The fellowship is especially aimed at postdoctoral and experienced researchers. There are no restrictions with regard to the applicant's country of origin. Researchers of all disciplines can apply.
Humboldt research fellowships for post-doctoral researchers
The Humboldt research fellowship enables postdoctoral researchers to carry out a research project within a pre-defined timeframe (duration of 6 to 24 months). Applicants are required to have graduated with an above-average PhD grade less than four years ago. If your PhD graduation is still pending, you may apply for the Humboldt Fellowship and include the manuscript of your dissertation.
Humboldt research fellowship for experienced researchers
Experienced researchers may apply if they completed their doctorates less than twelve years ago. It is expected that the applicants have engaged in an academic career. This has to be evaluated individually. You may have been an assistant professor, gained experience in leading a junior research group or have carried out several years of your own research. The fellowship (duration: 6-18 months) can be flexibly divided into a maximum of three stays with research hosts within a period of three years.
The foundation is interested in offering individually tailored solutions to fellows. Therefore, specific research scholarships exist for research projects which directly address the requirements of the researchers. Postdoctoral and experienced researchers can take advantage, for example, of the Thyssen-Humboldt Short-Term Fellowship (for academics from Latin America) and the Georg Forster Research Fellowship (for academics from developing and threshold countries). Internationally renowned researchers may receive one of up to 100 Humboldt research awards the Humboldt Foundation assigns each year. International cutting-edge academics may be nominated for an Alexander von Humboldt professorship, which is associated with pioneering research opportunities.
Financial support from the foundation
The extent of financial support offered is dependent on the type of fellowship or award. The Humboldt Foundation furthermore covers travel expenses and provides mobility allowances as well as supplementary allowances for accompanying spouses or children. The European research fellowship (within the Humboldt and Georg Forster Research Fellowship Programme) offers you a six-month research stay in another European country with the potential for an extension. Apart from the research project, the Foundation also offers language scholarships and German language courses for the fellows and award winners.
What language skills are required?
German or English language skills are required for carrying out a research project. Researchers from the fields of the humanities or social sciences and medicine must have a good command of German if it is necessary to carry out the project successfully. A language course is not compulsory. However, the Humboldt Foundation is interested in integrating its foreign fellows into German social life. Individual support during the stay in Germany as well as continuous contact with the guest researchers are paramount at Humboldt Foundation.
Further information available at: www.humboldt-foundation.de/en
academics.com :: March 2008
Becoming a professor with Emmy Noether
BY MIRIAM BUCHMANN-ALISCH
Five years of flexible and independent research - the dream of many young scientists. For junior research group leaders it can come true. Marc Toussaint is a junior research group leader at TU Berlin - his subject is machine learning.
Looking around the tidy, window-fronted office, a robot arm wrapped in foil draws the eye. "It's still brand new", explains Marc Toussaint as he removes its protective cover. "Soon it will be demonstrating how robots learn to behave intelligently." The underlying information processing routines are the subject of Toussaint's research, conducted with his "Machine Learning and Robotics" junior research group at the Technical University (TU) Berlin.
The neurocomputing specialist is one of 300 postdocs whose projects are currently funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) in its "Emmy Noether" excellence programme. His postdoc project has already been running for two years - the funding period for a research group is usually five years.
Individual research topics for doctoral candidates
With the flexible funding made available to him he finances three doctoral candidates from the fields of cognitive science, mathematics and computer science whom he hand-picked for his group. They work in offices next door, conduct their research embedded into his project, but they also each have their own research focus. "Group leaders handle that in very different ways", declares the young scientist. "I want my doctoral candidates to have their own research topics. What we have in common are the methods." The four-person research group from Berlin has just returned from a one-week international conference in Canada. "We showed up there resembling a small family", recounts Toussaint with a smile. "Everyone on the team had their own paper on their own subject. It was a great success for the group."
The appeal of research
Numbers and logic already fascinated him back in his school days: "Everybody always knew that I would study physics or mathematics." And that's what he did, at the University of Cologne. "Studying at university was great. What I enjoyed most was that feeling of, wow!, something new just opened up for me."
And that remains the appeal of research for him to this day: "What questions are truly open and unanswered?" The question motivated him to switch from theoretical physics to neuroinformatics after his Diplom thesis. He completed his doctorate at the Institute of Neurocomputing of the Ruhr University Bochum with "summa cum laude". Formalistic mathematical solutions like his are currently rare in this field.
Immediately after his doctorate, Toussaint went abroad for two years with a research grant from the DFG. "The independence was pretty important to me", he explains. He chose the University of Edinburgh, which offered him ideal conditions for his research, and expanded his current specialisms of machine learning and robotics there.
From there, he applied to the DFG for his current post. He covered the six months until his project began as a guest scientist at the robotics department of the Honda Research Institute in Offenbach. "My work there was complementary to my theoretical orientation. It was very interesting to see the robotics laboratories, and what problems arise there." Honda Research is today one of his co-operation partners in research.
"We collect ideas together"
Within the Emmy Noether programme, teaching is not mandatory, but considered desirable. Toussaint will also be holding a lecture this semester. On a typical working day, he spends the morning on his own research, prepares talks and publications.
The shared lunches with his team and other colleagues, which provide lively social and professional exchange, are important to him. "In my first year I spent a lot of time teaching my doctoral candidates the basics and methods in order to create a common basis", he recalls. "Nowadays we discuss specific content-related issues and collect ideas together." Every Monday the team reads and discusses current research literature.
Good management and soft skills are important for a career in research
Living one's life for research also requires abilities that don't come easily to every academic. "If you want to be successful in this business - and it is a business - you need many other qualities you're not prepared for and that often have little to do with research", says Toussaint. He publishes a lot and has had to develop soft skills that are also in demand on other career paths. "Research careers benefit greatly from good management and presentation skills. Or from a glowing personality."
Three or four times a year he gives talks around the world. He has twice won a "Best Paper Award" at international conferences. Nationally he sets up co-operations by regularly presenting his basic research at research institutions.
"There is no tenure track option"
Toussaint would very much like to stay in Germany. "If I wanted to go abroad, I would already have gone." His aim is a professorship. But his five-year research project does not offer the prospect of being kept on at the institute afterwards. "That's the biggest problem in the German system - there is no tenure track option. The Emmy Noether Programme is intended to bridge the gap to a professorship, similar to a junior professorship. And it does, if you're only talking about the time. But it doesn't when it comes to prospects at one's own institute", he explains. "I know that there is no way I can be kept on here - no matter how good I am."
This will also be a loss to the faculty where the project is embedded practically, but not institutionally. Toussaint has set up his research group there, acquired significant funds and therefore posts with his project, and made a name for the TU Berlin in the field of machine learning and robotics. Once his project ends, little of that will remain.
Good chance with a research profile
Nonetheless he considers the postdoc programme to be an important milestone in his career. He summarises: "The Emmy Noether Programme gives me the opportunity to advance my own research and gain project experience. I was able to set up my own group and can expand my own research profile. Those are important criteria. I think I stand a good chance."
academics :: July 2009