Funding Initiative - ‘Freigeist’ Fellowships 2019, Germany

Publish Date: Feb 25, 2019

Deadline: Oct 10, 2019

Funding Initiative - ‘Freigeist’ Fellowships


A 'Freigeist' fellow: for the Volkswagen Foundation this means a young researcher with a strong personality, a creative mind, an ability to identify and use freedom, dedicated to overcoming resistance. If necessary, he or she will be a free spirit, enjoying the unexpected, even unexpected difficulties. A 'Freigeist' fellow opens up new horizons and combines critical analysis with imagination and innovative solutions. By thinking ahead the 'Freigeist' fellow will act as a catalyst in overcoming existing disciplinary, institutional and even national boundaries.

Scope of Funding

The main focus is on junior researchers (up to 4 years of postdoctoral experience) working at the borders of neighbouring fields or disciplines. The 'Freigeist' initiative offers freedom for creative thinking, whilst at the same time providing security for at least 5 years and in the long run the opportunity to establish a career within a scientific research organization or university in Germany.

Details of conditions and the application procedure can be found under Information for Applicants. Applications must be filed electronically via the application portal.


The initiative focuses on early-career researchers from all disciplines. The aim of the Foundation is to facilitate the implementation of extraordinary research projects and to make a substantial contribution to the establishment of dependable career paths for the upcoming generation of researchers. Since 2014, ten to fifteen Freigeist fellows have been selected each year.

What does it take to be a ‘Freigeist’ Fellow?

A ‘Freigeist’ Fellow: for the Volkswagen Foundation this means a young researcher with a strong personality, a creative mind, an ability to identify and use freedom, dedicated to overcoming obstacles. A ‘Freigeist’ Fellow opens up new horizons and combines critical analysis with imagination and innovative solutions. The ‘Freigeist’ scheme is deliberately open to all disciplines and topics. The main focus is on outstanding junior researchers who wish to carry out research at the boundaries between established fields of research. 

What are the objectives of this funding initiative?

The Freigeist funding initiative provides an opportunity for outstandingly qualified, creative and independent early career researchers to conduct their own research. It aims to encourage exceptional research personalities to embark on visionary, risk-taking research projects at the intersections between established fields of research. The flexible funding scheme and clear time frame are designed to ensure maximum support for their self-chosen research topic and thus help them develop an entirely independent research profile.

What are the general conditions?

The initial five-year funding period focuses on developing the grantee‘s research profile and proficiency in independent research. The funding scheme is financially flexible and can be adjusted according to the course of the project and the personal development of the grantee. A second funding period of up to three years can be applied for in the fourth year of funding and depends on the results of a review meeting. The purpose of this extension is to secure a permanent position for the fellow at an academic institution in Germany. A clear strategy to establish a permanent position for the fellow must be part of the application for the second funding period. There is a high degree of flexibility here, too, since the program also foresees the possibility of moving to another institution for the second funding phase.

How many Fellowships are available?

Ten to fifteen Fellowships will be awarded per year. The number of grants depends on the quality of the applications. 

Who can apply?

Anyone can apply who identifies with the goals of a ‘Freigeist’ Fellowship and whose proposed research project fits in with the aims pursued by the Freigeist initiative. Candidates must, however, conform to the following conditions:

• Their doctorate must have been obtained not longer than four years but at least one year previously (with regard to the date of the defense relative to the deadline of the initiative).

• The Fellowship must be integrated within a university or an extra-mural research institution in Germany.

• Candidates must already have changed their academic environment and moved to a new location – at the latest when starting the Fellowship. A return to the working context of the doctorate will only be accepted under exceptional circumstances.

• A previously completed research sojourn abroad, at the latest integrated in the proposed research project.

What is the scope of funding?

The initial funding period is five years; depending on the field of research and career experience, projects in a total amount of up to 1,000,000 Euro can be applied for: 

• The Fellow’s position (salary scale TV-L 14, comparable to similar junior research group leaders)

• Positions for scientific personnel (doctoral students, PostDocs)

• Non-personnel costs relevant to the project (e. g. consumables, travel expenses, equipment)

IMPORTANT: The Foundations does not grant any overheads.

In case the maximum amount of funding has not been fully taken up with the initial application, additional funds (so-called modules) can be applied for during the course of the Fellowship to provide flexible support (e. g. for personnel, resources, sojourns abroad, cooperation measures, translations, workshops, stays at institutions representing other research fields). A second funding period of up to three years may be provided. This requires a positive evaluation (by the Foundation), generally at the end of the fourth year, and a clear perspective for a permanent position for the Fellow at the host institution. The maximum funding for this second period amounts up to 400,000 Euro.

Is teaching also involved?

It is expected that Fellows will participate in academic teaching (including examinations), involving generally a teaching load of between two and four weekly hours per semester. They are also expected to participate in academic self-administration. This holds also good for Fellows affiliated to extramural research institutions.

What does the host institution provide?

During the first five-year period of funding, a substantial contribution is expected of the host institution/university (rooms, IT infrastructure and computers, research assistants, resources). Extra-mural research institutions such as Max-Planck-Institutes or Helmholtz Centers are to contribute 50 percent of the total amount of the project costs (only project-specific costs, overheads may not be included in the calculation). A lower contribution may be acceptable for other research institutions. 

For the possible second phase of funding, it is expected that the host institution (if applicable) provides funding for personnel – and in all cases the prospect of offering the Fellow a permanent position.

In which language should the application be submitted?

Applications have to be submitted in English, as the review panel is recruited internationally. 

What is the selection and review procedure?

All applications are subject to an interdisciplinary two-step review process. In a first step, the members of a review panel submit their expert opinions on the applications in a comparative way. This results in a selection of candidates who are invited to present their project proposals to the review panel in person. The panel comprises members who are chosen for their specific disciplinary expertise as well as for their ability to assess the interdisciplinary character of the proposed projects. Proposals will be selected on a comparative basis by a panel of reviewers. Thus, generally no individual written assessments are requested for each project. In the fourth year (provided the second phase of funding is applied for), an evaluation is carried out under the inclusion of external experts appointed by the Foundation.

What are the selection criteria?

  • the applicant’s personal qualifications
  • the scientific quality and originality of the project 
  • accuracy of fit between the project proposal, applicant’s personal profile, and aims of the funding initiative
  • capability for independent research
  • the potential for breakthroughs, new methodological approaches, interdisciplinary cooperation
  • a constructive approach to possible risks

Attachment: Checklist for the Electronic Application System

Applications must be submitted via the Foundation‘s Electronic Application System. Instructions on how to proceed can be found online. Applications must be accompanied by the following information and documents (pdf-files; 12 pt, 1.5 lines; in English unless otherwise specified): Applicants must complete the forms posted in the Electronic Application System, providing details on the applicant, the recipient of funds (future host institution), title, project time schedule, and legally binding declaration. 


1. Cover letter, stating your personal motivation

2. Summary of the project in German (max. one page)

3. Summary of the project in English (max. one page)

4. Illustrative and creative presentation of the project in layman’s terms (e.g. video, podcast, newspaper article etc., max. 2 minutes/1 page)

Please use CryptShare if you would like to send a video or podcast. Please make sure to upload a PDF in that section additionally (e.g. Text “Video sent by cryptshare”), otherwise the system blocks your submission. Send your video or podcast to

5. Self-assessment: “Why Freigeist?“ – Explanation of how the proposal fits with the aims and character of the funding initiative (max. one page).

6. Project proposal (6.1 – 6.5 in sum not more than 15 pages) containing:

  • 6.1 Project description detailing objectives, statement of reasons, the potential for innovation in respect of the current status of research, details of methods, quality assurance measures (where appropriate), structure and course of the project
  • 6.2 Teaching concept, including details of hours involved (minimum two, maximum four weekly hours per semester)
  • 6.3 Reasons for choosing the host institution and description of research infrastructure
  • 6.4 Details of cooperation partners (domestic and international)
  • 6.5 Information, if this or a similar application has been or will be sent to other funding organizations

7. Schematic working plan and time schedule (e. g. as table, chart, synopsis; max. two pages)

8. List of references/bibliography

9. Justification of budget (explanation for costs applied for) including host institution’s contribution

10.Where applicable, quotations for equipment costing more than 10,000 Euro (one pdf-file if possible; German or English). Offers must clearly refer to the items listed in the budget plan.

11.CV (including date of thesis defense or doctoral viva) and list of publications

12.Optionally: up to three publications/manuscripts authored by the applicant (as separate pdf-files)

13.Copy of doctoral degree award/PhD certificate (in German or English)

14.Cover sheet generated by the Electronic Application System and signed by the applicant (to be generated after entering all data)

15.Declaration on the part of a mentor (not one of the PhD supervisors or a member of the proposed host institution) to the effect that – in the event the application is successful – he or she is prepared to offer advice and guidance

16.Binding declaration on the part of the host institution (preferably in English)

In any case (university/university of applied sciences/extra-mural research institution) a binding declaration on the part of the proposed host institution is mandatory. In the event that the proposed host institution is a university/university of applied sciences the binding declaration should be issued by the hosting faculty/institute (where necessary supplemented with a declaration of the institution’s management).

The host institution has to declare

• to host the applicant in the event that the Foundation’s funding is made available, and to enter into a contract of employment with him/her (and other persons where applicable) for the duration of the approved funding period. The Foundation expects that the Fellow will be ranked as junior research group leader and will be treated according to the correspondent regulations of the institution. The fellow shall have the right to award a doctorate (as far as funds for doctoral students are applied for).

• to provide an own contribution (see point 8) as well as making the respective rooms and resources available,

• to implement the lecture courses planned by the applicant and (where applicable) integrating respective doctoral candidates.

• the institutional and operational integration of the fellow and his/her group (cooperation partner, colloquia, graduate school etc.)

For more information click "LINK TO ORIGINAL" below.

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