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For applicants and spokespersons of Research Training Groups

Funding line: Research Training Groups (RTGs)

For how long is a Research Training Group funded? For how long are individual doctoral researchers funded?

The funding period of a Research Training Group is four and a half years. The DFG funds Research Training Groups for a maximum of two funding periods and therefore a maximum of nine years.

Doctoral researchers can usually receive funding in a staff post or fellowship for 36 months through the Research Training Group. In other words, three generations of doctoral researchers can be funded over the maximum nine years.

If the review of the renewal proposal does not result in a decision in favour of an extension, the Research Training Group can apply for completion funding for doctoral researchers who have yet to complete their doctorates for a maximum of 18 months, but only up to a maximum individual funding period of 36 months.

What is the difference between a Graduate School and a Research Training Group?

Graduate Schools have been financed since 2006 through a funding line of the Excellence Initiative, which is financed by the federal government and the governments of the federal states. A Graduate School (GSC) is intended to support the profiling of the institution through appropriate early career support while delivering economic and structural added value for the university and the participating departments. Its size and thematic breadth are therefore determined by the university's strategies. There are no strict rules relating to size or structure – for example the participating researchers, institutes or doctoral researchers.

Research Training Groups (RTGs) have been funded by the DFG since 1990. In contrast to Graduate Schools, they pursue a focused research programme and the number of participants is restricted.

In recent years, Graduate Schools, which are funded through the Excellence Initiative, have been joined by other structures and programmes for the support of graduates at higher education institutions. Useful information about applying for funding for Research Training Groups is available in the information sheet on the positioning of Research Training Groups within the environment of other doctoral programmes.

What is the difference between a Research Unit and a Research Training Group?

A Research Unit is a group of outstanding researchers who collaborate closely on a research task. The most important aspect is the research results and not the qualification of individual research assistants, although they may obtain their doctorates as part of the group. Proposals for Research Units must contain a detailed description of the sub-projects in the same way as proposals in the Individual Grants Programme.

Research Training Groups are characterised by an overarching research programme, which must offer suitable material for doctoral projects. It must also be clear how doctoral researchers benefit by being members of the group. In addition to the quality of research, the programmes for the qualification and supervision of doctoral researchers are therefore also of prime importance.

DFG staff is glad to advise you on the most suitable funding programme for your research idea.

Programme variation: International Research Training Groups (IRTGs)

What is the difference between an International Research Training Group (IRTG) and a Research Training Group (RTG)?

All Research Training Groups funded by the DFG offer doctoral researchers an introduction to the international scientific community and an international environment. A Research Training Group (RTG) is expected to maintain close contacts with researchers in other countries, invite visiting researchers from abroad, recruit doctoral researchers internationally and allow them to spend time working abroad and attend international conferences.

International Research Training Groups (IRTGs) are a programme variation of Research Training Groups. As well as the international aspects of an RTG outlined above, they also involve a formalised cooperation with a partner institution abroad, or less commonly more than one partner institution, with which the research programme and supervision programme are jointly carried out. All doctoral researchers complete one or more research visits to the partner institution (normally of between 6 and 12 months) and receive co-supervision from a lecturer at the partner institution. Doctoral researchers from the partner institution also spend an extended period working at the German institution in the IRTG. Detailed information is available in the information sheet on the distinction between International Research Training Groups and Research Training Groups.

When is it appropriate to apply for an IRTG and when for an RTG?

Experience has shown that an IRTG functions best when both partners make an equal and complementary contribution. You should therefore only apply for an IRTG if the cooperation is an equal one and your international partners have the same degree of interest in the collaboration and the exchange. Rather than applying for an IRTG, it is also possible to apply for an RTG with a strong international orientation and plan a transition to an IRTG in the second funding period, which you can work towards during the first period.

For more advice, please contact the responsible contact person at the DFG Head Office.

What is the best way to prepare an IRTG proposal together with our international colleagues?

In order to apply for an IRTG it is usually an essential requirement that you have already collaborated successfully with your international colleagues in a particular framework. You and your partners should also consider the question of complementary funding from the outset (see matching funding).

In the case of preparing an IRTG proposal you can apply to the DFG for funds for a preparatory workshop. Please note the guidelines on applying for funding for preparatory meetings for International Research Training Groups. Please direct any questions you may have to the contact person responsible for your federal state.

How does matching funding work in an IRTG?

To be successful, IRTGs need equally strong groups in both countries with complementary interests and expertise. It is also important that the partners have the necessary means to ensure that the collaboration and the doctoral exchange work well. Applying for matching funding is your partner's responsibility. It does not matter what source these funds come from.

The DFG has agreements with various research funding organisations abroad regarding applications and bilateral funding for IRTGs. However, in the case of countries with which there are currently no such agreements, suitable solutions can normally be found. Please get in touch with the contact person at DFG Head Office responsible for the relevant country at an early stage.

Who makes contact with a partner funding organisation abroad and at what stage?

Applying for matching funding is always your partner's responsibility. The partner should make contact with a funding organisation in their home country as early as possible to find out about opportunities and conditions relating to matching funding.

Please get in touch with the contact person responsible for the relevant country at DFG Head Office in advance to find out about the details of the process.

Are decisions on IRTG proposals subject to quotas for particular countries?

No, there are no quotas for either research areas or countries. All proposals for the establishment or renewal of an RTG or IRTG are subject to the same conditions in the review process and compete against one another.

Is the application and review process identical for IRTGs and RTGs?

The application and review process is identical for IRTGs and RTGs. During the review process, special attention is given to the implementation of the collaboration in the research programme and the joint supervision and qualification programme. For IRTGs, in some cases there is cooperation with international partner organisations of the DFG during the review stage. Before applying for an IRTG, please refer to the guidelines on Research Training Groups and International Research Training Groups.

Submitting a proposal

How do I submit a proposal for a Research Training Group?

Proposals for Research Training Groups are submitted by the university or equivalent institution which acts as the applicant. The proposal is signed by the designated spokesperson and the university leadership. Please submit a copy of the proposal through the responsible ministry in your federal state to give the ministry the opportunity to comment.

How do the application and review processes work?

There are two stages in the decision-making process for Research Training Groups. In the first stage, a draft proposal is reviewed in a written process. On the basis of the draft proposal and the review, the responsible DFG Review Board formulates a draft recommendation for the Senate Committee on Research Training Groups, who makes the final positive or negative recommendation about the submission of an establishment proposal. In the second stage, an establishment proposal is submitted and reviewed in situ at your institution. The results of the review form the basis for the funding decision that is prepared by the Senate Committee on Research Training Groups and decided by the Grants Committee on Research Training Groups.

If you would like to submit a draft, do not hesitate to get in touch with the contact person for your federal state for advice.

Approximately how long does it take for a decision to be made after the submission of a draft?

You should expect it to take between one year and 18 months from the submission of the draft to the decision on the full proposal. This includes time spent getting advice, possibly a preparatory workshop in the case of International Research Training Groups, and the review of the draft and full proposal. The Grants Committee on Research Training Groups meets twice a year, usually in early May and early November. Please get in touch with the contact person for your federal state in good time to allow exact time planning.

What is the minimum and maximum number of researchers who may participate in a proposal?

The Research Training Group should include between five and ten researchers. The responsible participation of early career researchers is expressly encouraged.

We want to apply for a Research Training Group involving several institutions – is this possible?

This possibility is not specifically excluded. However, one of the aims of an RTG is to support the structural development of a particular location, and this may be more difficult and less promising where the group is split over two locations. You should only apply for a multi-location RTG if the joint research topic demands it and the locations will make a complementary and synergistic contribution to the RTG.

If you decide to apply for a multi-location RTG, please describe very clearly how the collaboration between the two locations will take place and how you will ensure that doctoral researchers can maintain contact between locations. Carrying out the qualification programme represents a particular challenge for multi-location RTGs, which will be specially evaluated in the decision-making process.

The further apart the locations, the more important it is to have a critical mass of supervisors and doctoral researchers at both locations. In the proposal, please describe the added value created by the collaboration between locations and explain why it is not possible to make up a group of participating researchers for your topic at a single location.

There is a Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) at our location, or there are plans to establish one. We would also like to set up a Research Training Group (RTG). When should or must we apply for an RTG module within the CRC and when for an independent RTG?

If the topics of the Collaborative Research Centre and the Research Training Group are closely related, it is both advisable and necessary to fund them together. For Research Training Groups established separately from a Collaborative Research Centre, the usual DFG procedural rules to prevent duplicate funding apply. Thematic overlap is permitted if the Research Training Group offers sufficient unique features in terms of content or structure. A structural unique feature might be the establishment of an International Research Training Group, for example.

Where is the review carried out?

Establishment and project renewal reviews are carried out at the university where the RTG is to be set up, or is already located.

An application partner is interested in our research topic – can our Research Training Group cooperate with a company or another organisation?

Cooperations with an application partner in the shape of a company or a not-for-profit or public organisation can be very valuable for doctoral researchers. Cooperations of this type are therefore expressly welcomed and supported, although certain aspects must be considered.

Should you wish to cooperate with a company or a not-for-profit or public organisation as an application partner to your Research Training Group, please note the following:

  • The DFG cannot fund contract research.
  • The contribution of the cooperation partners to the collaboration must be appropriate and must be disclosed.
  • The collaboration must be governed by a cooperation agreement. The DFG will provide non-binding sample cooperation agreements.

Is it possible to apply for transfer projects within a Research Training Group?

In principle it is possible to apply for one or more transfer projects within a funded Research Training Group. For more information, please refer to the guidelines on Research Training Groups and International Research Training Groups and the guidelines on knowledge transfer projects.

We recommend that you seek advice from DFG Head Office beforehand. For an initial consultation, please get in touch with the contact person in the Research Careers division responsible for knowledge transfer.

After approval and during the active period of the Research Training Group

How can we advertise available posts and fellowships in our Research Training Group?

You can publish advertisements for posts and fellowships in DFG-funded projects, including Research Training Groups, on the DFG website. The European Liaison Office of the German Research Organisations (KoWi) also publishes information about available jobs at German research institutions. On the European mobility portal Euraxess you can both publish job advertisements and view the curriculum vitae of people who are interested in doctoral research.

Can doctoral researchers join a Research Training Group if they are not funded through RTG funds?

Doctoral researchers whose post or fellowship is not funded by RTG funds but by other means can join the Research Training Group as associate members. As such, they can benefit from the facilities and funds (e.g. travel funds) of the RTG. The acceptance and supervision of associate members is subject to the same criteria and requirements as for doctoral researchers funded from RTG funds.

Are there any special requirements if we want to accept doctoral researchers from non-European countries in our Research Training Group?

The Research Training Group itself is responsible for the selection and acceptance of doctoral researchers. Questions relating to residence, visas etc. should be discussed in plenty of time with your university's International Office or Welcome Centre. You will also find useful tips on the European mobility portal Euraxess.

What is the purpose of a supervision agreement?

One of the features of Research Training Groups is that they offer doctoral researchers an excellent environment for research and intensive supervision. However, it is still advisable to document in writing the responsibilities and obligations of both parties, supervisor and supervisee, the basic principles of the supervisory relationship and other framework conditions. The DFG has compiled recommendations as to what points to take into consideration in a supervision agreement.

How flexible are the funds allocated to a Research Training Group?

The use of funds in a Research Training Group is subject to budget year earmarking. This means that funds allocated for a specific budget year may only be used during this budget year. All funds left over at the end of the calendar year are returned to the DFG. It is not possible to carry them over to the next calendar year.

However, to allow flexibility in the use of funds, all funds not earmarked for specific purposes may be used for other cost items. This includes both direct project costs and funding for staff. However, funds must always be used in a way that serves the aim of the Research Training Group – i.e. the qualification of doctoral researchers – and the scientific quality of the research and qualification programme. Rejections or partial rejections in the award letter must not be circumvented. Please note the principles regarding budget year earmarking and repurposing in the guidelines for use.

Can additional funds be applied for after a Research Training Group has actively started work?

If possible you should request all the funds required for the Research Training Group in the establishment proposal and renewal proposal. Additional proposals are only possible in certain cases, which are described in appendix III of the guidelines for use.

Please direct any queries to the contact person at DFG Head Office responsible for your Research Training Group.

Can more researchers be appointed as principal investigators in the Research Training Group after it has actively started work?

If you want to appoint more researchers as principal investigators without applying for additional funding (for example to replace a member who is leaving), please notify the contact person responsible for your Research Training Group.

If the appointment of more researchers requires additional funding, a supplemental proposal suitable for review must be submitted by the university. More information can be found in appendix III of the guidelines for use.

A fellow in our RTG is a parent or an expectant parent. Will the fellowship be automatically extended?

Fellows may take advantage of an extension of the maximum funding period of up to 12 months if they are living in the same household as their child or children at the time when the fellowship begins and at least one child is still under 12 years old (i.e. has not yet had its 12th birthday). The same applies if the first child is born during the period of the fellowship.

As an alternative to extending the fellowship, it is possible to convert unused extension months into funding for demonstrated childcare costs (the 'money instead of time' option). The maximum available monthly amount is the basic fellowship. The 'money instead of time' option is also available for shorter fellowships, e.g. qualifying fellowships.

To take advantage of an extension or the 'money instead of time' option, please notify us informally in writing at what point you are applying for funding and at what level (normal or increased fellowship).

For doctoral researchers funded through posts, the statutory rules and benefits apply.

Due to pregnancy, a doctoral or postdoctoral researcher in our RTG cannot or is not permitted to carry out certain types of work – how can we support her?

If support is necessary, e.g. if the expectant mother handles substances which are toxic to reproduction as part of her research and is not allowed to carry out the work herself, the funds needed for support can usually be provided from the funds already approved by the DFG. If necessary, additional funding can be made available.

Contact persons


Contact persons for enquiries about proposals for Research Training Groups and the general process can be found here

Contact persons for financial arrangements in individual federal states