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Notes on Submitting Proposals for Individual Research Grants

Individual research grants are DFG’s most flexible funding instrument. This programme allows you to apply for all the funding you will need for your particular research project, including, for example, funding for staff, consumables, travel, etc.

When you submit a first-time proposal to DFG in the individual grants programme, you can mark your application as a “first-time DFG proposal” to ensure that the reviewers evaluate your research experience appropriately.

The following information is designed to complement the Guidelines and is intended to provide you with tips on submitting your proposal and on piquing the reviewers’ interest.

Personal Requirements

Submitting Your Proposal

  • As a general rule, researchers of all disciplines who have completed their scientific training (usually with a doctorate or a PhD) and who work at a German research institution are eligible to apply.

  • If you do not yet have a position at a facility, you have the option of applying for funding for what are known as “temporary positions for principal investigators” for the duration of your proposed project.

  • You can submit your proposal either alone or in collaboration with a colleague. The chances of your proposal’s success are not, however, improved merely by adding a renowned colleague’s name to your project. Submitting a joint proposal makes sense only if it is justified by the project content and fits logically within the proposed project’s context. The proposal must clearly indicate who is responsible for which section(s).

  • The instructions for preparing your proposal can be found in the Guidelines.

Scientific Achievements

  • Applicants are expected to provide proof of their scientific independence by describing their previous work. In addition to successfully completing their doctoral projects, applicants are expected to provide this proof primarily by means of recognised scientific contributions in their disciplines. These may include:

    • Peer-reviewed publications in renowned scientific journals (particularly when credited as first author)

    • Monographs

    • Contributions to anthologies

    • Conference proceedings

    • Contributions to conferences and

    • patents

  • Periods of absence from research which have affected an applicant’s scientific achievements to date (such as, for example, periods of child-rearing or illness), or of employment outside academia, should be noted and the reasons for them adequately explained. Doing so will not reduce your chances of success. Instead, it will give the reviewers the opportunity to take these particular circumstances into account.

  • Do not forget to list your fellowships, research prizes and awards in your CV. These are important evidence of your qualifications.

Preparing to Submit Your Proposal

Careful Planning

  • In planning your project, you should carefully consider the following questions:

    • What scientific goals do I want to achieve with this project?

    • Why is this project so important for my field of research?

    • Is the work concept described capable of resolving the scientific questions?

  • Experienced colleagues or DFG liaison officers at your university can be useful sources of information. You can discuss options for, and issues with, your proposal submissions with them, and they can often let you in on useful tips and tricks. You can also ask them to see any successful applications. Doing so will give you a good overview of best practice examples in your discipline.

  • If you need a cooperation partner, discuss your research project with him or her at an early stage. If the success of your project depends considerably on their cooperation, get written consent from your partners and attach these to your proposal.

  • Make sure that your institution has the basic equipment you will need (such as office and lab space, computing capacity, libraries, access to sources, etc.) This is also relevant if you are applying for one of DFG’s “temporary positions for principal researchers”.

  • Familiarise yourself with DFG’s recommendations for ensuring good scientific practice.

  • Read the Guidelines carefully! They contain all the information and requirements necessary to ensure a successful proposal submission.

Correct Timing

  • Plan sufficient time for preparing and compiling your proposal, as well as for the review process. On average, it will take DFG between four and six months to process your proposal. (Average processing times can be viewed below.)

  • If important preliminary work or publications have not yet been completed, you should first focus all your energy on finishing them. Your proposal will benefit greatly from your doing so.

A Critical View

  • Get a current overview of your research area. Your colleagues in the field are potential reviewers for your proposal.

  • Look critically at your own proposal. Try to see it from a reviewer’s perspective. You will find the Guidelines for Reviewers below.

  • Ask your cooperation partners, as well as experienced colleagues, for their critical appraisal of your draft proposal.

In Brief – The Review Criteria

  • DFG funding is awarded in accordance with stringent standards, and DFG’s multistep review system takes scientific excellence as its central criterion. Detailed information on the review process can be found below.

  • The applicant’s level of experience is taken into account during the review. Applicants who have just achieved their doctorate, taken a break to start a family, or spent some time working in industry and are now entering research with an outstanding proposal have the same chances of receiving funding as experienced researchers from whom correspondingly more is expected in terms of preparatory work and publications.

  • The decisive questions on which the reviewers will base their assessment of your proposal are as follows:

    • Is it important to carry out this project?

    • Is the project idea timely and original?

    • Will the project result in significant findings/publications? How would your project advance the knowledge in the field?

    • Is/are the applicant(s) and the project team qualified to carry out the project successfully?

    • Are the methods up-to-date and suitable for examining the issue at hand?

    • Can the work programme be completed within the proposed project term?

Successful Applications

Guidelines 1.02e serve as a guide for drafting your proposal. These specifications and Guidelines must be adhered to. The following remarks are based on the Guidelines and are to be considered complementary and explanatory to them.

Summary

  • A short, succinct and precisely formulated summary, which outlines the rationale, objectives and methodological approach, will enable the reviewers to grasp your proposal’s key points at first glance.

  • Pique your readers’ interests by highlighting your project’s significance, added value and novelty.

  • Take care to formulate your summary in layman’s terms. Not everyone who reads your proposal will be as familiar with your topic as you are. In addition, DFG’s decision-making process also regularly involves researchers from other fields.

State of Research and Preliminary Work

  • A thorough review of the existing literature should form the basis of your proposal. The aim of this aspect is not to regurgitate reference books. Instead, it is to examine the current state of research to discover the knowledge gap your project will fill.

  • Figures and diagrams can help clarify complex concepts.

  • In keeping with the rules of good scientific practice, you must clearly indicate which of the results and preliminary work represent your own original work and which have been carried out by your cooperation partners or other researchers. All literature references must be properly attributed.

  • Ideally, your own published preliminary work will form the basis of your project concept and emphasise the feasibility and relevance of your project.

  • For your first DFG proposal, your own scientific achievements and publications need not necessarily be project-specific. This does not, however, mean that no preparation is required. Instead, it is important to convincingly represent your personal potential for carrying out the proposed project through explaining your previous career path and research achievements.

List of Publications and Bibliography

  • The Guidelines for research grants contain the rules for structuring publications lists in proposals. These rules must be followed. If they are not, your proposal will be returned for non-compliance.

  • Be thorough in compiling your list of the works cited in your proposal. This list should be more than merely a collection of references. Instead it should serve as both an overview and a profile. Which discourses or fields of research are you involved in? Which sources do you use? What are your “points of reference”?

Aims

  • The motivation behind your proposed project and its central questions should follow on logically from the current status of research.

  • Explain briefly and succinctly the anticipated knowledge gain and rationalise your project’s scientific and (where applicable) social relevance. Describing your project’s relevance is, however, not sufficient. Instead, you should expound on the specific solution you have in mind.

  • An original and innovative project concept is the key to a successful review.

  • A thematically delimited and focused goal, which can also be subdivided into smaller steps, indicates a well-thought-out research concept. A broadly formulated, explorative aim (“work in progress”), in contrast, often puts reviewers off. Reviewers expect the course for the successful completion of your project to be set.

  • Your project’s aims form the leitmotiv for the rest of your proposal, and will be used by your readers to orient themselves.

Working Programme

  • When describing your work programme, clarity should be your top priority. The central working hypotheses, theories, assumptions and central questions must, therefore, be clearly identified, rather than buried in continuous text. A clearly structured outline of your work programme, incorporating your previously described goals, is recommended.

  • In order to convince the reviewers of your project’s feasibility, it is important that

    • The individual steps of your project follow on logically from one another and are meaningfully linked,

    • The time frame has been realistically estimated,

    • And that the division of labour among all the project participants has been explained.

  • An overambitious work programme, particularly one proposed by a less experienced researcher, often raises doubts about the project’s feasibility. Any future plans which extend beyond the project time frame can be described in a short description detailing the possible extension of your project.

  • The overall methodological concept should be based on the state-of-the-art in the field and on your personal experience and qualifications.

  • Cooperation partners upon whose expertise you wish to draw can be involved in individual project sections. This cooperation should be thoroughly discussed with the partner in question. If his or her collaboration is significant for the project’s success, have him or her confirm it in writing.

  • You should select the methods most appropriate to the project’s scientific aims and convincingly justify their usage. You can flag established standard methods as such and provide appropriate references to existing literature. New methods and concepts should be detailed and described taking into account relevant preliminary work. If necessary, you should also explain your strategy for interpreting the results, as well as the selection and availability of data and source materials.

  • A thorough discussion of the potential risks and alternative strategies will convince the reviewers that you will proceed in a deliberate and well-grounded manner, even if unexpected developments occur.

Justification of the proposed Funding

  • DFG will cover only those expenses which are directly incurred by the project and which are justified according to the work concept described. Items covered under core support cannot be funded by DFG. Having said that, it is important to strike the right balance. Submitting an obviously overblown application is counterproductive. It is, therefore, strongly recommended that you estimate the requisite funding realistically and justify all line items.

  • There are, generally speaking, no upper limits or fixed amounts for individual line items. It can, however, be useful to ask colleagues in your field about usual practices and approximate values.

  • Notes on funding for staff

    • If you do not yet have a position at this facility, you have the option of applying for funding for what are known as “temporary positions for principal investigators” for the duration of your proposed project.

    • For how much money you should apply for yourself and your team will depend on their duties within the work programme and the knowledge and experience required to perform them. It must, for example, be clear from the requirements profile for a post-doctoral position that the duties involved could not reasonably be carried out by a doctoral researcher. These requirements may, for example, include comprehensive research experience, complexity of experiments, etc. If you are applying for funding for technical staff, you must explain why the work could not be carried out by doctoral researchers, post-doctoral researchers, or the available core support staff.

    • It is expected that applicants at an early stage of their scientific career, in particular, will devote all their working time to the proposed project. Funding for staff will, therefore, also be critically examined with regards to the reasonable division of labour between yourself and the other people involved in the project.

  • Your travel expenses and direct project cost requirements should be briefly explained (for example through a brief listing of consumables, calculations for planned travel, etc). More detailed explanations are required if either an individual cost or the total amount is unusually high.

  • Generally speaking, funds for purchasing equipment can be awarded by DFG only if they cannot be attributed to the institution’s basic equipment, if the equipment is absolutely essential to the project, and if it will be utilised to capacity by the project. Typical examples of basic equipment include computers, printers and software. In experimental research, this also includes equipment that is normally found in dedicated research laboratories.

If not approved ...

  • Do not let yourself be discouraged if your proposal is rejected. Anyone entering a contest knows that there are winners and losers, and that additional preparation and a fresh start can lead to success. Do not spend too much time speculating as to who could have evaluated your proposal. In the majority of cases, these guesses turn out to be incorrect anyway.

  • The results of the review process and the review board’s assessment will be shared with you in an anonymous form. While you should take the reviewers’ criticisms seriously, you should never take them personally.

  • If the reviewers’ criticisms do not render the project’s fundamental concept unfeasible, revising it may result in success. In doing so, make use of the feedback you received from the review of your proposal. The reviewers’ comments do not just explain the reasoning behind the rejection of your proposal. Instead, they also tend to contain very specific and constructive hints on improving your project or proposal.

  • Discuss the value of resubmitting your proposal with colleagues in your field. The division heads at DFG Head Office can also advise you in such cases.

  • When resubmitting your proposal, you should address the reviewers’ criticisms in your cover letter. In doing so, refrain from coming across as overbearing, aggrieved or accusatory. If you feel that you have been treated unfairly, you may request that the Head Office exclude particular reviewers from evaluating your proposals. In well-justified cases, the Head Office will attempt to grant such requests.

Useful Sources of Information for Submitting First-Time Proposals

There are various contact persons at your own institute who can be of help to you in submitting your proposal: DFG liaison officers, research funding departments and your “DFG-experienced” colleagues.

If you have any further questions, these can be addressed to the colleagues at the DFG’s Head Office at any time. Subject-related questions can be addressed to the ap-propriate programme contacts; procedural questions should be addressed to the appro-priate contact person in the Quality Assurance and Programme Development Division.

Ten Golden Rules for Proposal Submission

  • The proposal conforms to the information in the Guidelines and is within the maximum recommended length of 20 pages.

  • The proposal is clearly structured, precisely formulated and self-explanatory.

  • The project idea is original and contributes considerably to our understanding of scientific (and where applicable, also of social) questions.

  • The scientific aims of the project are focused on central questions/theses/hypotheses.

  • The descriptions of the state of current research are up to date and relate directly to the aims of the proposed project.

  • The applicant’s own preliminary work and personal profile accurately reflect his or her qualifications and scientific independence and substantiate the applicant´s capability of successfully conducting the project.

  • The work programme is convincingly structured and follows a realistic schedule.

  • The methods are entirely suited to the issues at hand.

  • The work programme clearly indicates how the funding is to be used.

  • Information relevant to the proposal (such as, for example, unpublished manuscripts, written confirmations from significant cooperation partners) are included with the proposal.

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