FAQs on Subject Area Structure and Interdisciplinarity

There is a differentiated subject classification system that underpins the DFG's review and decision processes to take account of the breadth and diversity of the scientific disciplines relating to research funding proposals.

The scientific disciplines (humanities and social sciences, engineering sciences, life sciences and natural sciences) are subdivided into 14 research areas. These in turn are broken down across the review boards. This configuration is regularly reviewed to keep pace with current developments

An allocation is required when submitting individual proposals in elan; those submitting proposals must provide an allocation. Additional subject areas (one or more) can be specified beyond the primary allocation.

A primary subject area allocation is also required in the case of joint proposals submitted by proposers from different research disciplines. This involves a joint proposal being submitted by all proposers; there is no separate submission in the individual subject areas.

Once the proposal has been received, the person in the DFG Head Office responsible for the subject area will review the subject area allocation, given inclusion of the other selected subject areas and potentially other responsible people in the DFG Head Office. This review may result in a shift of the primary subject area; the DFG Head Office will accordingly notify the proposers if this is the case.

You yourself determine the primary subject area allocation when you submit your proposal in elan. If applicable, and in consideration of other specified subject areas, this will be reviewed by the responsible person in the DFG Head Office. A shift in primary subject area is possible under certain circumstances (see also FAQ “How are proposals allocated to the subject areas?”). The final subject area allocation determines the review board in which a proposal will be evaluated.

The primary subject area allocation determines the review board in which a proposal will be evaluated. The guiding principle in subject area allocation is that a proposal can be evaluated and decided in comparison with other proposals that have as similar a thematic, theoretical and methodological propensity as possible. The individual subject areas are embedded within review boards, expert forums or sections.

Department II for Scientific Affairs in the DFG Head Office is also organised based on the 14 research areas, or respectively the review boards. This is where you can find contacts for the respective subject area/ review board/ discipline.

The primary subject area allocation determines the primary responsibility and thus also the Head Office contact.

The DFG subject classification system and subject area structure represent a guiding framework, not a rigid blueprint. It is sooner the rule than the exception that boundaries between subject areas, review boards or research fields are crossed in the review and evaluation of research proposals. The procedure therefore permits a lot of flexibility. The FAQ “How are interdisciplinary proposals evaluated?” provides answers regarding the evaluation process.

The guiding principle here too is that each proposal be evaluated together with as many comparable proposals as possible to ensure fair competition.

The primary subject area allocation determines the primary responsibility and thus also the Head Office contact.

For the evaluation of all research proposals, the DFG Head Office selects reviewers who are researchers that have been individually designated according to their thematic, theoretical and methodological suitability – this also applies to interdisciplinary proposals. Should the substantive design of a proposal be so inter- or multidisciplinary that a review board, an expert forum or a section cannot cover it, then members of other review boards are co-opted into the evaluation.

The funding decisions are made by the Joint Committee, which comprises 39 researchers from all disciplines (Senate) as well as funding agency representatives. The broad professional composition of this decision-making body ensures that representatives from a variety of disciplines can consult prior to their decision on interdisciplinary proposals

Review groups for individual research associations are composed in an interdisciplinary manner to suit the proposals.

The funding decisions for Priority Programmes and Research Units are made by the Joint Committee (see also the FAQ “How are interdisciplinary proposals evaluated?”).

When evaluating Collaborative Research Centres and Research Training Groups, the Senate Committees on Collaborative Research Centres and Research Training Groups act as subcommittees of the Joint Committee in preparing the funding decisions for both corresponding Grants Committees. These Senate Committees consist of researchers from all disciplines to ensure that interdisciplinary proposals can be discussed by representatives from different disciplines prior to a decision.