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Notes on Applying for a Research Fellowship

The Research Fellowship enables researchers at the early stages of their scientific careers to carry out a defined research project abroad by funding a (maximum) two-year stay at a research location of their choice.

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

Personal Requirements

Eligibility Requirements

  • The programme is aimed particularly at post-doctoral researchers of all disciplines.

  • The minimum requirement for submitting an application is that you have submitted your dissertation and the doctoral examination process has officially been initiated.

  • You must, as a general rule, be integrated into the German research system. The Guidelines mentioned above contain more detailed information about eligibility.

Scientific Achievements

  • Applicants are expected to provide proof of their scientific independence through 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 specialist journals (particularly 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 gives 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

  • Research fellowships offer applicants the opportunity to carry out a defined research project and, at the same time, to complement their individual scientific profiles through learning new methods or familiarising themselves with new topics. In planning your project, you should focus particularly on the following questions:

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

    • With regards to my personal career development, which goals am I hoping to achieve with this project?

    • Which host institution would be the best one for achieving these goals?

  • Choose your host institution carefully. Informing yourself about its scientific achievements is not enough; instead, you should also check out the working conditions, environment and the makeup of the team. Visiting the institute in person can provide useful information as to whether the conditions for successful collaboration are in place.

  • Experienced colleagues are important 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.

  • Read the Guidelines carefully! They explain exactly how your proposal must be structured.

Correct Timing

  • Include sufficient time for organising your collaboration with the host institution and for drawing up your proposal. On average, it will take DFG between four and six months to process your proposal. (Average processing times can be viewed below.)

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

A Critical View

  • You should 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 host, as well as experienced colleagues, to critically appraise your draft proposal.

In Brief – The Review Criteria

  • DFG’s multistep review system takes scientific excellence as its central criterion. Detailed information on the review process can be found below.

  • In reviewing applications for research fellowships, there are three main considerations:

    • The applicants themselves
      What have you achieved in your scientific career to date and in the research areas you have previously worked in?
      Do your previous achievements qualify you to complete the proposed project successfully?
      Is your proposed project appropriate for strengthening your scientific profile?

    • The Research Project
      Is the project original and scientifically ambitious?
      Is the work programme logically structured and capable of being completed by the applicant within the proposed time frame?

    • The Host
      Does the scientific environment at the host institution provide optimal conditions for the planned project?

Successful Applications

Guidelines 1.04e 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 will enable the reviewers to grasp your proposal’s key points at first glance.

  • Pique your readers’ interests by outlining your project’s rationale, objectives and methods/approach and by highlighting its 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.


  • There is no need to rack your brains calculating the amount of funding required. The total sum is made up of a fixed flat-rate amount. You will find detailed information on this topic in Guidelines 1.04e.

Description of Research Project It should be clear from your proposal that you intend to carry out a project you developed yourself. This is particularly important if the topic you have selected is closely linked to the host institution’s main research interests. You should specifically avoid describing your project in such a way that it sounds like research commissioned by your host. While you should, of course, discuss your idea with your host at an early stage, you should compile your proposal independently, on the basis of your own ideas. Research Status

  • 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 preparatory 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.

Scope and Preparation Work

  • The central questions should be logically derived from the current status of research.

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

  • You should describe the anticipated knowledge gain briefly and succinctly.

  • A thematically limited and focused aim indicates a well-thought-out research concept. In contrast, a broadly formulated, explorative aim (“work in progress”) 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.

  • Your own scientific achievements and publications need not, necessarily, be project-specific. This does not, however, mean that no preliminary work is required. Instead, it is important to convincingly represent your motivation and your personal potential for carrying out the proposed project by explaining your previous career path and research achievements.

Work Programme including Proposed Research Methods

  • 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.

  • The feasibility of your project is best illustrated through a logically devised and clearly formulated work programme, in which each step builds logically on the previous one.

  • It is expected that you will complete the project yourself within the proposed time period. You should, therefore, ensure when compiling your proposal that you estimate the time requirement realistically. An overambitious work programme, particularly one proposed by a less experienced researcher, often raises doubts about the project’s feasibility.

  • The methodological concept should be based on the state-of-the-art in the field and should enhance your personal scientific profile.

  • 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.

The Significance of the Research Project for Your Future Research and Career Plans

  • The post-doc phase has a considerable influence on your future scientific career. You should, therefore, explain how the planned project will enhance your scientific profile and improve your career prospects (for example, through opening up new topics or expanding your methodological profile).

Rationalising Your Choice of Fellowship Location

  • You should provide sound reasons why the host institution you have selected is the most suitable one for your proposed project and your individual career development. Your choice should be based primarily on the host institution’s level of scientific excellence. Other important criteria, however, include a friendly and cooperative working environment and a good mentoring arrangement.

  • Make sure that your host institution has the basic equipment you will need (such as workspaces, laboratories, computing capacity, libraries, access to sources, etc.). Written confirmation from your host is an essential component of your proposal.

List of Publications and Bibliography

  • The Guidelines for research fellowships contain the rules for structuring publications lists in applications. 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”?

If not approved ...

  • Do not let yourself be discouraged if your proposal is rejected.

  • 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.

  • 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 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 appropriate programme contacts; procedural questions should be addressed to the appropriate 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 project concept is original and will make an important contribution to advancing the applicant’s scientific career.

  • The choice of host institution is convincingly justified and promises outstanding chances of success.

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

  • 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/her qualifications and scientific independence.

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

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

  • All requisite attachments (credentials, written confirmation from host, etc) are enclosed with the proposal.