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Erwin Schroedinger Fellowships

Final Report Summary - SCHROEDINGER FELLOWS (Erwin Schroedinger Fellowships)

Executive Summary:

The Erwin Schroedinger Programme is the largest outgoing-Programme in Austria for basic research at postdoc level. Open to all disciplines and destinations, it aims to support researchers to work abroad at leading research institutions and on leading research programmes in order to open new areas of knowledge, new scientific approaches, methods and techniques. It helps the fellows to broaden and deepen their competence and to establish long lasting international cooperations.

The programme was founded in 1985 and has been evaluated in 2006. The evaluation showed that the programme has an extremely high impact on the career development of the individual researchers however, the most critical moment for the fellows was the return. Therefore, the FWF wanted to facilitate the critical return phase for the fellows by improving the programme with the possibility to apply also for a reintegration phase and thus counter the brain drain from Austria and consequently from the ERA on the long turn.

This main objective, the facilitation of the fellows’ return, was achieved by inclusion of the possibility to apply for a return phase within the Erwin Schroedinger Programme and thus, to extend the maximum project duration: This was only possible with the cofinancing of the EC. We started the contract in March 1st 2009 and from this date onward it was possible to apply for a Schroedinger fellowship in its approved form including the return phase. Schroedinger proposals are not subjected to deadlines, they can be submitted on a rolling basis. The application processing time is about four months, which is highly appreciated by our clientele and we are convinced that this rapid and quality-controlled decision process is especially helpful in the career paths of young scholars. With our rapid processing time and flexible arrangement of stays abroad (10 to 24 months plus an optional return phase of up to 12 months, free choice of host research institutions), the FWF offers now its target group a programme which is nicely tailored to their specific needs.

All Schroedinger proposals submitted from March 2009 until July 2010 were treated under this COFUND contract. We received 164 applications during this period, 10 of them were withdrawn by the applicants, so we processed 154, 14 were immediately rejected by the FWF’s Executive Board without review because they did not meet the eligibility criteria. Based on the external peer reviews 61 proposals were rejected and 79 approved by the FWF-Decision Board. Seven of the fellows withdraw their approved grants, so in sum we saw 72 projects started. We received 287 reviews from international experts in total. 118 outgoing and 15 return years have been cofunded under this contract.

The improvements of the programme were highly appreciated and we saw that 38 out of the 72 applications included a return phase. The average approval sum of the Schroedinger programme in the years before COFUND (2007/2008) was about 3.5 Mio, in the year 2010 – the first entire year with the new Schroedinger programme – we approved 5.6 Mio which shows quality and quantity improvement.

51 out of 72 projects have been terminated under this contract and we have received to date 49 final reports. 21 projects are still ongoing. 38 projects include a return-phase, 11 return phases have been concluded, 11 are still ongoing, 10 fellows have not started their return yet and 6 fellows did not take use of their return phases because of job offers.

The information provided by the final reports is highly positive: we monitor a great average publication output (2.6 scientific publications on average), an immediate effect on continuing the scientific career path (12 persons accepted scientific positions, four applied successfully for another project at the FWF) and a very high satisfaction with the programme design and management.

In sum, the FWF was able to improve the Erwin Schroedinger Programme with the help of COFUND resulting in offering now a nearly perfect postdoc programme.