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Erwin Schroedinger Fellowships

Final Report Summary - SCHROEDINGER FELLOWS (Erwin Schroedinger Fellowships)

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. With the cofunding of the EC the FWF was able to strengthen the programme with different measures. In 2013/2014 the FWF launched again an external programme evaluation also to render account to the EC. The few weaknesses mentioned in the evaluation report from 2006 were no longer issues after the improvements of the programme made possible by the cofunding of the EC. The extremely positive results of the evaluation published in May 2014 are summarized in the executive summary of the evaluation report ( Impact Evaluation, p. 44: “The evidence gathered by this evaluation suggests that the Schrödinger program with a return phase is well managed and that its overall objectives are achieved. The way in which the program has been repeatedly evaluated and how it has continuously been adapted and improved is commendable. This is also reflected in the high level of satisfaction expressed by the surveyed Schrödinger fellows. The evaluation measured the impact of the program on four different levels: The individual researchers’ careers, the involved research institutions, the Austrian Science system and the European Research Area. At the level of the individual researchers, the Schrödinger program proved to have a positive impact on research output and career development. This was confirmed by the survey, the bibliometric analyses as well as the control group comparison. The Schrödinger fellows did not only tend to achieve higher publication and citation rates. They also tended to publish significantly more and attract more citations during and shortly after their fellowship than in the career phases before and after their fellowship. Another notable finding is that 47% of all Schrödingers that started their fellowship before 2005 have become full professors until today. Of all fellows that started before 1995, 64% have become full professors. This confirms the respective findings from the previous evaluation in 2006. Also at the level of the involved Austrian universities and research institutions a positive impacts could also be recorded. The Schrödinger program appears to promote the transfer of knowledge and methodologies into Austria. The bibliometric analyses of co-publication patterns also show that the Schrödinger program appears to improve the integration of Austria into international research networks. At the level of the Austrian science system, fears of a potential brain drain could not be not confirmed. Although 33% of all fellows do not immediately return to Austria after the end of their fellowships, the bibliometric analyses show a strong ‘bridge head’ effect. The fact that fellows stay abroad tends to have a positive effect on the integration of Austrian science into international research networks, measured by means of co-publications. At the level of the European Research Area, the survey results show that although most Schrödinger fellows go to host institutions in North America, Schrödinger fellows show an increased propensity to collaborate and co-publish with researchers from other European countries”

The FWF started the COFUND-contract in August 1st 2010. We have maintained the major improvement already established with the first COFUND grant – the reintegration phase after the stay abroad. Furthermore, starting with this grant the FWF covers contribution to the Austrian pension fund during the duration of the outgoing phase and the age limit was eliminated.

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 its target group a programme which is nicely tailored to their specific needs.

All Schroedinger proposals submitted from August 2010 until December 2011 were treated under this COFUND contract. We received 196 applications during this period. 7 of them were withdrawn by the applicants, so we processed 189, of which 3 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 96 proposals were rejected and 90 approved by the FWF-Decision Board. In total, we received 390 reviews from international experts. 8 of the fellows withdrew their approved grants, so in sum we saw 82 projects started. 128 outgoing and 16 return years have been cofunded under this contract.
The reintegration phase was highly appreciated and we saw that 60% of the projects included a return phase.

61 out of 82 projects have been terminated under this contract and we have received and processed to date 56 final reports. 49 projects included a reintegration-phase, 18 reintegration phases have been concluded, 11 are still ongoing, 11 fellows have not started their return yet and 9 fellows did not made use of their return phases because of job offers.

The information provided by the final reports of the fellows is highly positive: We monitor a great average publication output (2.8 scientific publications on average), an immediate effect on continuing the scientific career path (12 persons terminated their fellowship earlier because of job offers, 6 applied successfully for another project at the FWF) and a very high satisfaction with the programme design and management.

In sum, the FWF was again able to improve the Erwin Schroedinger Programme with the help of COFUND and also the external evaluation showed the positive impact of the programme on the fellow’s career.