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Dahlem Research School Fellowship for International Postdocs

Final Report Summary - DRS POINT (Dahlem Research School Fellowship for International Postdocs)

Seven years of independent research

Freie Universitaet Berlin was the first German university to bring international postdocs to Berlin with funds from the European Commission's COFUND program. A success story of networking and cooperation

The postdoctoral phase is a critical time in which researchers decide for or against a career in academia. The DRS POINT Programme of the Dahlem Research School (DRS) at Freie Universitaet Berlin supports postdoctoral researchers by providing salaried positions and an adequate research budget.

Prior to starting his fellowship at the Center for Area Studies of Freie Universitaet, Liav Orgad had already acquired two postdoctoral fellowships at internationally renowned institutes. They were very demanding, and his own research was often neglected. "The research program was pretty strict. As part of the research group, my job was to move the institution forward. It was not about me and my research." In the DRS POINT Fellowship, however, he was the focus of the program. "I realized that I wanted to train and advance. Undoubtedly, it was one of the most important steps in my academic career."

When the lawyer won the grant in 2013, Dahlem Research School (DRS), the Center for Junior Researchers of Freie Universitaet Berlin, was in the process of securing a new co-funding from the European Commission. Freie Universitaet Berlin was the first German university to succeed in 2011 in establishing fellowships for international postdocs with the help of the European Commission's COFUND program within the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions. With a second co-financing from 2013, the project scope increased from less than 2 Million to more than 8 Million Euro. To date, the funding program has enabled a total of 101(see note below) postdoctoral researchers from over 30 countries to carry out their own research project.

Integration into the research environment and the Institution
The fellows propose their research topics themselves, based on the foci of research within the host projects. The host projects, Freie Universitaet’s Focus Areas and Excellence Projects, are networks for interdisciplinary collaborative research and provide a unique research environment:

1) The Focus Area Dahlem Humanities Center - DHC uses the traditional strengths of Freie Universitaet in the humanities to create an overarching interdisciplinary research framework to study the outward manifestations, principles, and functions of cultural dynamics. (www.fu-berlin.de/en/sites/dhc)
2) Excellence Project: TOPOI - The Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations (www.topoi.org)
3) The Focus Area Center for Area Studies - CAS represents a unique feature of Freie Universitaet Berlin in that it concentrates regional expertise across the humanities and social sciences for North America, Latin America, Eastern Europe, East Asia, and the Near East. Area Studies are by nature interdisciplinary. (www.fu-berlin.de/en/sites/cas)
4) Excellence Project: Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies - BGSMCS investigates the plurality, changeability, and global connectedness of Muslim cultures and societies. (www.bgsmcs.fu-berlin.de)
5) Excellence Project: Graduate School of East Asian Studies - GEAS aims at developing a theoretically informed and empirically grounded understanding of the origins, effects, and interdependence of institutions in East Asia, both contemporary and historical. (www.geas.fu-berlin.de/)
6) The Focus Area Dahlem Centre for Plant Sciences - DCPS aims for a comprehensive understanding of diverse aspects of plant life by integrating disciplines such as genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, ecology, plant geography, and history of botany. (www.dcps.fu-berlin.de/)
7) The Focus Area for Nanoscale Research - NanoScale focuses on advanced interdisciplinary research on materials properties of nanoscale systems. (www.nanoscale.fu-berlin.de)
8) The Focus Area Disease in Human Aging - DynAge investigates dynamics at the level of molecules, individuals and society. (www.fu-berlin.de/en/sites/dynage)
9) The Berlin Mathematical School - BMS is funded by the German Excellence Initiative and has contributed significantly towards Berlin becoming a beacon for Mathematics attracting mathematicians from all over the world. (www.math-berlin.de)

Within the host projects, the DRS POINT Fellows receive support from senior researchers who act as scientific advisors and provide mentorship.

Flexible support for scientific independence
The biggest advantage of the DRS POINT Program is the flexibility that strengthens the independence of the funded researchers - this is something on which former fellows all agree. "The program made it possible for me to establish myself with my own research direction and gain a foothold in Berlin," says Andreas Elsäßer, a former DRS POINT Fellow in the Focus Area Nanoscale. "In the difficult and fragile phase after the PhD, the DRS POINT Fellowship gave me the time and independence I needed to do my own research and write more research proposals."

The biophysicist Elsäßer returned to Germany after holding postdoc positions in Northern Ireland and Leiden in 2015. For Marie Weinhart, who previously researched at the University of British Columbia, the DRS funding was a ticket back to the German academic world. "The DRS POINT Fellowship was great for me, because it allowed me to scientifically dock here again. Writing an application from abroad is not that easy if you apply for relatively large projects."

For Weinhart the time at the DRS really paid off. With her application in the "NanoMatFutur" young talent competition of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the biochemist was able to raise 2.1 Million Euro in research funds.

Freedom to conduct their own research, but also a strong focus on the time after - these two elements of the DRS program facilitate the professional success of the fellows. "I took the advice to write applications from the beginning," says Andreas Elsäßer. "From the first day I started planning my further career." He was very successful: his career at Freie Universitaet continued first as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellow and from Autumn 2018 as a fellow of the renowned Freigeist (free-spirit) Fellowship of the Volkswagen Foundation.

This strategy was also pursued by Liav Orgad. Supported by the qualification program of the DRS, but also by seeking the advice of successful grant holders and established researchers, he focused on his next applications. He was so successful that he had to turn down an Emmy Noether grant in favour of an ERC Starting Grant.

To be your own boss - this experience characterizes the DRS POINT Fellowship. "Having my own money made me much more independent," recalls Marie Weinhart. In addition, the DRS courses on leadership, team and project management prepare junior group leaders of tomorrow for their future tasks and responsibilities. "That helped a lot," she acknowledges.

Added value and impulses for the hosts
Alumna Weinhart is currently herself hosting a DRS POINT Fellow. Since last year, Laura Elomaa complements the Weinhart working group with her knowledge of biocompatible 3D printing processes. "The DRS POINT Fellowship has enabled me to be a host," emphasizes Marie Weinhart. "I would not have been able to finance the position otherwise. Now that Laura is here, I cannot imagine missing her expertise in our projects anymore. She has brought a completely new twist to the workgroup."

Michael Meyer, Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology and spokesperson for the Cluster of Excellence Topoi, is also convinced of the advantages of the DRS funding program: "For us, the fresh new input was important, the new ideas and perspectives brought to the research groups by the international colleagues. With many of them we are still in regular contact - networks have been created and are being used. "Since 2011, 20 DRS POINT Fellows have been researching at Topoi alone." The steadily increasing numbers of applications presented us with increasingly difficult selection decisions," says Prof. Meyer. "There were often too many very good applications for the number of places."

The added value for Berlin can actually be expressed in monetary terms: alumni have so far successfully raised nearly 7 Million Euro in third-party funding for the Berlin universities, which more than offsets the costs of the program. Of course there are also non-monetary benefits: The DRS POINT Fellows’ interdisciplinary projects have strengthened the research profiles of the Berlin Clusters of Excellence and enabled new collaborations. The host institutions have benefited from new perspectives, knowledge, expertise, but also from stronger international networks. The DRS POINT Fellowship therefore represents a successful model for the Berlin University Alliance.

Unquestionably, the main output of the last seven years of the DRS funding program are independent and successful researchers. More than 90 percent of the DRS POINT Fellows have so far found successful follow-up positions. "Before I came to Dahlem Research School, I never really thought about what qualifications I needed for a job as a professor," says Liav Orgad. "The DRS workshops opened doors for me and prepared me for an academic career."

Alumni of the Dahlem Research School
The biophysicist Andreas Elsäßer is researching the stability of biomolecules under different - and extraterrestrial - conditions as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellow and from autumn 2018 as a Freigeist Fellow. He wants to detect the decay products of biomolecules in the atmosphere of foreign planets and thus identify possible locations for the search for life on other planets. Through the DRS POINT Fellowship, he joined the Focus Area Nanoscale at Freie Universitaet in 2015.

Biochemist Marie Weinhart has been running a junior research group funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research since 2015 with the project "Surf3DTiss". She is researching new methods for 3D breeding of human tissue as an alternative to conventional animal testing. The DRS POINT Fellowship brought her back from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, to Freie Universitaet Berlin in 2014, where she joined the Focus Area Nanoscale. Since 2017 she has become a mentor in the DRS POINT Fellowship Program and is hosting the Finnish researcher Laura Elomaa in her working group.

The legal scholar Liav Orgad has been head of the working group "International Citizenship Law" at the Berlin Social Science Center (Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin - WZB) since 2017. He also belongs to the "Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies", a cooperation between Freie Universitaet, WZB and Hertie School of Governance. His DRS POINT Fellowship took him to Berlin in 2013, but he remained highly mobile internationally. In addition to his professorship at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, he heads the ERC Starting Grant funded project "Global Citizenship Governance" at the European University Institute in Florence.

Contact
For questions regarding the DRS POINT program please contact the Dahlem Research School Fellowship Team: fellowship-drs@fu-berlin.de.
Dahlem Research School
Freie Universität Berlin
Hittorfstr. 16
14195 Berlin, Germany
https://www.fu-berlin.de/sites/drs/postdocs/drs_fellowships/index.html

Footnote
In total, 73 Fellowships were co-funded by the European Commission. The German Research Foundation’ Excellence Initiative funded Freie Universitaet’s own contribution to the DRS POINT Fellowship program and in addition 28 further fellowships with exactly the same conditions.