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ETH Zurich Postdoctoral Fellowship Program 2

Final Report Summary - ETHFELLOWS 2 (ETH Zurich Postdoctoral Fellowship Program 2)

ETH Zurich Postdoctoral Fellowship Programme (ETHFELLOWS 2) – Grant Agreement Number: 608881

The ETH Zurich Postdoctoral Fellowship Programme supports incoming postdoctoral researchers at ETH Zurich. The programme is intended to foster young researchers who have already demonstrated scientific excellence in the early stages of their careers. Applications have to be made jointly by the candidate and the potential host, who must be an ETH Zurich professor and willing to act as the mentor of the fellow. The duration of an ETH Fellowship is two years.

Ten calls were planned over the project duration of five years; overall 98 fellows (2352 Fellowship months) were to be funded during the programme period 2015-2019 (a cost-neutral extension extended the programme period until June 2020 in order to allow for the spending of the entire budget). All 10 calls were published on time and were evaluated in the proposed time frame of four months. Overall, 577 applications were submitted in these 10 calls, 568 of which were eligible for the overall selection process. 156 fellows were selected under the ETH Fellows programme according to Annex I. Of these 156 fellows, 120 have been cofunded, 22 more than planned in Annex I. The higher number of approved fellows compensates for the earlier termination of fellowships, due to assistant professorship offers or other job opportunities. The remaining 36 fellows were funded solely by ETH Zurich and, in some cases, also by other third-party funds.

The quality of the submitted applications was extremely high. Thus, a thorough, quality-based selection is key for the success of our programme. The selection is based on a two-step procedure: first, the members of the research commission evaluate all applications, based on external reviews from international peers. About half of the applicants are invited for interviews; of these, again about half are recommended for funding. 14 – 17 fellows could be funded in each round. The success rate was on average 27.5%, with female candidates having a higher success rate than their male peers (30% vs. 26%).

The application and evaluation procedures are described transparently on our webpage All applications have been submitted via the web online submission platform. All candidates have been informed shortly after the final decision meeting or, if they have not been invited to the interview, after the preselection about the funding decision. Candidates and mentors, whose application had been rejected, have been given the reasons in a signed letter. Fellows and mentors, whose application has been successful, have been informed in writing about the conditions, their rights and duties as ETH Fellows, including the obligation to use the brand “Co-funded by Marie Curie Actions” in all publications. All processes from the submission to the selection for each call have been executed within the planned 4 months.

Together with the HR department, we offered tailor-made 1-day Career Development Seminars, two times a year. The seminars were on “Leadership skills and conflict management” and “Science Communication with tools of improvisational theatre”. They were highly appreciated by the fellows and received very good feedback. In addition, twice a year we invited all fellows and programme alumni who are still in Zurich to the ETH Fellows Seminars. They were organized as informal networking events, giving the Fellows the opportunity to connect beyond their scientific areas.

Also, we have installed a LinkedIn-Group “ETH Fellows”, where the fellows can communicate with each other, and where the programme management can post research funding opportunities, announcement of prizes, and interesting events.
An important aspect of the programme is that it is open to all scientific disciplines represented at ETH and solely researcher-driven, i.e. “fellows-driven”, and thus fosters science “bottom up”. All research fields represented at ETH Zurich can receive funding. The selected 120 fellows represent the following research areas as defined by COFUND: Life Sciences (27), Engineering (26), Environmental Sciences (19), Chemistry (18), Physics (16), Mathematics (10) and Social sciences (4). This distribution represents 14 of the 16 departments of ETH Zurich and proves that a wide range of disciplines is covered.

From the 120 selected fellows under COFUND, 46 are women (38%) and 74 are men (62%). The share of females is higher than the ETH Zurich average for the postdoctoral sector, which was 31% in 2018 (Gender Monitoring Report ETH Zürich 2018/2019). The highest proportion of females can be found in environmental sciences (10 out of 19), and life science (13 out of 27).

The selected fellows are recruited highly internationally: 32 different nationalities are represented and the successful candidates received their PhD in 24 different countries. More than half of the selected fellows are nationals of the EU (66 fellows, 55%). This shows that ETH Zurich is an attractive work environment for young European researchers. The other 45% were quite diversely distributed, with most fellows coming from the USA (15), Canada (7) and Israel (7). 29 (24%) of the cofunded fellows received their PhD in the USA and seven (6%) in Canada, showing that the programme continues to attract excellent postdocs from North America to Switzerland - and thus Europe - for their next career step.

The impact of the Fellowship on the ETH Fellows is high, as far as this can be judged at this point in time. From the 94 fellows who already completed their fellowship (some of them very recently), 19 were able to secure assistant professorship positions. Six persons received a prestigious Ambizione or PRIMA award (competitive fellowships by the Swiss National Science Foundation for senior postdocs on the verge to a professorship). Another ten obtained senior research positions in public or private research organisations and another 17 researchers got permanent positions in industry. Given the fact that the ETH Fellows are very early in their careers (directly after PhD until 2 year after PhD defense at the most), this is a remarkable result. Almost all other persons hold postdoctoral positions, either at ETH Zurich or at other institutions. Also, at least three of the fellows have been selected by Forbes as “30 under the age of 30” for their scientific achievements done during their fellowships.

From the five previous calls (still under COFUND I), additional 22 fellows were appointed assistant professors, three received a highly competitive Branco Weiss Fellowship, and four fellows an Ambizione or Marie Heim-Vögtlin-Fellowship (predecessor of PRIMA, competitive fellowship for advanced female postdocs). Another 14 fellows were hired as permanent researchers in industry and 20 are currently holding senior research positions in universities and public research institutions. This shows that, not least due the young age of the fellows, the real impact of the programme can only be assessed several years after the end of the fellowship.

We are convinced that our programme is highly successful because of the competitiveness of the selection process, and the fact that applicants have a very high degree of freedom in choosing their research topic as long as the proposal is submitted in consensus with the host. The uniqueness of the ETH Fellows Programme lies in the combination of openness, stringent quality control and an excellent work environment.

Webpage: Contact Address: Elisabeth Mitter, Office of Research, ETH Zurich, HG E 32.3 Rämistrasse 101, 8092 Zurich, Tel: +41 44 632 02 74,