Earth System Sciences

Illustration: Mann mit Laborbrille und Lupe blickt auf ein Modell der Erde

Important dates

  • No open call

Many of the most pressing challenges of the Anthropocene, such as climate change or damage to ecosystems due to overexploitation of natural resources, require a holistic view of the Earth. The Earth needs to be understood as a complex system, and the interactions and dynamics of its components need to be considered more closely. By funding strategically oriented tenure-track junior professorships, the Volkswagen Foundation aims to contribute to the establishment of Earth system science in research and teaching.

  • area of research: Geosciences
  • funding for: 1-2 junior professorships with tenure track per University location
  • up to 1.5 million euros per junior professorship
  • 6 years
  • aimed at: Universities in Germany with a focus on geosciences
  • Applications must consist of a strategic concept by the university and a research agenda by the candidate for the junior professorship

What is funded?

The funding offer is directed at universities with a focus on the geosciences that are interested in establishing one or two tenure-track junior professorships. Inspired by the Leopoldina report "Earth System Science", the Volkswagen Foundation wants to contribute to the strengthening of systemic thinking in the geosciences and the integration of relevant research areas at their respective locations under the guiding principle of Earth system science. It is intended to create interdisciplinary networks and partnerships and to stimulate the restructuring of existing institutional structures and research and teaching programs. Taken together, these actions will contribute to the development of a comprehensive perspective on the Earth system.

How it works: From application to decision in four steps


FAQ for the Call Earth system Sciences
Does the denomination of the proposed junior professorship have to be "Earth System Sciences"?

The denomination of the junior professorship can be chosen freely. The topics to be covered by the junior professorship are not specified in the call. The junior professorship should have its own research agenda and contribute to the strategic concept of Earth System Sciences, without taking the lead in its implementation. The junior professorship may have an integrative focus, fill gaps in the local subject landscape or strengthen subject areas.

Does the candidate for the junior professorship have to meet certain age or time limits since obtaining his/her doctorate?

The funding initiative does not impose any age or time limits since the doctorate. 
Please enquire about the regulations at the applicant university and in the respective state higher education law and whether exceptions are possible. Appointment to a tenure-track W2 professorship could be one way to overcome the time limit (see question 4).

What can the funding be used for?

The maximum amount of 1.5 million euros per junior professorship can be spent on the following components: The position of the junior professor, equipment and personnel for the junior professorship, and structural measures at the institution. In line with the modular principle, individual components can be omitted if, for example, the position of the junior professor does not need to be financed. This does not increase the maximum funding for the other components. The share of structural measures is limited to a maximum of 200,000 euros.

Can a W2 tenure-track professorship be awarded instead of the envisaged W1 junior professorship in order to attract a highly sought-after junior researcher or to circumvent time or age limits for taking up the junior professorship?

The Foundation will agree to a W2 appointment if it serves the establishment of Earth System Science, if it offers the candidate long-term future prospects at the university, and if the additional costs arising from the difference between W2 and W1 are borne by the applicant university. 

Can an application be submitted without a candidate for the junior professorship or must the application be withdrawn if the intended candidate is no longer available?

An application must consist of the strategic concept of the institution and the research agenda for the junior professorship and must be submitted jointly by the coordinator/spokesperson of the strategic concept and the candidate for the junior professorship.
If the intended candidate is no longer available after the submission of the application, a new candidate together with his/her research agenda can be presented until the end of the pre-selection process in February 2024. After this date, no further submissions are possible and the application can no longer be considered.

Does an awarded grant remain in force if the candidate is no longer available before taking up the junior professorship because he/she has chosen another career option?

In line with the modular principle (see question 3), only the strategic concept will initially be funded, and the junior professorship will not be financed.

What happens to the approved project if the junior professor receives a call during the funding period?

The university may, for example, use the personnel funds granted for the position of junior professor for an upgrading in the context of negotiations with a professor to persuade him/her to stay. However, any additional costs arising from this will be borne by the university.
If the junior professor leaves the applicant university, he/she may take the research funds of the junior professorship with him/her. The funds for the strategic concept remain at the university.

Is it possible to combine the Earth System Sciences funding with Emmy Noether, ERC Starting Grant and similar programmes for young researchers?

Early career programmes such as Emmy Noether and ERC Starting Grants are highly competitive, and winning such a position is a distinction for the recipient. However, many programmes for exceptionally qualified early career researchers do not offer tenure track for the research group leaders. 
In principle, Earth System Sciences funding can be combined with existing programmes for exceptionally qualified young researchers, provided that a permanent career perspective exists or is created for the young researcher, e.g. through tenure track.
The concrete form of combination with other funding programmes must be clarified on a case-by-case basis. Please contact the Foundation's secretariat before submitting your application if you intend to combine it with other funding for young research group leaders.
In principle, it is expected that the submitted research agenda will be implemented by the (junior) professor and that there will be sufficient freedom to contribute to the strategic concept.
If less than half of the funding period of the early career programme has elapsed at the time of application, it is recommended to bring forward the tenure evaluation and not to wait until the end of the Earth System Sciences project. If more than half of the funding period has passed, it is recommended to consider a W2 professorship for the candidate. Regarding financial arrangements, see question 4. In the case of an early appointment to a tenured professorship, the funds earmarked by the Foundation for the W1 junior professorship can be used by the university for pro rata financing.

Is it possible to apply only for the strategic concept (200,000 euros) without the junior professorship if, for example, an additional professorship is financed from other sources?

If an additional tenured or tenure-track professorship is to be newly created, and if the submitted research agenda can be implemented by the professor, and if there is sufficient freedom to participate in the strategic concept, funding can only be requested for the strategic concept. The candidate for the professorship is a co-applicant and must submit a research agenda. 
The concrete structure must be clarified on a case-by-case basis. Please contact the Foundation's secretariat before submitting your application if you intend to combine it with professorships funded elsewhere.

Check here for answers to general questions about our funding

FAQ for Applicants

Here you will find information on the eligibility to apply as well as the application process.

Can the Volkswagen Foundation fund my project?

Applications are only accepted within the framework of the current funding portfolio (also referred to as funding initiatives or funding programs). 

What type of projects are totally excluded from support?

The Foundation will not process applications falling under the following categories:

  • Supplements to travel costs or scholarships granted by third parties
  • Congresses
  • Printing costs not associated with projects supported by the Foundation
  • Acquisition, completion, or maintenance of collections or exhibitions
  • Construction and expansion of hospitals, retirement and nursing homes
  • Devices that serve therapy
  • Development and practical trials of research questions that have already been solved
  • Patent evaluation
  • Schools, preparatory courses and institutions of adult education, student residences
  • Start-up aid for scientific institutions with political, ideological or denominational ties
  • Across-the-board increases in base budgets or making up for budget shortfalls
  • Reimbursement of pre-financing granted elsewhere
  • For-profit purposes
  • Charitable purposes
  • Private individuals
Do I have to have a doctorate to apply?

Yes, all applicants must have completed their doctorate. In individual calls it may also be sufficient that they have already submitted their dissertation. The details of such an exception can be found in the information documents of the corresponding call.

Do I already have to be employed at a German university/research institution at the time of application?

Lead applicants must be affiliated with a German university or research institution or attach a statement with their application in which the management of the university or research group confirms that it will employ them and take over the administration of the third-party funds if they are approved.

I work in a foundation or private company – am I eligible to apply?

Grants can only be awarded to universities or scientific institutions in Germany. However, applicants from institutions that are not eligible for funding can be involved in a project as cooperation partners.

I work abroad, can I still submit an application?

In principle, scientific institutions from abroad can submit an application for funding. Their applications must refer to a specific funding initiative and also contain details about the previously agreed cooperation with researchers in Germany. In many funding initiatives, the German scientific institution is required to take the lead.

I am currently already receiving other funding (ERC grant, Freigeist Fellowship, etc.). Can I still apply for funding from the Volkswagen Foundation?

In principle, yes. However, the application submitted to the Volkswagen Foundation must be clearly differentiated thematically from the already funded project.

My project was funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. Can I apply for funding for the follow-up project?

The Volkswagen Foundation does not fund projects that constitute continuations of projects it has funded in the past. It also does not step in where other funders discontinue funding.

Can multiple applications be submitted from the same institution?

In principle, yes. In some funding offers, a limit of one application per institution may be set. Corresponding conditions can be found in the information documents of the respective call for proposals.

Can I submit multiple projects for the same deadline?


Can I apply to other funding institutions with the same project in parallel?

Basically no.

Can I get a preliminary assessment of my research proposal?

Receiving such advice in advance of submitting an application is only possible with regard to the fit with the funding initiative. An assessment in respect of the subject matter of the application cannot be given, as this is part of the review process.

Where can I find an overview of projects previously funded by the Foundation?

   You can find a searchable list in our grants database.

Does the Foundation support me in my search for potential cooperation partners?


How do I submit an application?

The documents 'Information for Applicants' explain in detail the framework conditions and the formal requirements for submitting an application for each funding initiative and provide practical tips on submitting your application. If you have any further questions, the contact persons listed there will be happy to help. Applications are submitted online via the Foundation's application system.

What is eligible for funding?

The "information for applicants" of the respective call for proposals specifies what is eligible for funding. Universities and universities for applied sciences can apply for 10 % overheads in most of the calls. For more information on overheads, see "Information on lump sum for overheads", which is provided in our download-section.

The Volkswagen Foundation only allocates funds for clearly determined purposes. Funds must not be used to relieve the base budget of an institution and thereby the actual funding body of the institution in question, such as the state. The funds may not be used to cover budget shortfalls or cause other funders to reduce their grants accordingly. Nor does the Foundation make funds available to other research-funding institutions for their general funding activities. 

What remuneration rates can I use when submitting an application?

Information on funding for personnel is provided in our download-section

Do I need to submit a data management plan?

If your project generates large amounts of data, the Foundation requires you to provide a data management plan (RTF) (RTF, 111.1 KB) as an attachment to your application. This may also be included as a topic of the review. 

FAQ about the selection process
On what basis will my application be decided?

As a matter of principle, the Volkswagen Foundation involves expert reviewers in its decisions. They review submitted applications according to the criteria specified in the information documents for the respective program (e.g., contribution to scientific knowledge, suitability of the candidates, feasibility of the project, etc.) and make a funding recommendation to the Board of Trustees of the Volkswagen Foundation. The Foundation maintains strict confidentiality with regard to the review process.

Who makes the final decision of approval?

The Foundation's Board of Trustees usually decides on applications at meetings held three times a year. With a binding "Code of Conduct" for the employees of the administrative office and the members of the Board of Trustees, the Foundation ensures that no person is involved in decision-making relating to any institution to which they belong or in whose committees they participate. The Secretary General of the Volkswagen Foundation is authorized to decide on projects with lower application volumes and submits reports on such decisions to the Board of Trustees. 

Why do I get such little feedback on my rejected application?

When designing application and review procedures, the Volkswagen Foundation must ensure that these procedures are as time- and cost-efficient as possible, both for applicants and for reviewers. Therefore, unlike other funding organizations, the Foundation rarely solicits individual reviews of applications. In most cases, applications are discussed at meetings of a review panel at which a funding recommendation is made. The main points of criticism are recorded in minutes; but these minutes cannot be shared with applicants, partly because of direct comparisons made with other applications evaluated in parallel. However, the Volkswagen Foundation does try to ensure that the scope of the feedback is commensurate with the effort required of the applicants. In the case of rejected outline proposals, therefore, no feedback can generally be expected, while at the end of whole selection procedures, some of which involve several stages, it may be possible to obtain more detailed feedback by telephone.

Can I resubmit a rejected application in a revised form?

No. However, the same lead applicant is welcome to submit a proposal on a new topic. If this is to be submitted in the same program, consultation with the appropriate program director is recommended to ensure that the topic is sufficiently distinguished from previously submitted proposals.

FAQ for grantees

Here you will find information about funding guidelines, calling for funds, progress reports, use of the foundations' logo and more. 

What funding guidelines must I abide by as a grantee of the Foundation?

The Volkswagen Foundation is a non-profit science funding organization under private law and, as such, must ensure that the granted funds are used economically and properly. By accepting the funding, you acknowledge the Funding Principles (see download-section). As a so-called grant recipient, you are responsible for ensuring that these principles, as well as any additional special conditions communicated, are brought to the attention of all those involved in the funded project and its implementation (e.g., project personnel, contractors, publishers, authors, editors, executing agencies) and that they are adhered to.

What applies to doctoral projects within the scope of my funded project?

The promotion of early career researchers is a high priority for the Volkswagen Foundation. In the document Notes on doctoral projects within the framework of funded projects (PDF, 26.5 KB) (in German) we have compiled accordant expectations and recommendations.

How important should ethical issues be in my research project?

The Foundation expects grantees to pay special attention to questions of scientific and research ethics in all subject areas. This already applies to the project conception as well as in particular to the actual implementation of the project. If ethically relevant aspects become manifest in the course of the research process, the grantees are requested to report these to the relevant ethics committee and to the Foundation. If possible and reasonable, the Foundation supports its grantees in organizing events that provide space to discuss ethically relevant aspects and questions with experts and colleagues in the field as well as with relevant social groups.

How do I receive the approved funds?

Together with the letter of approval, you will receive the calling for funds plan (RTF) to be completed and a corresponding appendix (RTF), which you must use to confirm in writing that you accept the Foundation’s funding principles. The approved funds will be transferred in due time to the account of the funded scientific institution in accordance with the needs-based call for funds initiated by you. 

Do I have to submit progress reports?

Progress reports must be submitted annually to show how the project is developing. The Notes on interim and final reports (PDF, 134.5 KB) will support you in writing the reports. All reports are uploaded to the Foundation's Application and Report System.

How do I have to prove how the funds are utilized?

At the end of the funding period – and possibly earlier in the case of long-running projects – the Foundation expects accounts detailing the utilization of the funds. Our FAQ-section "Proof of Utilisation" explains, among other things, when and in what form proof of utilization must be provided, as well as how to proceed with remaining funds in the project, and whether receipts must be sent in. Please use the template "statement of account", which we provide for download via our download section

What does the Foundation expect from me in terms of public relations for my project?

It is important to the Foundation that grantees make their results accessible, preferably in established scientific journals or monographs, in which they also refer to the support provided by the Volkswagen Foundation. In this context, please refer to our Open Science Policy (PDF, 459.7 KB), which we provide for download via our download section. In addition, we expect you to use suitable media to inform various sectors of the public about the funded projects. To this end, we ask you to cooperate constructively with the Communications Office of the Volkswagen Foundation.

Can I use the Volkswagen Foundation logo for posters or flyers, for example?

The Volkswagen Foundation logo may only be used in connection with the Foundation's funding activities, not for advertising purposes. All information and files can be found at Foundation Logos and Corporate Design.

What other offers can I benefit from as a Volkswagen Foundation grantee?

You can find additional offers under "Additional benefits and training".

Where can I find important documents to download? 

You can find important documents in our download section.

FAQ on statement of account and proof of utilisation

At the end of the funding period – and possibly earlier in the case of long-running projects – the Foundation expects accounts detailing the utilization of the funds.

How do I prove the proper use of funds and why is this required?

The statement of account is the accounting evidence that the funding has been spent by the grantees or the approved institutions in accordance with the grant.
The Proof of Utilization of awarded funding is required by the Statutes of the Volkswagen Foundation § 3 and § 9.

What has to be included in my statement of account?

In a statement of account, the project-related expenditure is accounted for, that:

  • complies with the individual grant letter and
  • complies with the funding principles (see download section) and
  • has been made within the approved funding period.
When do I have to submit my statement of account?

Immediately upon termination  of each funded project, the Foundation expects the grantees or the approved institutions to submit a final statement of account without being requested to do so.

Interim statements of account are only requested if necessary and do not have to be submitted annually.

In what form should the statement of account be submitted?

Please use the form "statement of account" and our Excel template for the overview of all individual expenditures and revenues (requested on page 3 of the form), which are to be arranged according to the approved cost items. You can download both templates here: Templates for statement of account and Excel list (ZIP folder). The form must be signed (analogue or digital) by:

  1. the grantee and 
  2. the authorized person of the bursar’s office/third-party funding office.
How do I have to submit the statement of account?

The statement of account is to be submitted only by e-mail. Please send it to:

Do I need to submit receipts?

Receipts must only be submitted on request. Original invoices and payment receipts must be kept for all individual expenses.

How do I deal with remaining funds?

Allocated funds that are/were not used in the project must be repaid to the Foundation without delay. Repayment shall be made to the following account of the Volkswagen Foundation, quoting the file number:
IBAN: DE98250500000101044006
Credit Institution: Norddeutsche Landesbank 

Who are my contacts?


humanoider Kopf einer Maschine

Societal Transformations

This funding offer is part of our profile area Societal Transformations. Find out more about the profile area and current funding opportunities.

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Additional benefits in combination with this funding offer

Funding offer

Data Reuse – Additional Funding for the Preparation and Storage of Research Data

#Additional funding opportunities for grantees #Open Science

In the context of its Open Science Policy, the Volkswagen Foundation supports Open Data. The foundation provides its grantees with additional funding for the preparation of research data for data reuse and for making generated data available as Open Data. Apply anytime