How to Become a Freigeist Fellow - Interview with the Program Directors of the Initiative (2/2)

Since 2014, the Foundation's Board of Trustees has been electing ten to fifteen Freigeist Fellows each year: These young research talents have an extraordinary research idea and are working at the borders of neighbouring fields or disciplines. In our second part of the interview, Dr. Johanna Brumberg and Dr. Oliver Grewe, program directors of the initiative, answer questions about the way to submitting an application and about the review process.

Johannah Brumberg and Oliver Grewe.
Dr. Johanna Brumberg and Dr. Oliver Grewe, program directors of the Fellowship program. (Photo: Daniel Kunzfeld for Volkswagen Foundation)

What should a researcher considering a Freigeist application take particular note of?

Oliver Grewe: When applying for a Freigeist Fellowship, it’s important to submit a correct application: One should first of all carefully read through the Information for Applicants (pdf), and the Freigeist FAQs (pdf). The Information for Applicants, for example, contains a distinct list of mandatory documents required. This provides a good idea of whether or not the proposed project might be suitable for funding. An especially important aspect of preparation is: "How can I best succinctly describe my proposal?"

Johanna Brumberg: In addition to these formal references, we also offer information on our website about the projects funded so far (All current Freigeist-Fellows) and show with interviews who can be a Freigeist. Applying for projects of the kind we are promoting within the initiative also requires a certain amount of courage. After all, interested parties should first and foremost free themselves from the usual application logic they are used to and which some may already be "trained on". So don't try to do everything right, but be courageous. Show that you do something different, be special. But of course, to discuss your research idea with established experts in the run-up to an application is also highly recommended. If there is any doubt, the following is the most important to us: The contents always weigh heavier than the form.

Now that I know how to approach the application process in general, I am naturally interested in the Does and Don'ts!

Johanna Brumberg:  Well, a rushed phone call to us two days before the deadline, with the statement that you just came across the “Freigeist” program and would like to apply, is certainly less than ideal. One thing is certain: A Freigeist application usually requires a preparation period of about half a year. One should take one’s time – and the next autumn deadline will certainly come. We also recommend that you contact us at an early stage to discuss the necessary formal application requirements. And we ask you to send us a short description of the planned project, showing why it might fit to Freigeist. In this way, we can get a first impression of the project and give a rough assessment of whether it is suitable for a Freigeist application. It may be useful to contact Oliver Grewe and me at an early stage just for this first feedback.

Video: Are you a researcher and a Freigeist?

Are you a researcher and a Freigeist? The Volkswagen Foundation is looking for research talents in all disciplines with an extraordinary research idea, who tread new territory.
Johanna Brumberg and Oliver Grewe in front of Herrenhausen Palace.
Dr. Johanna Brumberg is responsible for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr. Oliver Grewe is responsible for the Natural and Engineering Sciences and Medicine. (Photo: Daniel Kunzfeld for Volkswagen Foundation)

How exactly does the fellowship review process work?

Johanna Brumberg: The Freigeist selection takes place through an evaluation process in which we bring together international reviewers from very different disciplines. This means that the assessment is not restricted to any one particular field, but rather that diverse opinions flow in from different perspectives.

Oliver Grewe: Our review process is based on three main criteria: Firstly, scientific quality. Secondly, the innovative power of the project idea, i. e. the extraordinary aspect of your work. And thirdly, the accuracy of fit between the applicant and the project in the Freigeist program.

Johanna Brumberg: Following a preliminary selection along these three criteria, we invite the most promising candidates  for a presentation. They are given the opportunity to present their project and research idea in person to the review panel and then discuss their project in detail with the experts.

Oliver Grewe: In this presentation, the applicant has to show that she or he has really thought everything through with all the associated uncertainties and risks. Only then the experts’ questions can be dealt with, and only then the project can be well presented. For us, this is an expression of  independence. If you succeed in this process, then you really have shown that you are Freigeist in our eyes.

More information

What is a "true Freigeist" in the eyes of the Volkswagen Foundation? And for whom is the Fellowship program intended? Johanna Brumberg and Oliver Grewe answer these questions in the first part of the interview.

Next deadline

The next deadline for applying for a Freigeist Fellowship is October 11, 2018. Here you will find all the information about the Freigeist Fellowship funding initiative.