The term "Freigeist" is wide open to interpretation. What makes a "Freigeist" in the eyes of the Foundation?
Johanna Brumberg: Applicants for a Freigeist Fellowship need a certain amount of courage if they want to venture into the unknown and tread new territory with their project in the spirit of our funding initiative – and that over a period of at least five years. It isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, it’s not for everybody, and not everybody has to do it. But those who dare to take such a step are right on target with a Freigeist Fellowship.
Oliver Grewe: Basically, the Freigeist Fellowships do not follow the logic of trimming the application for the initiative. Potential Freigeist Fellows are those researchers who are not in the mainstream with their projects or special research areas anyway, but want to do something of their very own. They are highly independent and very good in their field, and also are prepared to take the risk of carrying out an unusual research project.
How many of these Freigeist fellows can you identify per year among the applicants?
Johanna Brumberg: It’s not our intention to find a three-digit number of Freigeist Fellows every year. This type of exceptional research project is actually a niche phenomenon. But it is exactly for these niches that the Foundation set up the Freigeist Fellowships: We fill the gap that had so far existed in the German funding landscape in respect of promoting exceptional researchers, who sometimes perhaps even cause offence with their research projects – and of course we give them a certain degree of trust as well, where other research sponsors may be more restrained. Through this orientation of the initiative, we come to a number between 10 and 15 people per year.
Video: Are you a researcher and a Freigeist?
Is there any subsequent restriction on the subject disciplines in which Freigeist fellowships are awarded?
Oliver Grewe: All disciplines and topics are welcome. The main thing is that they have a great idea and are excellently qualified so that they are able to successfully implement their ideas.
Johanna Brumberg: We are open for researchers from all disciplines. This means that applications from rather smaller subjects are on an equal footing with project proposals from larger disciplines. It is particularly interesting for us when the projects are at the crossroads between the disciplines and are really interdisciplinary. And we often encounter another misunderstanding, which I would like to clarify: There are definitely no subject quotas! Every convincing project basically has a chance to be supported.
So, if the discipline does not make the difference, what should be considered when designing the project?
Johanna Brumberg: The funding offers as much flexibility as possible in terms of the structure of the project. The funding of the Fellow position serves to ensure academic independence. The concrete design of the project and the purpose for which the funds are requested are entirely in the hands of the fellow: For example, they can integrate additional employees into the project or plan longer stays abroad if this is necessary to carry out the research. They can even apply for money to purchase equipment that may not yet be available at the research institution - here we have very little restrictions. Only the amount of funding available is limited.
Oliver Grewe: However, we do have some suggestions for the applicants: A comprehensive and realistic overview of the overall project should be given. Thus, all foreseeable positions should already be included in the initial application. This is especially because the fellows should be free to focus on their project during the funding period and really concentrate on their research, instead of constantly having to deal with applications for additional funding. This doesn’t preclude the possibility of requesting more funds later, though.
Incidentally, the amount of the requested funds per se has no influence on an application’s chances of success. So there is no point in initially applying for a smaller sum to allegedly increase the chances of being funded. Only the consistency and the coherence of the overall concept including the financial resources and of course the time and work schedule count.
So there is no such thing as a specimen application, which potential applicants often ask for?
Johanna Brumberg: The kind of pattern or specifications that some people would like to have as an orientation would be a complete contradiction to the idea of the Freigeist fellowships. The Freigeist fellowships should open up room for their own research ideas, for the things that perhaps no one has thought of or dared to think of before. And the more standards were given, the more we would inhibit creativity. It is better to consider: "What would my ideal research project look like?"
Oliver Grewe: It's not about how best to fit into the initiative: So one shouldn’t ask about how to present yourself to become a Freigeist Fellow. And since we do not ask for run of the mill applications, we also offer more than the grant money: The program puts the fellows in contact with researchers from completely different disciplines, especially at the events that are part of our funding. These include, for example, meetings of grantees, media training and the "Professionals in Science" training measure. This program is particularly useful for young international researchers who have been drawn to Germany by a Freigeist Fellowship. They receive support through the program in order to find their way around the German university "jungle". These additional offers support researchers who want to go their own way and pursue it consistently.
Johanna Brumberg: As Freigeist projects entail not only the research process but also organizational challenges, we, as the promoter who demands these qualities, also want to offer as much support as possible. The manageable number of Fellows per year allows us to accompany our grantees adequately during the project and to be really available for consultation. At the same time, we closely network the grantees so that they can exchange ideas and benefit from their respective experiences. In the past, this collegial exchange, the networking and exposure to perspectives beyond one's own subject have already produced some interesting cooperation between the grantees.
Part II of the interview: How to Become a Freigeist Fellow - Interview with the Program Directors of the Initiative (2/2)
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.