A period of research in Germany opens up entirely new perspectives

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Top young researchers from the USA come to Germany to meet with other exceptional young scientists working in the same field – giving rise to a fascinating exchange and some exciting new ideas. This is the objective of a new cooperative venture between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the German Research Foundation (DFG). Dr Rainer Gruhlich, head of International Cooperation at the DFG, is responsible on the German side. He explains in our interview who can take part and why it is worth spending a period of time conducting research in Germany.

Dr Gruhlich, since the summer of 2015 outstanding young researchers from the USA have had the chance to conduct research in Germany – thanks to a new cooperative venture between the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the German Research Foundation (DFG). What opportunities does this open up for the top young researchers in Germany?

Dr Rainer Gruhlich

Naturally it was also possible for young researchers to come to Germany in the past. Our target group, however, is a highly select group of young and very exceptional scientists who already have a PhD and have just been appointed as tenure-track assistant professors. To some extent, the first year after receiving tenure is still a kind of orientation phase in which the young professors search for new stimulus for their research topics as well as for specific new project ideas, issues and collaborative projects. This is precisely the sort of impetus that a research sojourn in Germany can give them. The cooperative venture gives exceptional young researchers from the USA the chance to meet their German colleagues. This international exchange generates exciting new ideas, opens up entirely new perspectives and ways of viewing the research subject in question and results in more networking.

The DFG has already been cooperating with the NSF for many years, and it has long been the case that researchers from the United States have been able to spend a period of time conducting research in Germany. What precisely makes your latest cooperative venture so innovative?

It features an extreme absence of bureaucratic red tape and is open to all disciplines and subjects. This is because the cooperative venture is embedded on the American side in the NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER), which provides approx. US$500,000 in funding over a period of five years to enable outstanding young researchers to establish a young research group/laboratory within the framework of their professorship. The NSF presents 600 CAREER awards to the winners of a competition; the programme is worth roughly US$220 million in total. The only thing that young researchers who receive funding from this programme and are interested in conducting research in Germany have to do is apply to the NSF for a travel allowance once they have received an invitation from a German host institution. The NSF then continues to pay their salary while they are in Germany. Young researchers interested in this option would be best advised to consult the programme director responsible for them in the relevant NSF department.

How in fact did the new cooperation between the DFG and the NSF come about?

For some years now, the NSF has been keen to make the American research system more international, for example by increasingly attempting to motivate top young researchers to make a stay abroad part of a longer-term project when applying for funding. Traditionally, young American researchers have shown little enthusiasm about spending a period of time abroad because they associate this with disadvantages for their own academic career such as the loss of networks. This is precisely where our cooperative venture comes in: stays abroad are incorporated into an existing project grant, and the grant-holders already have a tenure-track position – so there is no risk to their careers. Furthermore, the “Excellence Initiative” run by Germany’s federal and state governments, which since 2006 has been funding outstanding research projects and research centres at German universities and raising the international profile of top-class German research, has attracted greater attention from abroad to Germany. Nowadays, Germany is regarded around the world as an excellent place for research. Consequently, it is not only very much in the interests of the German academic system for outstanding young American scientists to come and spend a period of time researching in Germany – it is also extremely attractive from an American point of view.

Dr Gruhlich, thank you for talking to us!

German Research Foundation (DFG)

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is the self-governing organization for science and research in Germany. It serves all branches of science and the humanities. Its membership consists of German research universities, non-university research institutions, scientific associations and the Academies of Science and Humanities.