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Career advancement with Esprit: the new FWF programme for the career promotion of postdocs starts in April 2021. © Shutterstock

An increased funding volume, longer project durations and rolling submissions—starting in April 2021, ESPRIT offers highly qualified postdocs an improved opportunity for advancing their academic careers. ESPRIT strives to support researchers as best as possible in their career development, to integrate them into Austrian cutting-edge research, and to further promote equal opportunities and diversity.

The current Hertha Firnberg call for proposals runs until 11 December, but starting in April 2021, the Austrian Science Fund FWF will offer an improved programme for the career advancement of postdocs called ESPRIT (“Early Stage Programme: Research, Innovation, Training”). This new programme will take the place of both the Hertha Firnberg and the Lise Meitner Programmes. This change comes after an in-depth consultation process with several stakeholder groups, the results of which have been incorporated directly into the design of the new career advancement programme.

An increased funding volume, longer project durations, rolling submissions

ESPRIT is designed to address the funding needs of postdocs from all fields of science and research in one common programme for the purpose of integrating them as best as possible into Austria’s universities and research institutions, regardless of their discipline.

The possibility of rolling submissions, greater flexibility in the use of funds, uniform application requirements, and an overall increase in the budget for early-stage career development provide benefits for all applicants. Rolling submission means that careers can be advanced more quickly—a particularly important aspect for postdocs in their career planning. The duration of research projects, which was limited to two years in the Lise Meitner Programme, will be extended to three years in the future. The project-specific funds will be increased and can be used flexibly within the scope of a global budget. To underscore the researchers’ scientific independence, ESPRIT involves mentors who provide the researchers with sustainable advice and support on their long-term career development.

The new programme aims to attract the best and most creative researchers from Austria and abroad and strengthen Austrian research institutes with research projects of outstanding quality. The merging of the previous postdoc programmes is designed to create one programme with a consistently high reputation for all grantees.

Overview of what’s new in the ESPRIT Programme

  ESPRIT Programme Previous programmes
(Lise Meitner and Hertha Firnberg)
Funding volume: approx. €20 million per year approx. €13 million per year
Funding amount: Funding for the salary of the principal investigator plus up to €25,000 per year in project-specific costs Funding for the salary of the principal investigator plus up to €12,000 per year in project-specific costs
Flexibility: Global budget for ongoing projects with the option to reallocate funds Little flexibility in the reallocation of funding for personnel and non-personnel costs
Submissions: Rolling submission and thus faster awarding of grants; in the case of rejection, faster chance for resubmission Two calls for proposals per year (in the Hertha Firnberg Programme)
Territoriality: No territoriality principle; in exchange, application submitted by the Austrian research institution
(PROFI funding)
Territoriality principle in effect
Duration: Up to 36 months for all grantees 24 months (Meitner), 36 months (Firnberg)

Next step in the promotion of women and equal opportunities

Although ESPRIT is open to both men and women, the programme is designed to prioritise the promotion of women’s careers. At all stages of the programme, from the submission of applications to the reaching of decisions to the implementation of the projects, various steps have been taken to ensure equal opportunities. These include, for instance, transparent and objective evaluation criteria, which also take the personal situations of researchers into consideration; budgetary measures, such as reserving half of the ESPRIT project fundings for women; and increasing the supporting measures for the promotion of women that have proven to be effective in the Firnberg programme.

By continuing to develop and improve its career promotion and advancement programmes, the FWF is one of the last funding agencies in Austria to part with separate programmes for the promotion of women.

This step is the result of two decades of experience and success in the targeted promotion of women. The high number of women currently in this career segment now makes this step possible. The design of the programme is not based solely on the recommendations of the consultation group, but also those of various experts in equal opportunities as well as on international studies and success stories.

“Based on the experiences of the past, the Austrian Science Fund FWF sees the ESPRIT Programme as the next logical step in the promotion of research careers. This enhancement of our portfolio will make it possible in future for more women to gain long-term opportunities in cutting-edge research,” emphasised FWF President Klement Tockner. “At the same time, we are also aware that diversity and equal opportunities in the research world can only continue to be improved through the joint efforts of research institutions, research policy, and the FWF.”

Overview of the measures for the promotion of women

  • Promotion of women in the application stage
    • Information and advising events specifically for female researchers in various forms
    • Gender-sensitive guidelines for curriculum vitae and transparent evaluation criteria

  • Promotion of women in the decision-making stage
    • Consideration of equal opportunities in the decision-making process: transparent and objective evaluation criteria, awareness-raising among the reviewers, and anti-bias training for the decision-making bodies
    • External evaluation of the programme’s implementation and the decision-making process regarding equal opportunities by international experts
    • Half of the funds reserved for women
    • In the case of equal qualifications and equal quality of proposals, women are given priority

  • Promotion of women in the project stage
    • Know-how transfer and visibility measures through ongoing mentoring, workshops, and networking meetings
    • Child allowances up to the child’s third birthday in the case of full-time employed principal investigators

Ongoing external evaluation of the change

The implementation of the new programme will be scientifically monitored under the supervision of Joanneum Research (“GRANTeD”) and will focus on the topics of equal opportunities and gender bias in the peer-review and decision-making process. In addition, information on the proportion of women among proposed and approved projects and the approval rate by gender will be collected on a regular basis.

You can find further information on the new ESPRIT career programme, the application requirements, and funding criteria here:

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