Since the end of April, highly qualified postdocs have been able to submit proposals to the ESPRIT career programme—year-round and in every discipline. A key focus of the programme is equal opportunities, which is evaluated by means of external scientific monitoring. We have compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions and answers about the new funding programme.
As of 27 April 2021, the ESPRIT funding programme has replaced the Lise Meitner and Hertha Firnberg programmes. With this new programme, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) offers more promising career prospects to young researchers up to five years after their doctorate. The new programme aims to attract the best and most creative researchers from Austria and abroad and strengthen Austrian research institutes. The ESPRIT programme has roughly €20 million a year available for this purpose, whereas its two predecessors together had only a total of €13 million a year at their disposal. Besides the higher funding budget, young researchers also enjoy longer project durations (three years), more flexibility, and rolling submissions.
External evaluation of the implementation
Equal opportunities and mentoring are central aspects of ESPRIT. At all stages of the programme, from the submission of proposals to the reaching of decisions to the implementation of the projects, various steps have been taken to ensure equal opportunities. For instance, half of the project funding is reserved for women. To ensure that its quality standards are met, the FWF has initiated an external scientific monitoring of the new programme. ESPRIT is being evaluated with a specific focus on equal opportunities by the EU project “GRANteD”, which requires as much data as possible. Therefore, the active consent of the applicants as well as the principal investigators and research institutions is needed to pass on this information to “GRANteD”.
Frequently asked questions and answers
The FWF offers applicants much sought-after information events on an ongoing basis, and the most important questions and answers are updated regularly on the FWF website. Below you can find the five most frequently asked questions from past webinars:
1. Who should be the mentor of my ESPRIT project?
The mentor should support not only the research project but the skills and career development of the principal investigators. In this way, mentors can play a major role in their mentees developing an independent research profile. The individualised support and the details concerning the interaction between mentor and mentee must be described in the career and mentoring plan as part of the proposal. The mentor must be working in a relevant research field at the same or another Austrian research institute. In principle, the former PhD supervisor can also act as the mentor; however, the FWF advises against doing this due to concerns on the part of many peer reviewers.
2. May I have more than one mentor?
One person working at an Austrian research institute must be the main mentor. Further support and expertise can be provided by other people and can be included in the career and mentoring plan. Additional mentoring can also be provided by people working abroad.
3. The FWF places particular emphasis in the ESPRIT programme on the promotion of women. What does this mean exactly?
Half of the funding volume is reserved for women. In the case of equal qualifications and equal quality of proposals, women will be given priority in the selection of projects. The programme documents have been designed to not disadvantage researchers who have taken career breaks. Requirements on CVs and the questions to the reviewers have been drafted with equal opportunities in mind. Women who are employed full-time receive a child allowance up to the third birthday of the child. In addition, the FWF provides women with ongoing ESPRIT projects with networking activities (annual workshops and networking meetings) and opportunities to increase their visibility.
4. What career breaks are taken into consideration for meeting the eligibility requirement of no more than five years after conferral of the doctoral degree?
The FWF counts a maximum of three years per child towards time spent raising children for children born after completion of the applicant’s doctoral degree, and aliquot portions of time for children who were born within three years before receiving the doctoral degree. For women, this time will be taken into account on a lump sum basis. For men, only periods of actual documented parental leave will be taken into consideration. If there are any career breaks due to illness, the FWF will take these into consideration with the appropriate documentation. Time spent searching for jobs or employment outside of research are not considered as career breaks.
5. I have a permanent position in a non-academic sector. Am I eligible to apply for ESPRIT?
If the applicant has a permanent position in a non-academic sector, they are eligible to apply. If the applicant, however, has a permanent academic position or a position with the possibility of permanent employment (for instance, a tenure-track position), a proposal can be submitted only if the ESPRIT project will be carried out at a different research institution.
Further information on the ESPRIT career programme, application requirements, and funding criteria: