Career funding is one of the SNSF’s main concerns. Every year, it evaluates more than 2,000 applications from young researchers across all career funding schemes. The applications for career funding are assessed by the National Research Council of the SNSF in established evaluation procedures.
The SNSF offers various funding schemes for promoting young scientists at different stages in their careers. The funding schemes are open to all researchers with links to Switzerland and all research disciplines and topics (exception: Doc.CH) and have one or more submission deadlines per year. The main career funding schemes of the SNSF are as follows:
- Doc.CH (limited to the humanities and social sciences)
- Ambizione (including Ambizione-PROSPER/SCORE)
- PRIMA (Promoting Women in Academia)
More information on the career funding schemes:
The following sections give a general description of the evaluation procedure for career funding schemes that are evaluated by the SNSF Research Council.
The description of the evaluation procedures is based on the regulations on specific schemes, the Funding Regulations and the Organisational regulations of the National Research Council. Its sole purpose is explanatory and it does not in any circumstances substitute the mentioned regulations.
Evaluation procedure: the main stages at a glance
The evaluation procedure for career funding is divided into three successive stages:
Submission of applications and administrative measures
The Administrative Offices of the SNSF receive applications from researchers by the submission deadline via the mySNF platform. They then check whether the formal and personal requirements for submitting an application are met and inform the applicants accordingly.
Depending on the scheme, a one-stage or a two-stage evaluation procedure is applicable ( > “Evaluation procedure: detailed description”). In one-stage procedures (Postdoc.Mobility), the applications are evaluated on the sole basis of the submitted documents; external reviews may be solicited. In procedures involving two stages (for Doc.CH, Ambizione, PRIMA, Practice-to-Science and Eccellenza) a pre-selection is first made on the basis of the application documents received. The candidates selected for the second stage are then invited for an interview, during which they present their project before an evaluation commission and answer questions. In some schemes (Ambizione, PRIMA, Practice-to-Science and Eccellenza), written external reviews are solicited for the second stage, whereas this is optional for Doc.CH. The evaluation commission's overall assessment of the candidate is then forwarded to the Specialised Committee Careers together with a recommendation to either approve or reject the application.
The Specialised Committee Careers discusses the applications and makes a provisional decision on each application (in the two-stage procedure: a final decision on the first stage). In the event of proposals that are of equal scientific quality and that cannot be further differentiated based on the criteria set out in the regulations, a decision can be reached by drawing lots in accordance with the Organisational Regulations of the National Research Council (Article 23). Subsequently, the Presiding Board of the Research Council examines whether the procedures have been correctly applied and the budget and other conditions complied with. If this is the case, it endorses the provisional decision, which thereby becomes final.
The SNSF informs applicants of the final decisions as soon as possible after the evaluation, giving reasons in the case of rejections. An application generally takes four to ten months to process depending on the scheme.
Evaluation criteria and principles
Applications are evaluated in line with the criteria relevant to the scheme and - if not set out in specific regulations - in line with the internationally recognised criteria set out in the general Funding Regulations (Article 24).
Assessment criteria with regard to the applicants
- scientific track record and expertise in view of the proposed project
- depending on the career funding scheme: Education, previous scientific achievements and competence for the proposed project, if applicable teaching activities, career plan.
Assessment criteria with regard to the proposed project
- scientific relevance, originality and topicality; additionally, broader impact for use-inspired projects
- suitability of methods and feasibility
The DMP is not included in the scientific evaluation process and is not shared with external reviewers.
The rules and practices of evaluation and decision-making are based on the following principles:
- Excellence through competition: Approved applications are of high quality and certify that the project will bring added value for a scientific or academic career. Such candidates make a better impression than their direct rivals.
- Fairness and equal opportunities:the defined criteria are attainable and applicants receive equal treatment from the SNSF regardless of any personal features.
- Transparency:decisions are based on clearly defined procedures and rules. Researchers receive clear and useful information concerning the evaluation of their applications and the respective decisions of the SNSF.
- Integrity: the SNSF respects national and international ethical standards in its decision-making and expects applicants to do the same.
- Confidentiality:all data, information and documents transferred by applicants to the SNSF are treated as confidential.
Submission: verification by the Administrative Offices
Applications must be submitted by the submission deadlines set for the funding scheme in question. There are two deadlines per year for Postdoc.Mobility and Doc.CH and one deadline per year for Ambizione, PRIMA and Eccellenza
The applications must be submitted in electronic form to the Administrative Offices of the SNSF via the mySNF portal ( > How to). With the exception of most disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, applications must be written in English. In the disciplines in which English is not mandatory, applicants can choose between German, French, Italian and English. In these disciplines the choice of language should be made dependent on the language of the majority of publications addressing the research topic in question. This simplifies the search for external reviewers. In the mySNF entry mask, you can choose between German, French or English. Submission is possible via the electronic platform mySNF approximately three months before the relevant deadline.
For all submitted applications, the Administrative Offices check whether
- the formal requirements are met;
- the personal requirements are met;
- the application contravenes the rules of scientific integrity.
If all the requirements are met in accordance with the regulations on specific funding schemes and the Funding Regulations, the SNSF decides to consider the relevant application and forwards it to the Research Council for evaluation. If the requirements are not met, the application is not considered.
Should there be any indications of scientific misconduct, all processing of the application is suspended till such time as the application is cleared of suspicion through an investigation. If the suspicion is confirmed, the SNSF may impose sanctions ( > Regulations of the National Research Council on the treatment of scientific misconduct).
Applications are assigned to a specific SNSF evaluation body based on the discipline or subdiscipline selected by the applicants.
Prior to and during the submission of applications, the applicants can address their queries and requests for information to the Administrative Offices of the SNSF. While the applications are being evaluated, applicants are obliged to answer the SNSF's questions with regard to the application documents and help in clarifying facts. The SNSF does not provide applicants with any information concerning their applications while the evaluation procedure is in progress and until the decision is communicated in written form.
Evaluation: actors and roles
The applications for career funding are assessed by the National Research Council of the SNSF and the SNSF Research Commissions in established one- or two-stage evaluation procedures. The following actors are involved in the evaluation procedure:
Specialised Committee Careers
The Specialised Committee Careers is responsible for career funding and its specific funding schemes. It is composed of representatives of all divisions of the Research Council as well as no more than two external members and is presided over by a member of the Research Council who is also a member of the Presiding Board of the Research Council. The Specialised Committee Careers is responsible for the strategic orientation of the following main career funding schemes as well as for the corresponding budgets and evaluation.
For the evaluation of applications in these schemes, it appoints specialised evaluation commissions, generally one to two for each major group of disciplines (usually two to six per funding scheme) and endorses their recommendations. The Specialised Committee thus reaches provisional decisions, which it puts before the Presiding Board of the National Research Council for endorsement.
Evaluation commissions are specialised panels appointed by the Specialised Committee Careers to evaluate the applications submitted for a specific funding scheme. They are composed of members of the National Research Council and may also include external experts. All members of an evaluation commission are equal and are compensated for their work for the SNSF. The evaluation commissions are generally presided over by a member of the Specialised Committee Careers. The evaluation commissions appoint the referees and co-referees for applications from among their midst and discuss their recommendations. The recommendations are examined by the evaluation commissions in relation to all other applications under evaluation, approved by a vote or modified and submitted to the Specialised Committee Careers. As a rule, the applicant’s choice of discipline for his/her application determines its assignment to one of the evaluation commissions.
Referees from the evaluation commissions
For each application, a member of the evaluation commission assumes the role of referee and another member that of co-referee. The task of the referees and co-referees is to assess the applications assigned to them, taking into account any obtained external reviews, whose criteria-based judgements they verify, analyse and complete. They then rate each application for attention of the relevant evaluation commission and may make a funding proposal. A summary of the referee's reasons for giving the application a specific overall rating are forwarded to the applicants, whereby the referee’s identity remains concealed.
Depending on the career funding scheme and the stage of evaluation, it is possible or mandatory to obtain external reviews. Pursuant to the relevant regulations, at least two external reviews must be available in funding schemes with mandatory external review (Ambizione, PRIMA, Practice-to-Science and Eccellenza) before a decision can be taken (exceptions: see Funding Regulations). The task of the external reviewers is to assess each application on the sole basis of the criteria defined by the SNSF ( > "Evaluation criteria and principles" and the regulations for the relevant funding scheme). They provide a criteria-based opinion on the application as well as the CV and track record of the candidate.
Evaluation: selection of reviewers
The evaluation procedures of the career funding schemes require internal and, depending on the scheme, also external reviewers; in some schemes the inclusion of external reviewers is optional. The external reviewers are appointed as follows:
- Internal reviewers: members of the relevant evaluation commission assume the role of referee or co-referee and are in charge of the internal evaluation and review of applications. They are elected by the Specialised Committee Careers on the basis of their general experience and knowledge as researchers as well as their expertise in their field. The Administrative Offices assign individual applications to the members of the commission based on the discipline as well as the keywords and summary entered by the applicants. As far as possible, the Administrative Offices take account of the workloads of the members when assigning applications. Referees may still change the assignments themselves.
- External reviewers: the external reviewers are chosen for their expertise with regard to specific applications. As far as possible, they must be independent vis-à-vis the SNSF and the applicants and must take the internationally accepted state of the art in the relevant discipline as their frame of reference. The SNSF generally seeks to engage external reviewers based outside Switzerland. They are chosen by the referees, aided by the Administrative Offices.
Due to the low acceptance rate of requests for review, the SNSF is obliged to contact a significantly larger number of experts than the two required for reviewing an application in career funding schemes with mandatory external review (Ambizione, PRIMA, Practice-to-Science and Eccellenza). External reviewers are generally not remunerated by the SNSF.
Evaluation procedure: detailed description
Internal review (one- or two-stage procedure)
Career funding at the SNSF involves either a one-stage or a two-stage evaluation procedure ( > Flowcharts):
- Two-stage evaluation procedures: in two-stage procedures (Doc.CH, Ambizione, PRIMA, Practice-to-Science and Eccellenza), the one-stage procedure described above is used to make a shortlist of candidates. Based on this shortlist, the evaluation commission proposes promising candidates to the Specialised Committee Careers and recommends inviting them for an interview in the second stage. They may need to resubmit their documentation or provide further documents for the second stage, depending on the funding scheme.
- For Ambizione, PRIMA and Eccellenza, all applications admitted to the second stage by the Specialised Committee Careers must be sent to external reviewers for a criteria-based assessment. The reviews are checked by the relevant referee with regard to their usefulness and weighted accordingly in the subsequent evaluation. The comprehensibility, clarity and concreteness of the assessment are the main criteria used to judge the usefulness of a review.
As in the first stage, the referees submit a written recommendation to the evaluation commission containing their assessment of the candidate based on the external reviews. The presentation and discussion with the candidate are also included in the comparative assessment. On the basis of this, the evaluation commission proposes candidates for approval or rejection to the Specialised Committee Careers. The Specialised Committee submits the final funding decision to the Presiding Board of the National Research Council for endorsement.
The referees enter their comments, judgements and assessments in a recommendation form. They are made aware that a summary of their grounds for giving the application a specific overall rating may be forwarded to the applicants, whereby the referee’s identity remains concealed.
External review (peer review)
The Administrative Offices of the SNSF ask selected external experts to compile a review. If the response from the latter is positive, they are given access to the proposal documentation via the mySNF platform. Subsequently, they transmit their reviews via the same platform within the timeframe defined by the SNSF. Reviews are made available to the referees and co-referees as soon as they are received. If reviews are not received on time, it becomes necessary to approach further experts.
The external reviewers assess the applications on the sole basis of the criteria specified by the SNSF ( > Evaluation criteria and principles). Considering each set of criteria individually, they make assessments ranging from "outstanding" to "poor". Finally, the reviewers deliver an overall appraisal of the application in which they summarise the grounds for their assessment. The reviewers are informed that their assessments will be made available to the applicants in full; the SNSF does not forward any defamatory comments, however. The reviewers identity remains concealed.
The obtainment of external reviews is mandatory for all applications within the scope of Ambizione, PRIMA, Practice-to-Science and Eccellenza which reach the second stage. For all other career funding schemes, an external review is possible but not mandatory. The referee and the co-referee decide whether an external review is required.
Decision-making: detailed description
Discussions in evaluation commission and provisional decision
In order to evaluate all career funding applications submitted by a specific deadline, the Specialised Committee Careers generally appoints two to six evaluation commissions, namely one to two for each major group of disciplines:
- Humanities and social sciences
- Mathematics, natural and engineering sciences
- Biology and medicine (in some funding schemes, an additional specialised evaluation commission is appointed to deal with medical or clinical applications).
In the course of the meetings of the evaluation commissions, the referees present the applications assigned to them, comment on the external reviews (if applicable) and again defend their recommendation. The co-referees also deliver their opinion. The application is then discussed by the evaluation body in relation to the other applications. Subsequently, each application is voted on separately, assigned to one of the six categories from "outstanding" to "poor" and either approved (with funding proposal) or rejected. Based on this, each evaluation commission makes a proposal specifying the applications to be funded and the applications to be rejected. In two-stage procedures, the vote decides which candidates are to be invited for an interview.
Prior to meetings, the evaluation commissions are informed about the available budget or, in the case of two-stage procedures, about the number of candidates to be invited for the second stage. These are split proportionally to the number of applications which the individual commissions have to evaluate.
The proposal of each evaluation commission is presented to the Specialised Committee Careers, which has the final say on all decisions of the first stage across all evaluation commissions, which are compared with one another. In the case of one-stage procedures or decisions of the second stage, the provisional decisions of the Specialised Committee are forwarded to the Presiding Board of the National Research Council for endorsement.
Final decision by the Presiding Board of the Research Council
The Presiding Board endorses the provisional decisions of the divisions and specialised committees. It convenes on some ten occasions per year. All members of the Presiding Board receive a list of provisional decisions before the relevant Presiding Board meeting. The Presiding Board votes on whether to endorse the provisional decisions en bloc for each division or specialised committee. Upon their endorsement, provisional decisions become final. Decisions that are not endorsed are returned to the responsible evaluation body.
The endorsement of decisions by the Presiding Board is a means of verifying that the evaluation procedure has been implemented correctly. Accordingly, the Presiding Board only discusses applications where procedural errors are suspected or which constitute a precedent.
Decision: communication to applicants
For one-stage procedures, the evaluation generally takes approximately five months to complete. However, it may take up to ten months for two-stage procedures. The final decisions on applications submitted by a specific submission deadline are generally made five to ten months after the submission deadline, depending on the funding scheme. The Administrative Offices of the SNSF forward them to the applicants as soon as possible in the form of a ruling (in accordance with the Federal Act on Administrative Procedure).
In funding schemes with a two-stage evaluation procedure, the candidates may receive either an invitation to appear for an interview/submit a full application, or a definitive rejection, after three to six months at the latest.
Positive rulings comprise information on:
- the application’s relative mark
- the approved duration of the project
- the approved total amount of funding and its subdivision into annual instalments
- the further procedure for the release of funds
Rulings comprising approvals may also specify conditions with regard to the execution of the project, which must be met before any grants are released.
Negative rulings comprise information on:
- the application’s relative mark
- the main grounds for the rejection
The external reviews, if any were requested and obtained, are made available to the applicants on mySNF in anonymised form. However, the SNSF does not forward any defamatory comments.
Reconsideration and appeal
Applicants may appeal against decisions of the SNSF before the Swiss Federal Administrative Court. Instead of submitting a statement to the court, the SNSF may reconsider its decision and issue a new ruling.
Requests for reconsideration submitted to the SNSF by applicants are examined by the Administrative Offices of the SNSF, provided that reasons are given. In the absence of any signs of a flawed decision, they will refuse requests to reconsider a decision. In cases where the opposite is true, the request for reconsideration is discussed by the Research Council which either rejects the application or takes a new decision.
The SNSF advises applicants to contact the Administrative Offices of the SNSF in advance in order to obtain information about the appeal procedure. This does not affect the appeal period of 30 days.