Opportunities for international researchers in Russia

Russia and Germany: Science Is Out of Sanctions

October 11, 2017

The relations between Russia and Germany can hardly be called cloudless. Since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis, the trade turnover has more than halved - from a record high of € 80 billion in 2012 to a record low of €35 billion (2016), new sanctions due to the conflict with Siemens – this goes contrary to all preceding steps towards the development of strategic partnership for modernization.

It is encouraging that the situation in research is relatively positive. For example, on September 1 the European X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) was officially opened near Hamburg. This is a remarkable international project, that cost more than a billion euros, in which Russia and Germany are the largest partners in the consortium consisting of 11 member states (German share is 58%, Russian - 27%, the participation of other countries is about 1- 2%). The most powerful X-ray machine ever built is designed to study the detailed structure of matter. The German research community is absolutely determined to continue cooperation with Russia. The specific German idiom for any delays - "to put on ice" - is not applicable to the research cooperation with Russia. It is now expected that Germany will make the equal investment in mega-science infrastructure projects located in Russia such as reactor PIK in Gatchina, NICA in Dubna, etc.

Under the framework of the Russian government-funded mega-grant program designed to invite and support excelling researchers from within and outside the country to work in Russia, 20 of 200 grantees are German scientists who stay at Russian universities for more than four months a year and guide a team of Russian researchers and students in performing their research. Their research projects in Russia last 3-5 years with solid funding of about $1 million a year.

Collaborating Russian and German research teams can apply for solid long-term grants under the conditions of cooperative funding schemes developed by the Russian Science Foundation (RSF) jointly with German Research Foundation (DFG) as well as with Helmholtz Association.

14 excellent research projects in math and physics were selected for joint funding during the first RSF-DFG call. Total funding awards for these joint projects will amount more than 6 million euro in 2016-2018. By the end of this year, RSF and DFG should complete scientific review procedures of the second call for proposals focused on life sciences and social sciences. In September 2017 both funders launched the third call without any limitation to the research disciplines. Moreover, recently RSF and DFG announced that such “generic calls” would be an annual initiative so that the researchers in both countries will be able to prepare their proposals well in advance and to plan better their submission.

Besides research funding, the best practices exchange is an important part of cooperation with DFG. In December 2016 two foundations shared their policies to prevent conflict of interest in the organization and in the peer-review processes. In June 2017 they explored the improvements in scientific review in the roundtable discussion. Today more than 100 German scientists are in the RSF database of international reviewers and one can expect this number to grow.

In 2017, RSF held for the first time the elections to select volunteer scientists and academics to serve on its review panels. The voting system and the voting process were set up to ensure ballot confidentiality. Over 2 000 Russian researchers could decide who will represent their subject area on the RSF expert panels. From these nominations, the RSF Supervisory board approved a list of 17 new members. In DFG a similar voting to elect the review boards takes place every 4 years.

The research in Germany is attributed not only to the activities of the DFG. Russian Science Foundation also succeeded in establishing more specialized funding cooperation with Helmholtz Association, which continues the traditions of the great naturalist Hermann von Helmholtz. By 2017 the partners launched two out of RSF-Helmholtz calls planned. The parties expect to support 18 research projects with total funding awards of about 4 million euros. The interdisciplinary themes of the calls change every year in such a way that all 18 research centers, representing the association, could submit their proposals. This year the priority themes are bigdata and biomedicine, the next year - climate studies and energy, the focus of the third call will be research in new areas of physics and materials science.

Like European Research Council or US-based National Science Foundation, the RSF funding schemes are open to top researchers from all over the world who wish to carry out a project in a host institution in Russia. German scientists participate in the RSF calls, and in the past three years there were 94 grant applications from the top German researchers. To date, 14 principal investigators from Germany have been awarded RSF grant and are based in leading Russian research organizations in Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Ekaterinburg and Voronezh. Besides these team leaders, 30 German scientists work on RSF-funded projects as core investigators.

The new ambitious presidential program to support young scientists became of great interest also in Germany. This program launched in the spring 2017 is implemented by the Russian Science Foundation. This program resulted in awards for 504 young scientists under the age of 33 (20,000 - 30,000 euros annually for 2 years) and for 239 youth research groups (40,000 - 80,000 euros annually for 3-5 years ). These projects complement the existing diversified portfolio of other 2500 RSF-funded projects.

Despite the novelty of the program and the lack of its broad information support abroad, the RSF received 3 applications from the early-career German researchers. Around 10 billion euros in additional budget are expected to be made available through 2017-2023 to the Russian Science Foundation, which will distribute these supplementary funds to support cutting-edge research projects implemented by outstanding early-career researchers and to create new world-class laboratories with industrial co-funding.

These youth-support programs will become the yearly grant opportunity provided by the RSF. At present, various state programs provide support for the talented Russian youth. At the school level there are "Sirius", "Quantorium" technology parks, regional model centers, the Olympiad movement is quickly developing. There are grants and prizes of the President of the Russian Federation for students, postgraduates and post-docs. “Youth grants" provided by Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR) are now supplemented by more large-scale RSF programs, which allow early-career researchers to build their career prospects in science on the horizon of up to 12 years.

It is the talented young scientists of Russia and Germany who will determine the nature and depth of the bilateral research ties in 10-15 years, who will participate in the joint efforts to address the global challenges of the future, who will unite their ideas to develop new technologies that ensure innovative social and economic development of two countries, strengthening of the security of the world.

We are stronger together than separately. There is such a German proverb: Zusammen ist man stark.

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  1. Korean Peninsula Crisis Has no Military Solution. How Can It Be Solved?
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