Fellowship holders of the Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds outstanding

First comprehensive study on peer review for the allocation of fellowships to young scientists

Social science researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), Switzerland, showed in a study published in 2004 that the Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds  (BIF) supports outstanding up-and-coming young scientists. Furthermore, the study demonstrates that the peer review procedure is valid for the selection of doctoral and post-doctoral fellowship recipients.

Dr Lutz Bornmann and Professor Dr Hans-Dieter Daniel analysed a total of 2,697 applications submitted to the Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds between 1985 and 2000. They examined the three most important quality criteria for selection procedures: (i) does the Foundation really select the best young scientists (predictive validity); (ii) is the selection procedure reliable; and (iii) are all groups of applicants treated equally (fairness). On the whole, they confirm that the selection procedure of the Foundation is highly valid.

The most important results of the study

  • More than 98 per cent of BIF’s fellowship holders successfully complete their PhD.
  • The scientific papers of BIF fellows are published in the most prestigious journals (in the order of descending number of papers): Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) USA, Journal of Biological Chemistry, EMBO Journal, Nature, Development, Cell, Science etc.
  • The citation rates of the fellows’ papers are far above international reference citation values.
  • The Foundation’s selection procedure is as reliable as that of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the USA.
  • The applicants’ nationality does not play a role in the selection process.
  • Applicants for PhD fellowship who pursue their project at a Max Planck Institute have a better chance of receiving a fellowship than other groups of applicants; applications from chemists and women are less successful.
  • With regard to the allocation of post-doctoral fellowships, women are as successful as men and no difference can be found between any group of applicants.

Further research is required to clarify why some groups of applicants are more likely to receive a PhD fellowship than others.

At BIF, three channels are involved in the selection of the fellowship holders. Provided the effort is justifiable, a member of the Foundation interviews the applicant and writes a report. An external reviewer, chosen on the basis of his or her scientific expertise, reviews the project proposal and the laboratory in which the applicant wishes to work. On the basis of application, report and review, the Foundation's trustees - scientists of international repute - make the final decision. An excellent academic record, and an ambitious and innovative project to be pursued in an internationally leading laboratory are the criteria that an applicant has to meet in order to be considered for a fellowship.


Dr. Lutz Bornmann
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich)
Professorship for Social Psychology and Research on Higher Education
Zähringerstr. 24
8092 Zurich
Tel.: +41 (0) 1 632 48 25
Fax: +41 (0) 1 632 12 83

Dr. Claudia Walther
Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds
Foundation for Basic Research in Medicine
Schusterstr. 46-48
55116 Mainz
Tel.: +49 (0) 6131 27508-0
Fax: +49 (0) 6131 27508-11

The Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds (BIF) is a public foundation, i.e. an independent, non-profit-making organization, for the promotion of basic research in biomedicine (www.bifonds.de). It awards long-term fellowships to outstanding PhD students from Europe and overseas, sponsoring some 120 fellows at any one time. BIF also grants travel allowances to young scientists. The Foundation organizes two annual International Titisee Conferences, where some 30 scientists of international repute and 15 up-and-coming scientists discuss topical fields of biomedical research.

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