Headline: RIFS Fellowship: FAQ


Last Updated: 21 February 2024


For the FAQ of our joint call on "Planetary Transitions: Potsdam Artist Residency", please click here


"How to become a RIFS Fellow". (Recorded 2023)

The following is a list of questions which have been compiled regarding the Fellow Programme. In addition, if you have any questions left, you can contact the Fellow Unit at achim [dot] maas [at] rifs-potsdam [dot] de.


  1. Admission
  2. Expectations of RIFS
  3. Finances and Legal Aspects
  4. Application Documents
  5. Potsdam & Berlin

1. Admission

1.1 Why should I become a Fellow?

RIFS is a dynamic institute operating at the cross-section of research and societal transformation. It provides not only access to many disciplines from natural science to the humanities, but also engages in inter- and transdisciplinary dialogue and cooperation. Particularly with its combination of research and dedicated Fellow Programme, it is allowing for international exchange, networking and engagement in socially relevant transformation research.

RIFS is located in the Potsdam/Berlin area, where several major universities and research organisations of Germany and indeed Europe as a whole are located. It provides a rich academic field on all matters with regards to sustainability, while being at the heart of one of the major European capitals with many international governmental and non-governmental organisations also present. Aside from this, Potsdam/Berlin is a hub for culture and arts in Europe, and a centre of innovation and creativity. Finally, the two cities are located within the beautiful landscape of Brandenburg.

1.2 How many Fellows are there at RIFS?

There are about 30 Fellows at RIFS every year. The number may vary from one year to the other, depending on available resources, length of Fellow stays, and other aspects.

In addition, individuals with their own funding may join the institute and In addition, individuals with their own funding may join the institute and participate in the activities of the Fellowship program.

1.3 How do I become a Fellow?

There are two ways to become a Fellow at RIFS.
Firstly, through public calls for application. Usually, there are three calls per year:

  • A general call open for all topics associated with the institute.
  • The Klaus Töpfer Sustainability Fellowship.
  • Special thematic calls.

Fellows who successfully apply during the public calls may become Fellows starting from spring of the following year, i.e.: A successful application in summer 2023 would mean you could become a Fellow in spring 2024.

Secondly, the RIFS Directors may invite individuals as Fellows to support activities in a specific area.

1.4 What are the selection criteria to become a Fellow?

RIFS seeks for highly qualified individuals from around the world and different parts of society, and aims to have a high diversity. Complementarity to our research program, originality, quality, feasibility, and interface between stakeholders are key criteria.

Special calls may have varying selection criteria.

1.5 I am currently (temporarily/permanently) employed at an organisation. Can I still become a Fellow?


Depending on the rules of your home organisation, specific arrangements may need to be made. Accordingly, special arrangements need to be taken with the respective home organisation. Please check early with your home organization.

1.6 Can I become a Fellow again if I have been a Fellow before?

In principle yes: The public call for Fellow applications is open for everybody, irrespective whether they have been a Fellow before or not. However, we expect that there is a certain time between fellowships.

RIFS may also invite former Fellows as well as other cooperation partners to become “Affiliated Scholars”, who are long-term cooperation partners which may continuously work together with RIFS on certain areas and topics. Most Affiliated Scholars of RIFS have been former Fellows.

1.7 I applied successfully for a Fellowship, but can (for personal, professional, etc. reasons) not realise it – can it be postponed to the following year, or do I lose the Fellowship?

In principle, a Fellowship can be postponed. A few weeks is entirely fine. Postponing it by several months requires agreement by the Directors.
Please contact the institute at achim [dot] maas [at] rifs-potsdam [dot] de (achim[dot]maas[at]rifs-potsdam[dot]de) to discuss the issue as soon as you realize that moving the fellowship may become necessary.  

1.8 Do I need a visa to become a Fellow?

You do not need a visa for your application. Depending on your home country and its diplomatic relations with Germany, you may need to acquire a visa to enter Germany eventually.

Individuals from European countries which are part of the “Schengen Area” (the European Union, plus additional countries such as Switzerland, Norway, and others) do not need a visa, even in case of an extended stay.

For many countries, you will be allowed to stay in Germany for up to 90 days without a special visa and can even apply for a visa when you are already in Germany, in case you intend to stay for more than 90 days.

In some cases, you need a valid visa even before entering Germany.

In case you are coming from outside the European Union, please check the website of the German Federal Foreign Office, on visa requirements.

2. Expectations of RIFS

2.1 What duties do I have as Fellow of RIFS

We expect and invite you to the following in particular:

  • Participating in the bi-weekly Fellow Meetings.
  • Contributing to our weekly seminar series, the Tuesday Talks.  
  • Be ready and open to engage in discussions and interactions with other Fellows and staff members of RIFS.
  • Cooperating with the research groups of the institute.
  • Acknowledge in case a publication or other activity benefited from the work done at RIFS.
  • Actively contributing to the further development of the Fellow programme.
  • A final report on the findings of their work.

Otherwise, RIFS Fellows are relatively free in their work and may choose to associate themselves with various projects.

2.2 Do I have to publish while I am a Fellow?

It would be highly appreciated if your stay at RIFS would result in an output. This could be a publication, such as a peer-reviewed article or a piece in the RIFS publication series, but other formats, such as blog posts, videos, presentations, exhibitions, conferences and other outputs are also possible.

In case your time at RIFS contributed to publications and other issues which are completed after your stay at RIFS, we would appreciate if you acknowledge the support of RIFS.

2.3 A remote Fellowships possible?


We expect regular physical presence at the institute.

3. Finances and Legal Aspects

3.1 Are Fellowships paid at RIFS?

RIFS provides a stipend to the Fellows to cover their living costs, if they have to go unpaid leave during their time as a Fellow. The details are available in the RIFS Stipend Guidelines:

All stipends and grants are subject to approval by the funding bodies of the RIFS.

3.2 Will my travel to and from RIFS as a Fellow be covered?

The immediate travel costs (plane or train, overnight stay in case of very long-distance travels, etc.) will be covered.

Costs such asadditional insurances, visacosts or else will not be covered for.

All travel expenses will be covered according to the German Federal Law for Travel Expenses (“Bundesreisekostengesetz”, BRKG).

Please contact the RIFS Fellow-Programme at achim [dot] maas [at] rifs-potsdam [dot] de (achim[dot]maas[at]rifs-potsdam[dot]de) for any additional questions.

3.3 Does RIFS cover moving costs?

In case a Fellow stays for a reasonable period of time which justifies moving parts of the household – particular in case of longer stays when the respective family accompanies the Fellow – RIFS provides financial support to the moving Fellow. The amount of funds provided depends on the distance moved and is listed in the Stipend Guidelines (see section 3.1 above).

Please contact the RIFS Fellow-Programme at achim [dot] maas [at] rifs-potsdam [dot] de for any questions.

3.4 Do I have to sign a contract when I become a Fellow?


In case you would like to get a general idea of the Fellowship contracts, please contact the RIFS Fellow-Programme at achim [dot] maas [at] rifs-potsdam [dot] de.

3.5 Do I have to pay taxes when I am a Fellow?

In Germany, the stipend is tax free.

However, depending on your home country, you may have to pay taxes. In some countries, it is tax free, as long as the stipend is below a certain threshold. Other countries do not have thresholds. Please check with your local tax advisor on this.  

3.6 Does RIFS pay for travel while I am a Fellow?

Yes, but only for activities directly related to your Fellowship at RIFS and within reasonable limits. In addition, costs of accompanying family members will not be covered, with the exception of travel to Potsdam at the beginning of the Fellowship and departure at the end of the Fellowship.

3.7 Do I have a budget while I am Fellow?

The RIFS Fellow-Programme does have a limited budget for each Fellow. This allows for small-scale purchases (e.g. books) and few short trips (i.e. within Europe).

However, it is possible for RIFS to provide also larger budgets.

Please specify in your application your budget needs. Please note that this is usually limited to about 5-10,000 Euro per Fellow and at the discretion of the RIFS Directors.

3.8 Can I organise a workshop while being at RIFS?


If you intend to do so, please inform us within your application.

In case the idea arises later, i.e. after you have joined the institute, this may still be possible. Please contact the coordinator of the Fellow-Programme in such circumstances.

4. Application Documents
4.1 What purpose has the proposal?

The proposal should highlight the major topics and issues you would like to address during your stay as a Fellow at RIFS. It helps the institute to understand where your particular interests are and how you can contribute.

4.2 What should the structure of the proposal look like?

The proposal structure depends on the call you are applying to. Please check the requirements in the respective call.

4.3 Shall I reference topics or projects of RIFS?

In your application, you have to make clear how your work relates to the work of the institute, and to which research groups in particular. This should be done particular in the Letter of Motivation.

4.4 How long should the proposal be?

The proposal structure depends on the call you are applying to. Please check the requirements in the respective call. Usually, it should not exceed 5 pages (excluding references).

4.5 How detailed should my proposal be?

The proposal does not need to be extremely detailed to allow for space and adjustments once the Fellowship starts. However, it should not be entirely open and defining a time line and some milestones or work packages would be helpful.

4.6 Can there be annexes to the proposal?

Some call for applications allows submitting additional documents. Please check the possibilities in the respective call you like to apply to.

4.8 Who will receive the proposal?

The Fellow Unit, the Research Group Leaders and the Directors, as well as external reviewers.

4.9 Will the proposal be published?

No. But for the purpose of information sharing, the proposals of successful applicants will be made available to other Fellows and staff members. Proposals of unsuccessful applications will be deleted once the entire Fellow application and selection process is completed.

4.10 Am I bound to the proposal once I am a Fellow?

Proposals may be adapted within reason and good justification. Please, check with the Head of the Fellow Programme before adaptations are made.

4.11 Can I jointly apply with another or even a team?

Yes, but the page limits remain the same. For example, if the page limit for the CV is two pages, all team members must fit into these two pages. In addition, it must be made clear why it is a joint application and the skills of the respective are necessary.

5. Potsdam
5.1 Why is the RIFS located in Potsdam?

Research organisations which are independent from universities are often co-funded by the German Federal Government and one of the sixteen states of Germany. In such cases, the headquarters of the research organisation is located in the state which is co-funding it. The RIFS is co-funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Science (BMBF) and the Brandenburg Ministry for Science, Research and Culture (MWFK). Potsdam is the capital of the state of Brandenburg.

5.2 Are there other research organisations in Potsdam?

The history of Potsdam as major science hub goes back to the 1870s. Today, 40 research organisations and several higher education institutions are located in Potsdam. With about 10,000 people working as researcher or science support staff, Potsdam with its 185,000 people has one of the highest science density in Germany.

5.3 Do I have to live in Potsdam while I am a Fellow?

Potsdam is a city with a high standard of living. It is a very green city, with many parks, rivers and lakes. It is also a very safe and international city, with thousands of international scientists living and working here. You could easily reach the centre of Berlin or the beautiful countryside of Brandenburg.

But you do not have to live in Potsdam.

From the institute, you can reach via public transport either the centre of Berlin or one of the villages surrounding Potsdam.

5.4 Does the RIFS provide housing in Potsdam?

The RIFS does have a limited number of apartments. These are reserved particular for fellows outside of Germany, as it is for them usually more difficult to search for appropriate housing.

The RIFS is happy to support finding an appropriate apartment in Potsdam and/or Berlin. Please start as early as possible to find appropriate housing, as the housing market is quite dynamic.

5.5 How far is Berlin from Potsdam?

Potsdam and Berlin are adjacent to each other. In fact, while the RIFS is located in Potsdam, the Berlin city limit is just 1.5km from the institute. The city centre of Berlin is about 25km from the RIFS.

5.6 Am I allowed to bring family members, particular school-age children, to Germany?

Yes, you are.

However, since the German school system is not entirely uncomplicated and some things require special preparation here, you should take a look at this website. For individual questions and support, please contact the judith [dot] von [dot] pogrell [at] rifs-potsdam [dot] de (Fellow Unit).

5.7 Where can I find more information on Potsdam and Berlin?

Several research organisations have created a joined Welcome Centre, which provides publicly accessible information for foreign researchers. It provides a comprehensive overview and is a good start for preparing your trip. You find it here check with the head of the fellow programme before adjusting.