a1. COVID-19. I hold a fellowship for a stay abroad or have applied for one, or plan to apply for one in the future. However, the location abroad lies in a region where there is a risk of infection by the new coronavirus. What should I do?

(Situation on 08.09.2020; first version: 11 March 2020: in addition to stays abroad under a mobility fellowship, this communication also concerns any conferences planned in the context of a fellowship).

Researchers planning or conducting a stay abroad must follow the advice issued by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), as well as by the responsible authorities in the countries in question.

Fellowship holders who are already in an affected region must respect the directives issued by the local authorities. In the event that they need to return to Switzerland, they must inform the responsible cantonal authorities in Switzerland and follow their instructions, including with regard to quarantine measures.

Besides respecting the recommendations issued by the responsible authorities, the fellowship holder should monitor the situation in the areas in question and take appropriate measures should the risk level go up or their personal safety be threatened. The SNSF must be informed without delay.

Options to be weighed by researchers

We all know that conditions in Switzerland and abroad could change rapidly. Therefore, fellowship holders and candidates - whose personal situations may vary - should take into consideration the following possibilities with a view to finding a solution:

  • They can ask the SNSF to postpone the start date of the stay if this is manageable for them and does not breach any of the travel guidelines issued by the authorities in Switzerland and abroad. Furthermore, regarding the start of the grant which has to take place within 12 months after the decision letter, they can extend the deadline for another 6 months; this will give them 18 months since the project was approved to request payment of the grant and to start their project; in such a case, they have to inform the SNSF about the extension by email or at a later stage via the "Request for release of funds" form in mySNF; the message will be sufficient, they don’t need to submit an application;
  • They can find another research location, while respecting the travel guidelines issued by the authorities in Switzerland and in the country in question, and ask the SNSF to change their file accordingly (please include a letter of invitation from the new host institution in your request);
  • They may ask the SNSF for permission to remain in Switzerland for a certain period of time (for example, 2-4 months) in order to find a solution, i.e. primarily to find a host institution in Switzerland. Regarding the duration, the SNSF will take account of each individual case to ensure that researchers are able to find a solution during this exceptional period. We will also ensure that the duration in Switzerland and the stay abroad are proportionate, with in principle a maximum of one third to be conducted in Switzerland. For any such period conducted in Switzerland, researchers could consider continuing their research work using teleworking technology, provided their host institution (abroad) approves. The home office (teleworking) or the stay in Switzerland’s duration must in principle not exceed 1/3 of the fellowship's duration. In the event that this ratio of 1/3 may be exceeded, please check as quickly as possible all the other options mentioned in the FAQ, in particular to what extend another place of research can be found. In any case, you must inform the SNSF in due time if the period of home office or in Switzerland is likely to exceed the ratio of 1/3. Fellowship holders who can’t start their fellowship, for example by teleworking or linking with an institute in Switzerland, should contact the SNSF to discuss their situation if they have no other source of income to cover their living costs and do not qualify for any social insurance benefits.
  • Researchers already based abroad who must interrupt their research are requested to contact the SNSF directly in order to establish to what extent a) a temporary suspension of their fellowship or b) teleworking (given the approval of the host institution) might be an option for them, or c) an extension is necessary (see below).

Extension of mobility fellowships

There are two types of extension: a cost-neutral extension and, if necessary, an extension with a supplementary grant.

  • Cost-neutral extensions: as far as possible, the research activity should be organised in a way that enables you to keep to the schedule and the budget of the SNSF grant. Should your project nevertheless be delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, you can apply for an extension. Researchers can extend their project cost-neutrally by a maximum of 6 months at any time. All they need to do is inform the SNSF about the extension by writing to fellowships@snf.ch.
  • Extension with additional funding, if necessary, for fellowships that end by 31 December 2020: around 400 researchers will conclude their mobility fellowship between 30 April and 31 December 2020. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, many researchers cannot do their work or are limited in what they can achieve. The SNSF is therefore introducing a special measure that will allow those affected to extend their fellowship by two months. To cover the costs, it will make available 4 million francs. Researchers can apply for this extension on mySNF as a supplementary grant with the reference "Covid-19". Researchers need to submit their applications before the end of the project on the mySNF platform using the form "Supplementary grants". We will approve these applications at speed and with minimal paperwork. For the time being, the supplementary grant will provide a maximum extension of 2 months.
  • Extension with additional funding, if necessary, for fellowships ending after 31 December 2020: if your project ends after 31 December 2020, you should first of all organise and modify your research activity in a way that allows you to finish the project on time. If you should later require additional funding in spite of such changes, you can request a supplementary grant based on the delay caused by the Covid-19 pandemic for 2 months as well. You will need to submit this request 2 to 4 months before the end of your fellowship.

For holders of a Postdoc.Mobility return grant, duly engaged in Switzerland, the general provisions of the SNSF apply. These holders have to refer to the FAQ valid for the other SNSF funding schemes.

For the time being, fellowship holders may extend the deadline for submission of scientific and financial reports by a maximum of 2 months by sending a corresponding request to fellowships@snf.ch. If this exceptional situation persists, the SNSF will reassess the deadlines. If necessary, fellowship holders may adapt their research plan at their own discretion to accommodate the special circumstances created by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, these changes must be mentioned in the scientific report.

For conferences, researchers should take account the following points:

If their conference is cancelled because of the coronavirus, or if they are not able to help organise or take part in the conference under the rules issued by the country in question or because they belong to a group of people who are particularly at risk, the SNSF will cover the costs, provided that:

a) the latter are not reimbursed by the organiser, the hotel, the airline, etc.
b) the damage is not covered by the researcher's travel insurance.

SNSF fellowship holders should keep all supporting documents and receipts so that they can submit them at the end of their fellowship together with the final financial report.

A grant for participation in another conference may be requested at a later date when the situation has improved. We will take note of the fact that any further conferences will have to take place during the funding period of the fellowship or, should this not be possible, no more than four months after the end of the fellowship.

Any questions? Problems?

In case of questions or problems, fellowship holders and candidates can contact fellowships@snf.ch.