Rapid funding of unconventional ideas
The aim of Spark is to fund the rapid testing or development of new scientific approaches, methods, theories, standards, ideas for application, etc. It is designed for projects that show unconventional thinking and introduce a unique approach. The focus is on promising ideas of high originality, with minimal reliance on preliminary data. Taking risks is very welcome, but not a requirement in itself. The focus is on projects or ideas that are unlikely to be funded under other funding schemes.
Spark is open to any applicant with a doctorate or equivalent qualifications. Spark will be run as a pilot funding scheme in 2019-2020.
The proposals are evaluated in a double-blind reviewing process (i.e. the identity of the applicant will not be disclosed to the evaluators). In this way, the SNSF aims to ensure that the evaluation will focus on the project idea.
Applicants can request between CHF 50,000 and CHF 100,000 for a project duration of 6 to 12 months. The project must start within four months after the decision. The grant will expire for projects that are not started within this period. Foreseeable circumstances will not be accepted as reasons for postponement or extension. Please plan the submission of your project accordingly.
The Spark pilot project will be evaluated in the course of 2021. As a consequence, no new Spark call will be launched during this period.
- Duration: six months to one year.
- Maximum grant amount: CHF 100,000; minimum grant amount: CHF 50,000
- The Spark grant may cover the applicant’s salary.
- The project must start no later than four months after the decision is communicated. The earliest possible start date is 1 September 2020, the latest is 1 December 2020.
- Open to all disciplines.
- Applicants must conduct the Spark project at a Swiss research institution. Only institutions pursuant to Articles 4 and 5 of the Research and Innovation Promotion Act (RIPA) are eligible.
- Applicants must have a doctorate or equivalent qualification, i.e. they must have completed at least three years of research work as their main source of income since their higher education degree. Doctoral students are not eligible.
- Applicants must either be employed (no minimum work quota required) at an eligible Swiss host institution providing the necessary infrastructure at least for the duration of the project, or must have the support of an eligible Swiss institution providing the necessary infrastructure for the duration of the proposed project.
- If applicants apply for full or partial financing of their own salary in the budget, they must submit written confirmation from the institution regarding their employment situation.
- At the time of submission or during an ongoing Spark project, applicants may also receive grants under all other SNSF funding schemes.
- SNSF-funded project staff may submit Spark applications if they terminate their employee status before starting their project in the event of their application being approved.
- Doctoral students are not eligible.
- A Spark application may only be submitted by one applicant, and not by two or more. The applicant must be the spiritus rector (guiding spirit) of the application.
- It is not permissible to have more than one ongoing Spark project.
- Applicants may submit only one Spark application per deadline, and there needs to be a period of 12 months between submissions. Applicants whose application was scientifically evaluated in the 2019 Spark call cannot submit a Spark application in the 2020 call.
- Parallel submissions of the same project to other funding schemes are not accepted.
- Doctoral students cannot be employed on a Spark project.
The applications can be submitted via the mySNF platform as of 15 February 2020. The deadline is 11 March 2020, 17:00 Swiss local time.
The SNSF recommends reserving enough time for entering the proposal in mySNF. Setting up a new mySNF user account can take up to one week. Detailed instructions on entering and submitting proposals can be found in mySNF.
Proposals must be submitted in English and must contain the following information and documents:
- Administrative information and budget as per the requirements set out in mySNF;
- Fully anonymised project description (max. five pages plus max. one page summary plus bibliography), according to the guidelines and specifications available in mySNF;
- A short statement explaining why the applicant can lead the project successfully given their background and the available infrastructure (qualification statement).
- If necessary, written confirmation from a Swiss research institution concerning its role as host institution for the duration of the research project.
- A declaration confirming authorship of the submitted application.
Only the project description will be transmitted to the evaluators. It must be fully anonymised to ensure that the evaluators cannot identify the applicant or any current, previous or future position(s) or institution(s). Particular attention must be paid when referring to one’s own publications. In addition, the metadata of the project description (PDF document) must not contain any references to the identity of the applicant. The SNSF will not consider applications with insufficiently anonymised project descriptions.
The relevant criteria for the award of Spark grants are
- originality, novelty of the idea
- unconventionality of the proposed research project
- scientific quality of the project
- potential for significant impact
The proposals are evaluated in a double-blind process by members of a dedicated international pool of experts. The experts only evaluate the submitted project description without knowing the identity of the applicant or their position/institution.
- Spark regulations (PDF, 521 kB)
- Funding Regulations of the SNSF (PDF, 250 kB)
- General implementation regulations for the Funding Regulations (PDF, 1.09 MB)
- Guidelines for the project description (PDF, 137 kB)
- Guidelines for the anonymization (PDF, 407 kB)
- Template for the commitment letter of the host institution (PDF, 54.2 kB)
- Withdrawal confirmation template for employees in SNSF projects (PDF, 269 kB)
- Evaluation form for Spark referees (PDF, 303 kB)
a) Do I have to be employed at a research institute in order to be eligible to submit a proposal to Spark?
No, not necessarily. You are also eligible if you can find a research institution in Switzerland that is willing to host you for the duration of the project. In this case, you will have to provide a commitment letter from this institution, signed by the head of the institute/department or the grants office.
b) Am I permitted to submit a Spark application if I am already getting support through other SNSF funding schemes?
Spark applications and grants are allowed independently from applications or grants under other SNSF funding schemes. Furthermore, Spark does not breach any restrictions in career funding (Ambizione, Eccellenza or PRIMA). There needs to be a substantive thematic difference between the projects, however. SNSF-funded project staff may submit Spark applications if they terminate their employee status before starting their project in the event of their application being approved.
c) Since the proposals are anonymized, am I allowed to cite my own work in my Spark proposal?
Yes, you are allowed to cite your own work. However, you should be careful not to reveal that it is yours.
d) I do not have a doctorate (PhD or MD-PhD). Am I eligible to submit a proposal to Spark?
If you do not have a doctorate, you should have completed at least three years of research work as your main source of income since getting your higher education degree. This will be regarded as equivalent to a doctorate. Doctoral students are not eligible.
e) Will there be any further Spark calls?
No further calls are planned for 2020. However, if the evaluation of the pilot phase 2019-2020 confirms the positive experiences to date and if enough money is available, the SNSF will continue the Spark funding scheme in the coming ERI period. The relevant submission deadlines will be communicated in due course.
f) Can I apply for a Spark project that is longer than 12 months?
The maximum duration of a Spark project is 12 months. In exceptional cases, and if scientifically sufficiently justified based on the project description, the applicants may apply for a maximum project duration of two years. However, the maximum budget remains fixed at CHF 100,000. A typical example would be a project that is seasonal and requires measurements to be made over two consecutive seasons.
Projects with a duration of more than 12 months will not be accepted if the duration is not sufficiently justified for scientific reasons. Administrative reasons will not be considered.
g) If the Spark applicant is already employed for the duration of the project, can they cover a part of their salary with the Spark grant?
Persons who are already paid for their research work should in principle not apply for funds for their own salary. Applicants who work part-time and who would absolutely need to increase their working time to be able to work on their Spark project may ask for a small percentage of salary. UAS/UTE professors, who must supplement their salary for their research, may request a supplement for the time spent on the Spark project.
The persons concerned will have to send a letter of confirmation from their institution to confirm the additional percentage of employment.
h) What kind of costs are eligible?
The eligible costs for a Spark project are detailed in Article 7 of the Spark Regulations. The total budget must not exceed CHF 100,000, including salary and social costs.
i) Can I conduct the project with a team, even though only one applicant is permitted?
As an applicant, you assume responsibility for the project and represent it legally vis-à-vis the SNSF. You may list project contributors in your application in order to substantiate the feasibility of your project idea. These are persons and groups with whom you will collaborate nationally or internationally within the framework of the project. Please note the chargeable costs in the Spark Regulations.
j) No existing data on the research project are required. Is it not possible to collect data in the scope of the Spark project?
The idea must be original/new and unconventional. It is therefore to be expected that only few or no preliminary data are available. This does not mean, however, that data should not be collected in the scope of the project, on the contrary.
k) If my Spark project is funded, is it possible to start it more than four months after the decision date?
No. The purpose of Spark is to fund only highly topical projects which require quick implementation.
L. Why is the structure of the DMP for Spark different from that of other funding instruments?
The reduced structure of the DMP for Spark is mainly due to the "pilot" character of this instrument and therefore hence represents an exception. Researchers submitting a proposal for Spark should therefore focus on aspects related to the sharing and reuse of data when filling in their DMP.