Rapid funding of novel and unconventional ideas
The aim of Spark is to fund the rapid testing or development of novel and unconventional scientific approaches, methods, theories, standards and ideas, etc. It is designed for projects that show unconventional thinking and introduce a unique approach. The focus is on promising ideas of high originality for which preliminary data are not necessarily available (high-risk research). Hence, negative results will also be regarded as knowledge gained. 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.
Applications are evaluated in a double-blind reviewing process , i.e. applicants do not know who is evaluating their proposal and the identity of the applicant is not disclosed to the evaluators. This ensures that applications are evaluated on their own merits and not based on an appraisal of the applicant. However, applicants must submit a brief description of relevant educational and employment histories and confirm that they have the expertise needed to carry out the project.
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 six 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.
- 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 six months after the decision is communicated. The earliest possible start date is 1 November 2023, the latest is 1 April 2024.
- Open to all disciplines.
- Applicants must have developed the idea for the proposal themselves and must be able to conduct the project without any instructions from third parties.
- 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 unless the applicant has completed at least three years of research work as their main source of income since obtaining their higher education degree and prior to commencing their doctorate and can credibly demonstrate that the project for which they are requesting funding will not impede or delay completion of their doctorate.
- 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 received written assurance of employment in the event of a positive decision on funding. If own salary is requested, this confirmation must clarify the employment situation. Applicants who request that their own salary be financed fully or in part must enclose a written confirmation from the institution confirming their employment situation. This confirmation should be signed by the head of the institute or department or by a member of the Grants Office.
- At the time of submission or during an ongoing Spark project, applicants may also receive grants under other SNSF funding schemes.
- Provided they meet the personal requirements pursuant to Article 4, SNSF-funded project staff may submit Spark proposals if they can show that they are able to conduct a Spark project independently and that doing so will not impede their work on the other project on which they are employed.
Confirmation for applicants employed on a project funded by the SNSF (PDF) (This confirmation must be signed by the responsible grantee of the SNSF-project.)
- A Spark application may only be submitted by one applicant, and not by two or more. The applicant must have developed the idea for the project themself.
- It is not permissible to have more than one ongoing Spark project.
- Applicants may only submit one application per submission date.
- Applicants whose application was scientifically evaluated in a former call are barred from submitting a Spark proposal in any of the four subsequent calls if their proposal was approved or if their proposal was rejected and was among the weakest third of the proposals of the respective call (this does not apply to proposals submitted during the pilot phase 2019-2022).
- Proposals that are evaluated under Spark may not be submitted in parallel to any other SNSF funding instrument.
- Doctoral students cannot be employed on a Spark project.
- Projects conducted for directly commercial purposes will not be funded.
- Since Spark encourages risks and recognises negative results, applications for a supplementary grant for project completion will not be considered.
Applications can be submitted via the mySNF platform as of 3 April 2023. The deadline is 17:00 Swiss local time on 2 May 2023.
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. Moreover, information on relevant educational and employment histories must now be entered in the SNSF Portal. A SWITCH edu-ID, mySNF user account and ORCID ID are required to log into the SNSF Portal. The narrative section of the new CV format does not have to be completed for Spark proposals.
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 comprising project summary (max. 1 page) and project plan (maximum five pages plus bibliography) according to the guidelines and specifications available in mySNF. The project description must clarify to which extent the proposed research project is distinct from existing research and not a continuation thereof.
- A brief description of relevant educational and employment histories;
- A written confirmation provided by a Swiss research institution concerning its role as host institution for the duration of the proposed Spark project if required pursuant to Article 4 paragraph 1 of the Spark regulations. If own salary is requested, this confirmation must clarify the employment situation. This confirmation should be signed by the head of the institute or department or by a member of the Grants Office.
Only the project description will be transmitted to the evaluators. The project description must be fully anonymised to ensure that the experts evaluating it cannot identify the applicant or any current, previous or future position(s) or institution(s). When anonymising the project description, particular care must be taken to ensure that references to the applicant's own publications are not indicated as such, as this could compromise anonymity. The SNSF will not consider proposals with insufficiently anonymised project descriptions.
The relevant criteria for the award of Spark grants are:
- Novelty / unconventionality of the proposed research project
- Scientific quality of the project
- Potential for significant impact
See Article 10 of the Spark Regulations for a detailed description of the assessment criteria.
The proposals are evaluated in a double-blind process by experts from an international pool. The experts only evaluate the submitted project description, without knowing the identity of the applicant or their position/institution.
- Spark regulations (PDF)
- Funding Regulations of the SNSF (PDF)
- General implementation regulations for the Funding Regulations (PDF)
- Guidelines for the project description (PDF)
- Template for the employment confirmation by the host institution and/or description of the employment situation (PDF)
- Confirmation for applicants employed on a project funded by the SNSF (PDF) (This confirmation must be signed by the grantee of the SNSF project.)
- Guidelines and evaluation form for Spark referees (PDF)
a) Do I have to be currently 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 employ you for the duration of the project if it is approved. In this case, you will have to provide a commitment letter from this institution, signed by the head of the institute or department or by a member of 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 of 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 can show that they are able to conduct a Spark project independently and that doing so will not impede their work on the other project on which they are employed.
Confirmation for applicants employed on a project funded by the SNSF (PDF) (This confirmation must be signed by the responsible grantee of the SNSF project.)
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 unless the applicant has completed at least three years of research work as their main source of income since obtaining their higher education degree and prior to commencing their doctorate and can credibly demonstrate that the project for which they are requesting funding will not impede or delay completion of their doctorate. In this case, please submit appropriate written confirmation signed by you and your doctoral supervisor.
e) Will there be any further Spark calls?
Following a pilot phase in 2019–2020, Spark was established as a permanent SNSF funding scheme as of 2023. Calls are opened annually. 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. Applicants who request that their own salary be financed fully or in part must enclose a written confirmation from the institution confirming their employment situation. This confirmation should be signed by the head of the institute or department or by a member of the Grants Office.
h) What kind of costs are eligible?
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 six months after the decision date?
No. The purpose of Spark is to fund only highly topical projects which require quick implementation.
l) Can I use a Spark grant to carry out research abroad?
Yes, the location at which the research is conducted may be in another country. However, only institutions pursuant to Articles 4 and 5 of the Research and Innovation Promotion Act (RIPA) are eligible to act as host institutions.
m) Can professors apply for a teaching indemnity or relief from teaching duties in their Spark budget?
No, budgets may only include costs directly linked to the Spark project.
n) I submitted a proposal during the Spark pilot phase (2019-2020). Does the blocking period of 4 calls according to Article 9 of the Spark Regulations also apply to me?
No, according to the transitional provisions (Article 15 Paragraph 2 of the Spark Regulations), Article 9 paragraph 2 does not apply to proposals submitted during the pilot phase in 2019 and 2020.
o) There is no data container for the Data Management Plan (DMP) in mySNF. Is it not necessary to compose and submit a DMP for Spark?
For the submission, no DMP is necessary. Please note that grantees must compose and submit a DMP after the award of the grant.