Interview with TUBITAK President Prof.Dr. Hasan Mandal about International Fellowship for Outstanding and Young Researchers

TASSA Interview with the President of TÜBİTAK, Prof. Dr. Hasan Mandal

Q. As TÜBİTAK, you have published the second calls of the International Fellowship for Outstanding Researchers Program, which was established to support reversing the brain drain. Can you share the purpose and scope of these calls? What are the target audience and targeted output of the calls?

In the first call of our International Fellowship for Outstanding Researchers Program of TÜBİTAK, we observed the important level of interest from researchers worldwide who prefer to carry out and obtain the impact of their research in our country. There are multiple reasons for the preference that researchers make in this direction. Among these reasons is that especially in recent years, we have provided an important environment for our researchers to achieve their research goals in output and impact-oriented processes given the various opportunities we offer for the approach of co-creating and succeeding together in our R&D and innovation ecosystem. Awareness has increased that the research goals of leading researchers in their field can be achieved in our country and that the important results they will obtain based on research goals can turn into an impact in our country.

In our International Fellowship for Outstanding Researchers Program, we present a mix of support for researchers evaluating the possibility of conducting their research in our country to turn this critical opportunity into an opportunity. Before this program, the needs of leading scientists who preferred to carry out their research in our country were primarily based on individual efforts. In contrast, the scope of our International Fellowship for Outstanding Researchers Program addresses these needs and beyond with comprehensive incentives and facilitating services. The common purpose of our two calls this year is to encourage young and experienced researchers or entrepreneurs, especially Turkish scientists, who are distinguished by their high-level research in their fields and have working experience abroad, to come to our country. We expect them to contribute to significant scientific and technological advances in strategically important research fields with their leading research and to participate in the processes of co-creation and succeeding together.

Q. Can you please mention the results of the first call of the program and the high impact/contribution that it created? From how many countries were researchers supported? How was the distribution based on research areas and success rate realized?

In the first call of our International Leading Researchers Program, we brought 127 scientists who are pioneers in science and technology to our ecosystem from 21 different countries. These researchers, including a Nobel Peace Prize winner, have pioneering projects involving high risk with groundbreaking contributions and high impact potential. Our researchers continue to demonstrate their pioneering contributions in areas that require essential solutions such as healthy living, sustainable environment, digital transformation, and advanced production. Our researchers are working on protein chemistry and protein engineering, cellular energy metabolism, climate change, lake restoration, medical and smart capsule robots, radiology and computer systems, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, new generation energy storage, and new chemical transformation clean and safe energy, processes, smart cities, composite aviation structures, and predictive maintenance systems. Each of our leading researchers is also raising five graduate students or post-doctoral researchers as co-creation-oriented human resources while strengthening their teams.

According to the results of our first call, 74 of our researchers are conducting groundbreaking projects in the fields of engineering sciences, 25 in health and life sciences, 16 basic sciences, and 12 social and humanities. Fifty-eight of our researchers came to our country to conduct their research in our ecosystem from the United States. Other countries with the highest number of researchers are England, Germany, and the Netherlands. Their success is also not limited to their research projects. During the global epidemic period, leading researchers and their teams were involved in the ecosystem mobilization we initiated as the COVID-19 Turkey Platform. In a short time, our researchers integrated into our ecosystem and contributed to our impact-oriented processes. Similarly, we encourage the inclusion of our leading international researchers within the scope of High Technology Platforms.

These crucial developments were possible by supporting the most qualified applications that we received. The overall success rate for our first call was 52%. Of the 243 applicants who met the high criteria we put forth, 173 were made from the top 100 universities globally in their field, and 31 were from global companies with the most R&D expenditure. A total of 28 applicants were received from the first 250 public institutions and institutes. We anticipate that there will be an increasing interest within the scope of our second calls.

The program's calls set expectations for "Outstanding Researchers" and "Young Researchers." What are the application conditions? What work experience conditions need to be satisfied so that researchers can be candidates for applying to this program?

Under the calls of the TÜBİTAK 2232 Program that is opened as 2232-A and 2232-B, we have set conditions for outstanding researchers that are experienced and young researchers, respectively. The common conditions we consider are being among the most cited researchers based on the list of Clarivate Web of Science or working in a leading institution or firm. We expect these institutions to be among the first 100 universities in the field for experienced researchers or 150 universities for young researchers, the first 2500 companies that make the most R&D spending, the first 250 public institutions and institutes (including health, public institutions, or non-profit institutions) or successful start-ups and Unicorn companies. The evaluation of these conditions is based on the QS or THE World University Rankings, European Commission JRC Industrial R&D Scoreboard, Scimago, CBInsights, or Crunchbase resources. For experienced researchers, the duration of working abroad is expected to be a total of 4-6 years, while for young researchers, this period is 1-4 years. In addition, working experience in universities, companies, or public institutions and institutes that meet the above conditions is expected to be at least 12 months during this time.

Q. Could we also hear from you regarding options for the relations with the institutions where the researchers are currently working?

At a time when TÜBİTAK has put forward an approach of co-creation and succeeding together for our ecosystem, one of the most important features to which we give importance as an institution is based on our ability to manage our processes in a more agile and flexible manner. This feature is also reflected on to researchers who may be candidates within the scope of our 2232 calls to shape their options for the institutions and firms they are currently working. Our researchers can receive sabbaticals from the institutions or firms and return after the support duration, postpone the need to decide for a particular time, or make this decision at an earlier time. All of these options are possible. In addition, as we have stated in our call, our researchers can be abroad for up to 3 months each year while their support continues throughout the support period. This period can further be spent in the institutions and organizations they have worked full time before. In this way, we are especially encouraging our researchers to pursue their research links.

Q. Could you please indicate the support provided to the researcher and his research within the program's scope? What do this program promise and funding scientists and researchers who wish to conduct research in Turkey and contribute to Turkey's advancement in technology and innovation?

In our calls, we provide opportunities for our researchers to realize their research objectives in our country and encourage them to work with our country's ecosystem and achieve new achievements. We offer a package of 10 different fellowship and support incentives to the researcher, the research project, the research team, and his/her family comprehensively. In this context, monthly research fellowship for the coordinator during the support period, research starter package grant that is given as a fixed sum at the beginning of the project, support for the research project with a duration of at least 24 and at most 36 months according to the content of the research project, scholarship expenses for five graduate students or post-doctoral researchers for strengthening research teams, Project Incentive Bonus for researchers who will take part in the research project, and an Institution Share for the host institution or organization hosting the researcher. In addition to the research project support, which varies from project to project and amounts to a maximum of 720 thousand Turkish Liras, our research starter package grant is given as 1 million Turkish Liras for experienced leading researchers and 500 thousand Turkish Liras for young researchers. In addition, family life expense scholarship for the spouse or child of the coordinator, if any, health insurance support, and road support for the coordinator, spouse, and children is provided at the initial stage of arrival. As a new incentive, mentoring support is provided by our International Leading Researchers, who were previously supported in the first call. This incentive will also provide essential guidance for increasing the impact potential of our researchers within our ecosystem. Moreover, if the education period of the graduate students who are scholarship holders exceeds the project duration, our support continues.

Q. Within the scope of the application, host institutions and firms are expected to submit an invitation letter. How does this process work? What are the criteria that the domestic host institution is expected to meet?

The host institution or firms, which will host the researchers in our ecosystem, are expected to be leading state or foundation higher education institutions, research infrastructure that have received research and managerial competence in critical fields, public research institutes, firms with R&D or design centers or companies that established within technoparks. The institutions or firms that intend to be a host are also expected to present an invitation letter. Depending on the researcher's ties in our country, both sides may have initiated this process. According to the host institution or firm, the invitation letter is expected to be signed by the rector or vice-rector, the director of the research infrastructure, or the top-level representative of private sector institutions. In the support process, if the host institution is a public institution or a state university, we cover 100% of the support items. If the host institution or organization is a foundation university or SME, 25% of the scholarship amount is expected to be covered, or 40% if it is a large-scale company. In these cases, based on the call, TÜBİTAK covers the remaining percentage.

Q. It is a great flexibility that the documents can be uploaded in Turkish or English in the application system. The application documents can be submitted in both languages online. Could you please share any other information that will be useful for the applicant?

Our application forms are made online through the electronic application and tracking system of the TÜBİTAK Scientific Support Programs Department (BİDEB), namely the E-bideb system ( All procedures are carried out through the E-bideb system upon logging into the system, including the approval of the application file created in the system. We also share all the details regarding the process within the scope of our calls.

Q. The program has similarities with the European Research Council (ERC) grants in EU Framework Programs. The evaluation process of ERC is two-stage and requires giving a presentation. How does the evaluation process of TÜBİTAK take place? What do you consider as evaluation criteria?

The evaluation of the TÜBİTAK 2232 Program, which is similar to the ERC, consists of two stages, but there is a difference in the scope of our stages. In the first stage, 15 days are given to complete the documents that may be found missing within the scope of the pre-examination. In the second stage, the scientific evaluation begins. Evaluations are carried out within the framework of the criteria by Turkish and/or foreign panelists who are experts in their fields. In this process, the greatest weight is the quality of the research project. The quality of the research project is evaluated within the scope of scientific excellence, impact, and execution plan, with a total weight of 40% for experienced researchers and 60% for young researchers. The weight of the other three criteria in the evaluation process is weighted equally. It includes the thematic scope, academic efficiency, mobility, and determination within the scope of academic performance, the quality of the 5-year research plan for and after the support period, and the quality of the publications that constitute the research plan.

Q. Researchers who are entitled to receive support with this program also meet the application criteria for ERC programs. ERC support has the potential to complement this program. What kind of incentives does TÜBİTAK have to increase the multiplier effect by activating this support chain?

It is possible for our leading researchers, young researchers, and entrepreneurs who are supported under TÜBİTAK 2232 to benefit from other support opportunities that highlight scientific excellence and to undertake these support opportunities together. ERC support is among the most suitable support opportunities to increase the multiplier effect of our program. Currently, our research ecosystem has completed or is carrying out a total of 15 Starting Grants, 7 Consolidator Grants, and 2 Advanced Grants for a total of 24 ERC projects. Within the scope of Horizon Europe, where we continue to take place as an associate country, in addition to ERC grants, different support opportunities for pathfinder, transition and accelerator are also provided under the European Innovation Council (EIC). After our 925 projects were funded in Horizon 2020, we aim to achieve significant success in Horizon Europe. The Directorate of EU Framework Programs under TÜBİTAK will assist with various opportunities. In addition, Technology Transfer Offices will also help with various possibilities.

Q. Where would you recommend our scientists who want to apply for the International Outstanding and Young Researchers Program Calls to start? As far as we know, researchers benefiting from the first call of the programs can share information and experience with the researchers who plan to apply. Can you explain this possibility?

After examining the information on our website, we recommend that the preparation starts as soon as possible by contacting the institutions and organizations of our ecosystem. Our Leading International Researchers, who we supported in our first call, will provide contributions within the scope of mentoring support. The knowledge and experience provided by our leading researchers from leading research universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Princeton, MIT, and Yale, global R&D companies such as Amazon, Apple, and Intel, and public research centers such as Argonne National Laboratory will help guide the preferences and application preparations of researchers in following a similar path.

Here are the websites for more information;

TÜBİTAK 2232-A Call:

TÜBİTAK 2232-B Call:

The explanations you provided were beneficial. Thank you very much for your time.

Interview by: Dr. Nilay Papilla