The Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) is a member of the Helmholtz Association (HGF) and funded by federal and state government. AWI focuses on polar and marine research in a variety of disciplines such as biology, oceanography, geology, geochemistry and geophysics thus allowing multidisciplinary approaches to scientific goals. Currently we are inviting expressions of interest for the Helmholtz Association Award:

Helmholtz Investigator Group Leader (m/f/d)


As an internationally renowned Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research, the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) is one of the very few scientific institutions in the world that are equally active in the Arctic and Antarctic. It coordinates German polar research efforts, while also conducting research in the North Sea and adjacent coastal regions in Germany. Combining outstanding research infrastructure, cutting edge field work, and innovative modelling approaches the Alfred Wegener Institute explores nearly all aspects of the Earth system and its biodiversity - from the atmosphere to the ocean floor, from the coasts to the ice-covered seas and adjacent land.

Call for Expression of Interest

The Alfred Wegener Institute seeks Expressions of Interest from outstanding talents to apply for their own Investigator Group (HGF call for application). The two-step process will start with an internal selection process at AWI of up to three candidates in the thematic or open track as specified below. The final selection of candidates will be carried out by an external expert panel advising the president of the Helmholtz Association. HIGs of successful applicants will be hosted at the AWI. Funding is on the order of €300,000 per year for a period of five years, with potential access to further substantial research infrastructure depending in internal negotiation within AWI. The position is limited to five years and offers access to a tenure track procedure.


You will be eligible to apply if you have between two and six years of postdoctoral experience (academic age). For maternity / parental leave of the birth giving parent, the track record considered can be extended by 18 months, or if longer by the amount of leave actually taken until the call deadline, for each child born after the PhD award. For parental leave of the parent not giving birth, the track record considered can be extended by the amount of parental leave actually taken until the call deadline for each child born after the PhD award. Parental leave times include periods of part-time work (no more than 25 % paid work), in which you took over the main share of family work. When calculating the academic age, we are guided by the gender-specific clock-stopping policies of the ERC Starting Grant as well as the DFG (number of years of active research after receiving the doctoral degree). Periods of unavoidable downtime of scientific career due to e.g. illness or care leave can also be considered. Further requirements are international research experience as demonstrated by continuous research stay abroad for at least 6 months during the doctoral or postdoctoral studies and, of course, an exceptionally strong CV and draft proposal addressing one of the following topics for which we seek outstanding experts to strengthen our research program.

Thematic track: In the first step, up to two candidates will be selected from application to the following themes:

1) Ecology of Antarctic benthic habitats
The HIG conducts research in the field of Antarctic benthic community function. Research interests will target habitat-building megafauna (e.g. sponges, corals), their metabolism and interaction with the biotic and abiotic environment as well as their susceptibility to multiple stressors and climate change. The applicant should be experienced in benthic ecology using field observations with advanced optical, acoustic and geochemical in situ platforms, manipulative experiments in the field and in the laboratory and/or modelling approaches. Broad expertise from shelf to deep sea habitats is an asset.

Information on relevant research at AWI, including contact persons from the AWI scientific section, can be found here.

2) Phytoplankton ecology
The HIG conducts research in the field of phytoplankton ecology, with a clear focus of the central role of phytoplankton in the food web, with strong links to nutrients, microbes and higher tropic levels. The aim of this position is to connect the long-term data, available from the LTER of Helgoland and Sylt to ecological experiments of many different scales with selected phytoplankton species and communities. The applicant should use modern methods in phytoplankton ecology, have experience in experimental phytoplankton ecology and/or physiology of temperate phytoplankton, and form the nucleus of research on phytoplankton on the coastal stations of the AWI.

Information on relevant research at AWI, including contact persons from the AWI scientific section, can be found here.

3) Marine polar paleoclimate reconstructions using sedimentary ancient DNA (sedaDNA)
The HIG will conduct research in the field of marine polar paleoclimate interpretation with the help of sedaDNA. The aim is to characterize past polar environmental conditions and climate with their effects on changes in ecosystems and biodiversity. The combination of sedaDNA and organic biomarkers should help to improve both our reconstructions of fluctuations in sea ice extent and our understanding of the functioning of the biological carbon pump in the Southern Ocean. Successful applicants should have expert knowledge in ancient DNA analytics, high-quality achievements (e.g. publications), excellent scientific literacy and outstanding scientific vision in the above fields.

Information on relevant research at AWI, including contact persons from the AWI scientific section, can be found here.

4) Polar geophysics with focus on seismic methods
The scientific focus of the HIG is on studying climate-related geological processes in the polar regions and their impact for the future development of the Earth's climate and related geohazards. Regionally, land/ice-sheet to sea linkages, for instance in northeast Greenland and selected regions in Antarctica such as the Ronne Ice Shelf and Weddell Sea, will play a strong role in this strategy. Particular research themes can comprise ice-sheet dynamics, paleo ocean-currents, sedimentation processes in glaciated and other polar continental margins and shelf areas, and related geohazards such as gas hydrate/permafrost destabilization, methane degassing and landslides. The applicant should have comprehensive knowledge of and interest in conducting marine data-based geophysical studies of polar climate dynamics on all time scales. This would ideally be a scientist with main interest in collecting, analysing and interpreting marine seismic reflection and refraction data, potentially with linkages to scientific drilling, e.g. the future IODP program, but can also include an interest in other methods such as geothermal heat flow.

Information on relevant research at AWI, including contact persons from the AWI scientific section, can be found here.

5) Palaeoproteomics / Palaeogenomics
The HIG conducts research in the field of paleogenomic and/or paleoproteomics on environmental samples (e.g. sediment cores) from Polar terrestrial and oceanic realms. Research interests will target the analyses of ancient biomolecules from paleoarchives to retrieve taxonomic and functional information of past ecosystems and its dynamics across varying environmental conditions through the Late Pleistocene-Holocene time scales. The HIG contributes to the PoF IV-V research program of AWI and is associated with the paleogenetic labs at AWI Potsdam providing an established facility for ancient DNA work on environmental samples. Such established DNA methods include metabarcoding, metagenomics and hybridization capture approaches on plaeoarchives. The applicant should be experienced in molecular ecology and/or paleogenomics/proteomics and should have practical experienced with molecular genetic or protein techniques, bioinformatics and multivariate statistics.

Information on relevant research at AWI, including contact persons from the AWI scientific section, can be found here.

6) Polar boundary layer
The HIG conducts research in the field of measurements of polar boundary layer processes. The project should target small-scale processes in high-latitude boundary layers in a way that contributes to answering big questions on the past, present and future of our climate system. The successful applicant will have the opportunity to use and further develop our unique observational tools, particularly the polar aircraft equipped with meteorological instrumentation. The YIG would be part of AWI's polar meteorology group, whose common ambition is to push the limits of our understanding of small-scale atmospheric processes to improve our knowledge and modelling capabilities of the climate system. The HIG contributes to research in the Section Atmospheric Physics of AWI. This opens particular opportunities for collaboration within the German DFG Collaborative project AC3 on Arctic amplification and/or the international Antarctic research initiative Antarctica InSync. The applicant should be a curious and creative researcher with experience in boundary-layer processes, ideally also in airborne observations and/or measurements of turbulence.

Information on relevant research at AWI, including contact persons from the AWI scientific section, can be found here.

Before applying for one of these topics at the AWI, please contact the respective section heads named!

Open track: Up to one candidate will be selected in the open track in the first step:

You can also apply in any field of research in which you have recently excelled if generally related to the AWI's research program. This can be demonstrated by a grand idea supported by a first own publication and a CV fit for an ERC application. You should identify a potential mentor for realizing your idea from the AWI faculty.

Selection criteria and process

The initial selection of candidates by the AWI will be based on the following selection criteria:

  1. Outstanding scientific achievements and research experience of the candidate (CV, publications, citation index, awards, etc.)
  2. Quality of the planned research project (innovation capacity, relevance, structure, coherence, feasibility)
  3. Leadership qualities and the ability to supervise inter(national) and diverse doctoral researchers
  4. Compatibility with AWI´s research program and scientific topics listed above (for the thematic track)
  5. Strategic importance for the AWI
  6. Synergy effects resulting from the cooperation between AWI and the partner university

Draft application should include a project summary with information on

  • Motivation for the research project
  • General significance of the proposed project
  • Scientific objectives
  • Strategic relevance for the research program "Changing Earth - Sustaining our Future"

A template is available for the draft proposal. Using this template is a formal prerequisite for application submission. Please provide in addition a full curriculum vitae and publication list. Templates for the draft proposal and CV are provided on our AWI webpage.

Questions about the call for applications and the internal selection procedure answered Deadline for submission of draft applications ( is 22 January 2024. Short-listed applicants will be invited to present their projects to the AWI Scientific Council in March 2023.

Successful candidates will be informed after the final decision by the AWI Board of Directors; and they will be asked to provide a full proposal until 30 April 2024.

posted: 22 December 2023     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.