What is the Voluntary Scientific Year?

The Voluntary Scientific Year (FWJ) is a pilot scheme – under the auspices of Germany’s ‘Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr‘ or FSJ, a gap year on which volunteers do community work – enabling upper secondary-school leavers to enroll in a 12-month internship in a scientific laboratory. The initiative was established by Hannover Medical School (MHH), the Leibniz University of Hannover (LUH) and their partner institutions. 

This work experience is intended to help pupils make the right career choices after obtaining their university entrance certificate (Abitur), and open up new horizons. The aim is to enhance their interest in science and reduce the comparatively high drop-out rate in the technical subjects (maths, engineering, sciences and technology). Practical work in research labs will give school-leavers a realistic inside look at scientific careers in an international environment. They are supervised by researchers who serve as important role models; a long-term mentoring relationship may develop. This will provide young scientists with lasting support and help them commit to the institution. 

The young participants can work in a wide range of areas – from biomedicine to chemistry, physics and the engineering sciences – investigating such topics as stem cells, gene therapies and vaccines, or obtaining new findings in laser research and materials science.


There is a long-standing tradition of gap year volunteering in Germany: as well as community service, volunteers can do voluntary work in in the cultural sector (FKJ) or environmental field (FÖJ). The aim is to firmly establish the Voluntary Scientific Year alongside these other options.


This initiative has received support from three Hannoverbased
Excellence programmes funded by the DFG:

  • The REBIRTH Cluster of Excellence (From Regenerative Biology to Reconstructive Therapy)
  • The QUEST Cluster of Excellence (Center for Quantum Engineering and Space-Time Research)
  • MHH’s graduate school: Hannover Biomedical Research School (HBRS)