According to the philosophy of FIAS, flat hierarchies and a cost-efficient management structure are seen as key to success. The Board of Directors is the governing body of FIAS, controlling and steering the work of the Institute. It decides on appointments at the Fellow level. The General Manager runs the daily business in line with the strategic goals set forth by the Board. FIAS does not have any significant endowment or other means of its own. As a consequence, FIAS cannot make permanent appointments; practically all FIAS positions are term positions. In view of this situation, the core mission of FIAS is to provide an excellent framework to support and accelerate the development of young, high-potential scientists, acting as a stepping stone for their careers.
FIAS is set up as think tank for theoretical and interdisciplinary research. There are five main areas of activities in the canonical disciplines physics, neuroscience, life science + chemistry, and computer science. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the research conducted at FIAS, many of the activities fall between the canonical research focuses. For instance there are strong ties of computer science to all other disciplines where new models or algorithms and their implementations are developed. Another example is the subject of heavy-ion tumor therapy, requiring close collaboration between physics and life science.