Excellent Minds from All Over the World

Promising young researchers begin their careers in the international Graduate School. Two-thirds of them come from other countries.
Mitchell Duffy from the USA and Jyoti Rao from India at the annual meeting of the Graduate School in 2016. The next conference hosting internationally renowned scientists will take place in Münster from 26 to 28 April 2017.
© CiM - Peter Grewer

It was a moment of great joy when Jyoti Rao received her doctorate last year. During her PhD work in the CiM-IMPRS Graduate School she examined the genes and signalling pathways required for the development of heart muscle cells from stem cells. To do this work, she moved from India to Germany. “We want to attract the best PhD students from all over the world,” says molecular biologist Prof. Andreas Püschel, the Graduate School’s spokesperson. After all, the aim of the programme is to train top international researchers. In the Graduate School, the PhD students receive a structured training in life sciences and natural sciences, with a focus on high-resolution imaging. Currently, aspiring researchers can again apply for one of the 16 sought-after PhD places.

Interdisciplinary Thinking

Münster’s Graduate School is unique; it combines the Cells-in-Motion (CiM) PhD programme and the International Max-Planck Research School (IMPRS) run by the Max-Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine. Unlike most other Graduate Schools, CiM-IMPRS is highly interdisciplinary, bringing biologists, physicists, chemists, computer scientists and mathematicians together in the same graduate programme. “This enables junior researchers to broaden their outlook. They learn to think in an interdisciplinary way and to be open to different approaches,” says Andreas Püschel. The young researchers work in laboratories located throughout the University and the Max-Planck Institute; CiM-IMPRS is the network that links them. “This link is especially valuable in Münster because the different institutes are not concentrated in one place,” says Andreas Püschel. The special advantage of such a network is the broad range of experimental expertise available to the PhD students, and for the Cluster of Excellence there is the advantage of having researchers perfectly trained to work on interdisciplinary topics.

Training Competences

In addition to the excellent scientific training, the Graduate School provides numerous opportunities for students to gain additional qualifications. “Our training programme promotes competences such as project management and communication skills, as well as providing insights into career options,” explains Andreas Püschel. Jyoti Rao learned a lot from the very beginning. “What I found especially good was the training on how to present your work,” she says. “It was all about how to present complex research data simply and clearly. It forced me to think about the target group I was addressing at any given time.”

Like all the PhD students, in Jyoti Rao’s first year in the CiM-IMPRS Graduate School she presented her project and reported on its progress at one of the weekly Monday morning meetings. At these meetings PhD students from all the different disciplines come together; there are no communication problems. “Everyone speaks English here,” says Jyoti Rao, “so no one feels left out or inhibited.” Andreas Püschel is convinced of the value of the concept. “Because of personal contacts between the PhD students the Graduate School has an international flair,” he says, “but this also gives rise to intensive exchanges between the laboratories and the departments.” Meeting her fellow students helped Jyoti Rao to get over her initial homesickness for India. “A lot of foreign PhD students started at the same time as me. We were all new to Münster, but we weren’t alone. We would meet by the Aasee in the evenings and explore the city together,” she remembers.

Help in Getting Started

The Graduate School programme made it easier to get going in Germany, says Jyoti Rao. “The administrative team helped me to get settled in and found a flat for me straight away.”

“The organizers offer a fantastic information package for ­getting started here,” adds Mitchell Duffy, who has been doing his PhD in the Graduate School since 2013, “and they provide a lot of support in dealing with bureaucracy, applying for a residence permit and so on.” Mitchell Duffy completed his studies in biology and computer science in Boston and London and wanted to continue on this interdisciplinary path, which is why he applied for a CiM-IMPRS scholarship. Mitchell Duffy does research in the field of photoacoustic imaging. Training offered by the Graduate School helps him to structure his scientific work better. “The workshop on project management was really helpful. I attended it at a time when I wasn’t exactly sure which way my projects would develop. Now I can plan them better from start to finish.” As Andreas Püschel emphasizes, “The PhD students learn to work independently in every respect”, which is a good start for an international career in the scientific world.