What is a Research Training Group?
Research Training Groups (RTGs) are university institutions which centre on the qualification of doctoral researchers within the framework of a thematically focused research programme and a structured qualification programme. They are funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) for a period of up to nine years. RTGs are run by a small team of professors with proven expertise in the main topic. They provide supervision to up to 30 doctoral researchers, 10 to 15 of whom are usually funded by the RTG.
The DFG has granted the WWU funding for the RTG on „Evolutionary Processes in Adaptation and Disease (EvoPAD)” in autumn 2016. The project is initially funded for a period of 4.5 years starting from April 2017.
What is the core research idea of EvoPAD?
The rapid evolution of pathogens and the rising rates of cardiovascular diseases and psychiatric disorders, pose major challenges to human health. Moreover, the distinction between health and disease may depend on individual life history and its interaction with the environment. EvoPAD will use knowledge derived from the theory of evolution to achieve a deeper understanding of the processes that are underlying adaptation and disease. Moreover, diseases are often exciting for evolutionary research itself, as evolution is generally assumed to lead to adaptation, and the question arises, why diseases have not been eliminated by evolution. While this is obvious in the case of rapidly evolving pathogens, it seems counter-intuitive in cases where disease-causing genetic variants are produced or maintained in the population. Today, we are able to trace such evolutionary processes in molecular detail. Such knowledge will be used by graduate students of the EvoPAD to advance evolutionary theory, and in turn apply evolutionary approaches to medical questions.
What is the particular strength of EvoPAD?
Our students' education will be strengthened by a thorough understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of evolutionary concepts. Such a re-thinking is timely because we can benefit from philosophy-driven approaches, such as the feedback between culture and biological evolution. Moreover, we are becoming increasingly able to tailor medical treatments to individual patients and to even influence our own evolution. However, these challenges are accompanied by ethical questions, which remain unresolved and demand philosophical reflection. There is also an urgent need to develop a common interdisciplinary language that includes concepts from the philosophy of science.
The direct inclusion of philosophy of science is innovative and will change the way students approach their scientific topics and reflect on their results. The quality of research will benefit from the philosophical reflection of the way in which research questions are studied, in addition to the consideration of possible bioethical ramifications. In turn, the philosophical reflection on evolution will itself benefit enormously from immersion into the scientific research setting and from having intimate access to modern research methodology and theorizing.
What does the qualification programme involve?
As fully integrated members of the participating research groups, the doctoral students will profit from an excellent scientific environment. Beyond this specific scientific training, the multidisciplinary qualification programme of EvoPAD will educate the students in a broad spectrum of evolutionary sciences and in addition provide them with a strong background in philosophy and ethics of science.
Training offered by EvoPAD will consist of regular meetings, annual summer schools and specific courses in subjects that require in-depth training specific to EvoPAD, such as evolutionary genetics and genomics, population genetics, biostatistics, bioinformatics, and experimental design. International exchange will be fostered through research stays of our students with partner institutions and labs abroad, and visiting researchers for shorter and longer stays.
The EvoPAD curriculum will take the diversity of future careers into account and equip the doctoral students with the expertise to successfully apply for positions within and outside of academia.
What about the scientific and academic environment of EvoPAD?
The University of Münster (WWU) is a traditional comprehensive university, which provides an inspirational biotope for the sciences, embedded in a historical, but lively cosmopolitan city. There are numerous internationally renowned areas in which top-level research is carried out and it is a major strategic goal of the WWU to take advantage of its diversity of research fields for developing an academic profile that crosses traditional boundaries.
There is a long-standing tradition in research on, and teaching in, evolution (e.g., Bernhard Rensch *1900 †1990). In recent years, evolutionary research has become one of the focus areas of the WWU’s research profile. EvoPAD will serve an important structural role at the WWU as it is the first interdisciplinary initiative that really links the excellent fields of biomedical sciences and humanities.
How can I apply?
If there are any open positions, those will be announced here.