Göttingen Graduate School for Neurosciences, Biophysics, and Molecular Biosciences

Integrated training concept of GGNB

The doctoral programs of GGNB span a broad range of experimental approaches dictated by the rapid developments in all of the fields covered by the graduate school. For instance, the analysis of transgenic mouse models requires expertise not only in molecular biology, biochemistry, and anatomy, but also may involve electrophysiology, behavioral studies and systems biology, for example in expression profiling and comparative proteomics. Another example is the analysis of metabolic changes (“metabolomics”), which requires profound knowledge in advanced analytical screening tools, bioinformatics and genetics regardless of whether the studied organism or tissue is derived from a transgenic plant, a fungus, or a Drosophila or mouse mutant. A final example includes research on neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Multiple approaches are needed such as structural biology for studying protein aggregation, transgenic mouse models that reproduce the disease or at least certain aspects of it, the development of advanced clinical diagnostic tools, and close collaboration with clinicians, e.g. for the establishment of clinically documented patient pools. Thus, integrated training concepts are needed that challenge traditional research infrastructures and institutional and departmental divisions.

GGNB responds to this challenge by integrating the graduate education of these disciplines under one roof. GGNB will provide its doctoral students with a broad joint modular training program consisting of cutting-edge research training courses, accompanied by training in professional skills. These training activities complement the “on the job” education carried out by the supervision of the thesis projects.

Scientific training within the discipline. GGNB, by means of its doctoral programs, offers a wide range of methods courses and seminars. These training activities allow students to learn techniques that are needed for the project but are either not available in the host laboratory or require additional input. Furthermore, GGNB provides funds for short visits to outside laboratories or for participation at external courses if a technique is not locally available. It is the goal of GGNB to ensure that no student is constrained by technical problems in his/her project or by inefficient self-training in techniques that are available elsewhere. A database of technical expertise and of major equipment in GGNB groups will be established for GGNB students including the names of competent contact persons.

Interdisciplinary scientific training. The broad range of courses offered by GGNB provides the students with the opportunity to participate in courses outside the field of their projects. Why do we consider it as important for doctoral students to spend some time on science courses in scientific areas unrelated to their thesis work? First, a widening of technical skills provides a sound basis for optimal experimental planning in the future – I can only judge about the limitations of an experiment if I have some hands-on experience. More importantly, such training addresses a problem pointed out repeatedly by organizations funding postdoctoral fellowships such as the Human Frontier Science Program, EMBO or the DFG. Due to a necessarily narrow focus during the doctoral phase, young scientists are frequently not open for other areas of science. As a consequence, they tend to remain close to the field of their thesis when choosing a postdoctoral lab. However, scientific careers frequently require changes to new and often only distantly related topics and methods. Students should be strongly encouraged to change fields during the transition from the doctoral to the postdoctoral phase. With its broad range of training opportunities, GGNB aims at preparing young scientists for such re-orientation, and all students will receive advice in their curricular planning to incorporate interdisciplinary training.

Training in professional skills. In addition to the scientific training program, GGNB offers a wide range of training opportunities in professional skills. These activities, which have proven to be very popular and are often initiated by the students, are aimed at preparing the students for a rapidly changing job market and to endow them with qualifications required for leading positions in a professional environment.

Balancing research and training. Each student needs to find a balance between additional training activities and the commitment to the thesis project. The thesis project is by far the most important element in the doctoral education. Therefore, the minimum requirements for additional training are moderate. Each program will personally advise its students to achieve an optimal mix of training activities, encouraging those who have difficulty leaving their projects for even a single day, and reminding those students of their priorities who start to neglect their thesis work due to too many other activities within GGNB.