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"Earning a Doctorate from the IMPRS Is a Unique Selling Point."

By Christine Schoenmakers

With excellent research, academic freedom and an unbeatable team spirit, the International Max Planck Research Schools are attracting scientific talents to Germany.

"The International Max Planck Research Schools are something special", Lauri Sääksvuori is convinced. The 27-year-old from Finland has been working at the Jena IMPRS on Adapting Behavior in a Fundamentally Uncertain World for a year. "The combination of psychology, economy and law appealed to me immediately." The borders between individual subjects and research areas are fluid: "Young scientists are encouraged to broaden their horizons."

His colleague Linan Diao (32) from China agrees: "The conditions for research in Germany are excellent. It's far more international, the scientists are networked with each other." Equipped with a DAAD grant, the economist has been working on her doctorate in Jena since 2007. She has not regretted her decision: "The Max Planck Society has an excellent reputation worldwide. That's why I'm doing my PhD at the IMPRS."

Daniel Santillano (32) from California and Italian Ilaria Pizzetti (30) will soon be graduating. They started at the Bremen IMPRS of Marine Microbiology three years ago, seeking out the culture shock and finding it: "It's not easy to leave your domestic comfort zone, but it unleashes a lot of personal potential", says Daniel. That's used to good effect at IMPRS. "The programme requires a lot of work and is thoroughly planned, but leaves room for creativity", explains Ilaria. "Own ideas are very welcome."

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Photo Gallery: Earning a doctorate from the IMPRS is a unique selling point. Photo Gallery: Earning a doctorate from the IMPRS is a unique selling point. Photo Gallery: Earning a doctorate from the IMPRS is a unique selling point.

Living and completing a PhD at IMPRS: full service package with lots of personal responsibility

Ilaria remembers her first weeks in Bremen well: "When I arrived, everything was new. Thanks to the help of the IMPRS team I settled in quickly." Linan from China also had no problems acclimatising in Jena: "I was immediately integrated into local life." The group is a good backup in difficult phases. "There's always someone to talk to", says Lauri. The doctorates are financed through IMPRS grants of up to 1200 euros a month. No-one has to worry about their wallets: "It's enough to live well on", says Daniel.

There is no typical working day at an IMPRS. "We are free to organise our days according to our own objectives", says Lauri. But this self-organisation requires a lot of discipline from the doctoral candidates. "You need to be well organised and very motivated so as to not idle away your time", warns Ilaria, and Linan adds: "The time constraints mean you sometimes have to forgo any leisure time." But presenting the results to one's renowned colleagues in an expert audience makes it worthwhile: "That's when you reap the fruits of your labour."


One for all, all for one: only together are we strong

Ilaria, Linan, Daniel and Lauri see their future in academia. "I want to make the knowledge I have gained in Germany available to my home country Italy", says Ilaria. Daniel's main aim is to take the contacts he has made back home to the USA and launch further exciting projects with colleagues around the world. "You can be the best scientist in the world - without the right partners you won't achieve a thing."

If she could do it all over again, Ilaria would enter the IMPRS directly with her Master's degree and not wait until after her Diplom to start her doctorate. "It demotivated me that the IMPRS Masters were initially better than me." Linan advises learning in small groups - ideally together with German doctoral candidates in order to learn the language. "It takes a lot of self-discipline to work here", Daniel knows. It's also advisable to pay attention to one's work-life balance. "What's important is never to give up", says Lauri. "And you can always rely on your colleagues - we're all in the same boat."

academics :: June 2009

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