The program of the CEPLAS Graduate School is comprised of a 1-year qualification phase followed by a doctoral research phase of 3-4 years.
This structure aims at providing our graduate students the theoretical knowledge as well as practical skills that are necessary to successfully conduct a research project.
The Qualification Phase
The Qualification Phase includes lectures, exercises, courses in transferable skills (e.g. scientific writing) and lab rotations. This phase aims to provide the theoretical knowledge as well as practical skills that are necessary to successfully conduct a research project. It also allows the incoming PhD students to familiarize themselves with the CEPLAS research and the CEPLAS faculty. For applicants transferring from a Master´s degree program, previous credits obtained during their MSc training might be transferable, pending approval by the Graduate School leadership, and may thus reduce the duration of the Qualification Phase.
The Qualification Phase starts with an on-boarding workshop (one week) followed by two subject modules, 7 weeks each and jointly taught at the Universities of Düsseldorf and Cologne. Both universities are in relatively close proximity and can be reached by public transportation. The first subject module covers the research topics within CEPLAS as well as theory and methodology in plant developmental genetics, evolution and biostatistics. Exercises ensure hands-on experience in large-scale data analyses that are prominent in most state-of-the art research projects. The second module covers the fields of molecular plant physiology, plant-microbe interactions and synthetic biology. During this module, students also select and study specific topics (elective subjects) depending on their interest (e.g. computational biology, plant-pathogen interactions, etc). Students conduct a seminar presentation during each subject module. Each subject module is completed by a written exam.
The Qualification Phase continues with workshops in other research-relevant skills, such as Good Scientific Practice and Scientific Writing. For example, students may be asked to conceptualise and write a "News and Views" article, highlighting the impact of a recent, exciting research publication.
The final part of the Qualification Phase consists of three lab rotations in CEPLAS research groups. Students will conduct a small research project under the guidance of a lab member (postdoc, senior PhD student) and the principal investigator heading the lab. This also includes a written lab report and an oral presentation of the research results. During this phase, students have the opportunity to get to know individual CEPLAS research groups. Labs can be chosen based on students´ interests and availabilities. For this, CEPLAS students can select from a pool of different PhD projects that interested CEPLAS PIs/ CIs submit annually. CEPLAS students are also explicitly encouraged to contact PIs and CIs directly regarding possible project submissions. One of the labs will subsequently serve as the host for the dissertation research phase.
The Dissertation Phase
The goal of the CEPLAS Graduate School PhD program is to prepare our PhD candidates for a successful future career in academia as well as in industry. Apart from their dissertation research, CEPLAS doctoral students therefore benefit from comprehensive training programs that address their academic as well as career development aspirations and needs.
The doctoral research project is the foundation of the PhD study. It aims to qualify CEPLAS doctoral researchers for independent and professional scientific work. All CEPLAS doctoral researchers are supported by a Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC), which includes the main advisor and at least 1-2 additional, experienced scientists (internal/external) from whom they receive scientific feedback about their research progress (regular TAC meetings). The written thesis (Dissertation) and an oral defence (Disputation) complete the PhD.
The scientific training program includes scientific courses as well as symposia and seminars that allow doctoral researchers to broaden their scientific knowledge and to apply the acquired skills in a professional setting. Scientific courses are offered based on the doctoral students’ needs and interests.
The career training program includes workshops in career-relevant transferable skills (five are mandatory) to further train doctoral researchers for their future career. Transferabel skills courses completed in the qualification phase may be credited to courses in the dissertation phase. Offers range from excursions to industry, numerous course offers to a „Speed Dating with Industry“ event in accordance with the doctoral students’ needs and interests.