DKFZ offers a one week PhD initial course three times a year for new graduate students. In this course, PhD students get to know the core facilities and divisions that exist at DKFZ which will be of help for the projects and departments which demonstrate possible opportunities in academia and industry after graduating, because, yes, the PhDs have a beginning and an end. Students at DKFZ come from different parts of the world, therefore, getting to know fellow grad students is the most fascinating thing about this course.
I was one of the 47 students who participated in this year’s first course (13th – 17th March, 2017). Here is a glimpse of what we experienced during this one week.
Core Facilities and how to use them
Being a computational biology student working with next generation sequencing data, I know about sequencing facility and how to plan experiments in order to get things done in a timely manner. But I did not know anything about the Imaging & Cytometry facility at DKFZ. Same holds true for a student working with Cytometry data. At some point during our PhD we might require to submit our samples to core facility other than the area we are working in. That is why, it is immensely important to know all core facilities in the institution.
During the course, a representative from every Core Facility (CF) delivered the preface of their respective CF and explained how much time it would take to get the data after submitting the samples. We, grad students, got to know about all the CFs at DKFZ and whom to contact to submit our samples.
We all know the revolutionary open science website created out of frustration of inaccessible scientific papers. In order to reduce the dissatisfaction of restricted scientific papers, DKFZ has subscription to high impact factor journals. The library is also connected to many open-access publication databases. Representative of library practically showed us how to use different possibilities to get maximum benefit.
Untaught lessons for an early stage scientist
We love science. We do science with all our heart. But doing science alone is not enough in the current research world. We need more.
We need clarity on the expectations we have about our doctoral degree. We need to evaluate ourselves, as well as the consequences when making decisions. We need to have clarity about the ideas we have, while communicating with supervisors, team members and potential collaborators and so on.
These skills are not taught as part of a standard curriculum. Learning these skills on our own takes a lot of time. By the time we realize we need these skills we might stand way behind than many scientists. Knowing and understanding the importance of these skills would help doing more effective research.
In this session, we understood the importance of these kind of skills. An entire day we spent with two scientists who accompanied us in interpreting the relevance of soft skills.
How to present what you present
Consider the following two cases:
Case 1 – You have an idea. You know the requirements to implement the idea. You need someone to support you with funding or someone who can provide you, as a collaborator, the resources to take an action. Whichever the situation it is, you need to present your idea. Your supporter or collaborator’s decision depends on the presentation you give.
Case 2 – You have made a scientific discovery. You want the scientific community to recognize the importance of the results and possible future implications. Or, you want people to know how your research brings them closer to a therapeutic approach. You need to present your work.
There are many instances where scientists need to present their work, ideas etc. It is essential to know what kind of presentation style will work depending on the audience, to gain the attention of audience to feed maximum information into their brains.
In this session, we got to know some hacks for an effective presentation. Most importantly, we presented an overview of our projects within 2 min in front of fellow students and got feedback from them. It is necessary to know what you are expecting from a speaker being a listener, then you can develop your own speech according to the expectations you have had as a member of audience.
Know the culture you are working in
DKFZ is very international and diverse. Grad students come from different countries around the world. Every country has its own culture and the students coming from different countries are accustomed to their own culture over 20 or so years. Knowing the culture we are going to live in for the next few years would definitely ease our work and social life as well.
In this discussion, we got to appreciate some of the german cultural norms/rules that are different from rest of the countries in the world. Honestly speaking, I have had a different point of view on some of the practices before attending this session but after, most of them were changed, towards good. It is not surprising most foreign students had similar experiences like me.
Here is how students creativity awoke
On first day, students were divided into groups and assigned the task to introduce a research program at DKFZ, which must be different from their own. Students were given the freedom to present in whichever the way they like. I’m telling you, on day four, the evening overflowed with creativity. People played skits, made videos of the people working in the respective divisions and even combined a play with their presentation.
This was a very good opportunity to get to know the different divisions at DKFZ and their main research goals. Mission accomplished.
On day two during the course, we were taken to the climbing wall for our teambuilding event. Some had no experience, some had done it once or twice before. Everyone enjoyed the event and had fun. Above all, students expressed their feeling on rock climbing at the end and what lessons from climbing they wanted to keep in mind during their PhD life.
Altogether, it was a great experience to be a part of “PhD Initial Course”. Thanks a lot to the organizers on behalf of all the participants.