Research & Training

Curriculum

The curriculum of the IMPRS comprises both theoretical and practical hands-on training elements divided into mandatory and optional courses. The range of expertise of the faculty will provide rich coverage of the theory and methodology required for cutting-edge neuroscience research. The curriculum is structured in line with the graduation requirements of the degree-granting institutions (Uni Bonn Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, and the Faculty of Medicine). IMPRS for Brain and Behavior is a 4-year program and the program language is English.

All first-year students will bond with their fellow classmates while learning essential topics and techniques in neuroscience by immersion in a Boot Camp. This Boot Camp will aim to bring incoming students from diverse backgrounds to a common level of knowledge. Topics covered include intracellular electrophysiology, fluorescence microscopy, basic programming, and both invertebrate and vertebrate behavioral imaging. An understanding of how to collect, analyze, and interpret data will be an essential part of the Boot Camp.
The intensive two-week-long Boot Camp, based on summer courses at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA, USA, occurs in the Fall for all incoming students and runs from morning to evening. Faculty members will highlight the major research interests being pursued in their laboratories, informing students about potential rotation labs. New PhD students will give informal talks over lunch about their prior research before joining the IMPRS. Furthermore, existing graduate students will participate as TAs in the Boot Camp allowing the incoming students to socialize with more senior students.

In 2020, the IMPRS for Brain & Behavior program started offering 8-week lab rotations in up to three labs (in total max. 6 months) for interested students after being admitted to the IMPRS. Admitted students still have the option to start the PhD project directly in an IMPRS lab.
Lab rotations give the opportunity to work at multiple labs and meet colleagues before choosing a supervisor. Lab rotations also increase the chances of collaborative PhD projects between different groups at caesar, Uni Bonn, and DZNE. The student will discuss with all supervisors during the lab rotations and make a decision about which supervisor to pursue their PhD project with.

Each journal club session will be led by an IMPRS PhD student. Sessions will be held monthly at caesar with the possibility of joining remotely via video conference. One classic paper with strong relevance in the field of neuroscience research will be discussed per session. For each paper, one student will be in charge of outlining the major hypothesis and summarizing the results, concluding statements, and linking current advancements.

The PhD research project is at the core of the curriculum. The progress of the project will be monitored by a TAC. Students need to form a cross-institute TAC consisting of at least three faculty members, and the first meeting must be scheduled within the first year. A written project proposal should be sent to the TAC members and an oral presentation of the topic of the doctoral work should be given. The TAC members need to approve the written proposal and give feedback. The student will then submit the written Project Proposal to the coordination office as a required milestone.

In line with the PhD regulations of the University of Bonn Faculty of Medicine, students need to schedule yearly meetings with their TAC, where they demonstrate progress and discuss future directions. Following the TAC meeting, a written progress report incorporating the suggestions of the committee should be submitted. If satisfactory progress is not made, the student must schedule an additional committee meeting within 6 months, together with one additional faculty member from the IMPRS Teaching Committee.
In addition to yearly TAC meetings, students will be required to present their project and progress at an online IMPRS PhD Symposium after their third year. The IMPRS Teaching Committee will attend this symposium and give feedback to each student. This will serve as a measure to detect possible pitfalls and help students graduate in a timely manner.

The annual Bonn Brain³ conference (https://bonnbrain.de/) gathers the neuroscience community of the University of Bonn, caesar, and DZNE, together with distinguished researchers from around the world for discussion and collaboration on current neuroscientific questions. All IMPRS students are expected to participate in the conference. Second and third-year IMPRS students will be invited to present their research in poster sessions or as short talks. Registration fees will be covered by IMPRS, as long as the student is in good standing with the program.

Students are expected to attend international scientific conferences relevant to their research. Attendance at two international conferences is recommended. The first should be in the early stages of their project, to acquaint them with their research field, and the second should be towards the end of their project, to present their own data. IMPRS travel grants are available for students to attend conferences.

At our annual IMPRS PhD Student Retreat, students present their research in posters (first-year students) and brief talks (second-year students and higher). The students also invite external speakers and attend lectures and workshops. Student representatives are responsible for organizing the content of the retreat. The coordination office assists with the budgetary requirements and administrative resources.

As well as signing the legally binding rules of Good Scientific Practice at partner institutes, all IMPRS students will have to complete a Good Scientific Practice Workshop at the beginning of their research. The workshop will be in line with the Max Planck Society Rules of Good Scientific Practice. Example cases of misconduct will be provided and discussed. At the end of the course, attendees will learn how to safeguard good scientific practice and the individual processes at caesar, the University of Bonn, and DZNE. Questions such as whom to turn to in case of suspected scientific misconduct or what a typical investigation looks like in such cases of suspicion will be answered.

The need for complementary skills training is variable amongst students. Therefore, students may choose courses in research ethics, scientific writing, grant writing, effective presentation and communication, recruiting and team building, intellectual property and patents, biotech start-ups, or other relevant topics on a per-demand basis. IMPRS organizes the courses yearly, given there is enough demand. These elements, together with regular career talks outlining different career trajectories will provide students with the expertise to pursue a successful independent research career either in academia, biotech, the pharmaceutical industry, or any other path.

We invite successful individuals with a neuroscience/natural science background who work in and outside of academia to discuss their individual career paths and answer students’ questions. We also hold Career Skills Workshops where IMPRS faculty members shed light on how to establish a career in academia. Students nearing the end of their projects can also apply for an IMPRS travel grant to go to relevant Career Fairs held in Germany.