First-class neuroscience: The launching of a new doctoral training programme

March 14, 2022

Offering doctoral students a first-class education and attracting the most brilliant minds from across the world — these are goals of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig. In close cooperation with Leipzig University, the Institute is launching the International Max Planck Research School on Cognitive NeuroImaging (IMPRS CoNI) next year. The programme will give particularly talented students the opportunity to complete their doctorate in the field of "cognitive neuroscience" with a focus on imaging methods such as magnetic resonance imaging. What is special about this is that each doctoral student will follow an individually adapted training plan, through which each can further his or her education according to individual their professional needs.

The IMPRS CoNI will bring together three research areas of neuroscience: cognitive neuroscience, clinical and translational neuroscience, and the (further) development of new neuroscientific imaging methods and modelling processes. The initial aim is to train knowledge in basic research. This can then be applied or tested in the medical domain, for example, by testing and advancing therapy for stroke or depression patients. 

The basis of the doctoral school is close cooperation with leading regional and international partner institutions, including Leipzig University, the Faculty of Psychology at TU Dresden, and the Faculty of Brain Research at University College London. Through these collaborations a wide range of disciplines ranging from physics to computer science to psychology and medicine can be brought together in unique ways and on an international level. Such interdisciplinary work promises to expand our knowledge of the human brain.

One of the interdisciplinary doctoral theses, for example, will deal with deep brain stimulation of the so-called subthalamic nucleus, a brain area that plays a decisive role in Parkinson's disease. It is already known from earlier studies that deep brain stimulation of this region reduces tremors and other symptoms of the disease. Until now, however, this required surgical intervention. The current research, which will involve neuropsychologists, neurologists, and neurophysicists, will investigate how similar results could also be achieved through ultrasound neuromodulation. Surgery would then no longer be necessary.

Within the school, roughly 25 new doctoral students will be accepted each year in a multi-stage and highly competitive process. Successful applicants will devote themselves to an individually-tailored research topic at one of the four participating institutions. They will be closely accompanied by their Thesis Advisory Committee, which is intended to contribute to the quality control of the scientific work and at the same time reduce the doctoral students' dependence on a single scientist. The students can expect an accompanying curriculum in which high-ranking scientists discuss the latest research results and teach new methods in lectures and workshops. The programme will be rounded off by numerous soft skills courses, in which skills such as scientific writing, critical thinking, as well as time and project management are taught.

A special feature of the newly launched training is the integration of innovative teaching methods such as flipped classrooms and blended learning activities. For example, the teaching content is developed individually via learning videos and later the practical application is carried out together in the course. A mixed reality course in "Neuroanatomy" will also give doctoral students practical insight into the functional structure of the human brain.

"From our 13 years of experience with our previous graduate school, we know what first-class results such a closely supervised, internationally oriented doctorate produces," says Nikolaus Weiskopf, head of the IMPRS CoNI and director at the MPI CBS. "In particular, the opportunity to get to know laboratories and methods for a few weeks of one of the partner institutions and to be able to exchange ideas with the other doctoral researchers within the framework of summer schools and retreats represents a real added value of the IMPRS CoNI," adds IMPRS coordinator Veronika Krieghoff.

The Vice-Rector for Research and Young Academics at Leipzig University, Erich Schröger, emphasizes: "The IMPRS CoNI promotes scientific qualification and the advancement of scientific knowledge enormously. I am pleased about this, not only as Vice-Rector for Research and Young Academics, but also as a participating scientist."

Candidates from all over the world who are currently pursuing a Master's degree at an internationally recognized university in a field related to the content of the IMPRS CoNI, such as physics, computer science, neuroscience, or psychology, can apply from September 2022. The first cohort will start in October 2023.



There are currently 68 International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS). The Research Schools are each established by one or more Max Planck Institutes. They always work closely with universities and other research institutions, also abroad. This provides doctoral students with first-class framework conditions. This is a great advantage for doctoral projects that require special equipment and research environments. Around 80 Max Planck Institutes are now involved in an IMPRS.

As a rule, the Research Schools train half German and half foreign doctoral researchers. Supervisors and/or members of thesis committees look after them and support the doctoral students in their projects. The working language is English. The focus of the three-year doctoral period is independent research work on mostly interdisciplinary topics, which leads to the dissertation. In addition, the doctoral students benefit from regular exchange in workshops, summer schools, or at conferences. All this contributes to getting to know different perspectives on one's own research topic.

In Germany, the right to award doctoral degrees lies exclusively with the universities. After completing the usual three-year doctoral training, during which students are taken under the wing of supervisors from the universities and the Max Planck Institutes, they are then also jointly examined by them.


For more information please visit the IMPRS CoNI website:


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