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Nurturing excellence

Program and project – Graduate Schools

Munich, 04/29/2013

New: Four Graduate Schools supported by funds provided by the Excellence Initiative are currently in operation at LMU. Each offers a stimulating and interdisciplinary working environment. A special issue of Einsichten features some of the ongoing projects.

Photo: Jan Greune
Photo: Jan Greune

Since the German Research Society (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) and the German Science Council (Wissenschaftsrat) launched the Excellence Initiative, the active promotion of Graduate Schools has been an integral part of the concept. From the funding awarded in the first round of the program, in 2006, LMU was able to set up a Graduate School in Systemic Neurosciences. Last year, LMU’s proposals for three more Graduate Schools were approved, two of them in the Humanities.

What advantages do such structured doctoral programs offer to postgraduates and their mentors? What impact do projects assigned to the young researchers in these programs have on the quality of their training, and their level of qualification? And what kinds of questions do they actually work on? A special issue of LMU’s research magazine Einsichten, devoted to the consequences of the Excellence Initiative, gives present and past participants in the programs the chance to tell us about their projects and their motivation, and portrays each of the four Graduate Schools now flourishing at LMU.

Patricia Vidovic (Photo: Jan Greune)Patricia Vidovic (26), art historian, PhD student at the Graduate School for East and South East European Studies: “In countries such as Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania, a highly individual form of poetic and imaginative cinematic art has emerged. These films tell stories that are modest, quiet, but nevertheless have an existential edge, while avoiding all trace of sentimentality. The distinction between fact and fiction is no longer valid, leaving room for a tentative and idiosyncratic form of enlightenment. Even when they seem to have no political import and are narrated from a decidedly subjective perspective, their aesthetic conception, which hints at new modes of vision, can be understood in relation to the alterations in political contexts. The interdisciplinary structure of the School – and the simple fact that many of the graduate students come from Eastern Europe and can share their personal experience of recent political developments at home with me – helps me to discern the connections.”

Zsuzsanna VéghZsuzsanna Végh (26) Egyptologist, PhD student at the Graduate School for Ancient Studies “Distant Worlds”: “The importance of Germany‘s contribution to modern Egyptology is widely acknowledged internationally. So it was natural for me to come here after I had completed my studies in Budapest. The conceptual model for the Graduate School in Munich was an additional incentive, because it was building up a research group that focuses on ‘The Construction of Elites’, and that fits in perfectly with the topic of my doctoral project. I am studying the annual ceremonies in honor of Osiris, the Egyptian God of the Underworld, held in the city of Abydos from about 2100 BC on. This festival was a very important element in the Osiris cult in the Middle Kingdom and, by studying the relevant documentary sources, I am trying to reconstruct the sequence of activities – and the social dynamics among the participants in such a popular festival.

Daniel Bader (Photo: Jan Greune)Daniel Bader (24), bioinformatician, begins his PhD project at the Graduate School of Quantitative Biosciences Munich in the autumn: “In my project in medical bioinformatics, I will be analyzing medical records with a view to identifying markers for inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease. The case histories include genomic data, gene expression profiles and information on the microbiome. All of these data can tell us about the composition of the microbial population in a patient‘s gastrointestinal tract, for example. The aim of the study is to pin down the causes of inflammatory bowel conditions and, of course, it would be marvellous if the findings could help to put an end to these disorders. All the relevant disciplines are represented at the Graduate School, but the focus is always on the question at issue. The researchers we work with bring their accumulated know-how to bear on concrete problems, and we as doctoral students reap the benefit.”

Arnost Stanzel (Photo: Jan Greune)Arnost Stanzel (28), political scientist and historian, PhD student at the Graduate School for East and South East European Studies: “My project looks at the planning and construction of dams built in the Carpathian Mountains in the years between 1945 and 1989, and involves a comparative analysis of schemes undertaken in Czechoslovakia and Romania. The topic offers more than an opportunity to recount a minor episode in environmental history. It also impinges on larger issues. What do such gigantic infrastructure projects tell us about perceptions of nature? How do they relate to propagandist tales about the heroes of socialist construction? And how did these regimes actually deal with the urgent problem of water pollution? The make-up of the Graduate School facilitates interdisciplinary approaches to these questions, and its emphasis on Area Studies encourages comparisons with other regions. So I can compare approaches to the management of natural resources worldwide.”

Alvaro Tejero-Cantero and Donatas Jonikaitis both began, and have meanwhile completed, their doctoral studies at the GSN – Graduate School of Systemic Neurosciences, which was set up with funding from the Excellence Initiative in 2006. Jonikaitis now works at the Chair of General and Experimental Psychology at LMU, Tejero-Cantero is a postdoc at Oxford University. “The GSN is brilliantly structured,” he says, looking back. Its international and interdisciplinary character not only provides for outstandingly good supervision of projects, but the students also profit in other ways. “I learned to be a better teacher, my approach to presentation improved, and I learned about aspects of biology that I, as someone who studied theoretical physics, needed to know.”

The special issue on the Excellence Initiative (in german)  is available here (PDF, 5MB).

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