Indian curry, mango salad from Costa Rica, tiramisu from Italy: International Night at the Graduate School of Systemic Neurosciences sees cooks on campus pulling out all the stops.
Randomly disposed tables have transformed the space into a virtual labyrinth, a maze of cables connects hotplates to electrical sockets, plates and pots are everywhere: On this Friday evening, LMU’s Biocenter in Martinsried looks more like the communal kitchen in a students’ hostel than a renowned research institution. Eleven students – from Australia, China, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Bavaria, Slovakia and Hungary – are busy preparing their favorite dishes from home. All of them are members of the Graduate School of Systemic Neurosciences (GSN) in the Munich Center for Neurosciences, and it’s the School’s International Night. Some 300 students from 36 countries work at the GSN, on research projects in the fields of Biology, Medicine, Psychology and Philosophy. All of them seek answers to the question: How does the human brain work?
Dóra Csordás is making paprika potatoes for her colleagues – a very typically Hungarian dish, as she remarks herself. Onions, potatoes, bell peppers and tomatoes all go into the frying-pan, and she seasons the mixture with lots of powdered paprika. “It’s a very simple recipe – for I must admit that cooking is not one of my strongest points!” Dóra’s real abilities lie elsewhere, not least in neurosciences. Although she only has a BSc degree, she is already working on her doctoral thesis – thanks to LMU’s Fast-Track PhD Program at the Graduate School for Neurosciences, which enables talented students who have a very good Bachelor’s degree to go straight into a doctoral program without having to finish a Master’s first. Dóra’s doctoral project is devoted to so-called place cells – nerve cells in the brain that enable us keep track of where we are and where we have come from. She is studying how we find our way in the dark, with a view to understanding how the brain endows us with the capacity to navigate in space.
Her fellow-student Sachith Cheruvatur is making a special curry which was dreamed up by his grandmother in India. “My grandmother is a fantastic cook,” Sachith avers. The basic ingredients are potatoes, tomatoes and mushroom, but there is no detailed recipe for the dish. “I have to improvise and trust my senses of taste and smell constantly to cook,” says Sachith, who studied at New York University in Abu Dhabi before coming to LMU. I rely on my instincts in my research work too, he adds. “Particularly in my own subject – Neurophilosophy – one must have the freedom to work without restrictions or preconceptions,” Sachith explains. “And that’s something one can do here in Munich.”
Nearby Dian Anggrainis is preparing a selection of Asian street food – ddukbokkie, for instance, a spiced rice cake from Korea. “At home in Indonesia, ddukbokkie is always eaten outdoors, in the open-air markets,” she says. After finishing her Bachelor’s degree in Jakarta, Dian went on to study in Belgium and in Ireland. What she particularly likes about the Graduate School of Systemic Neurosciences is the integrative character of the program: “The focus is not just on how research is done. Social and other soft skills also play an important role.” Students at the Graduate School learn how to present their research results in talks and how to organize and write up their work for publication. “And lots of events organized for the international contingent at the Graduate School take place outside the University,” Dian says. “This has helped me to make lots of friends in Munich.”
And though many of them come from countries far away, by the end of the evening they are all in agreement: Not only their common interest in neuroscience unites them all, but also the joys of cooking and eating – which are themselves mediated by taste-buds, odor receptors and other neural systems.
If you are an international student at LMU and you enjoy cooking, you too can be one of our Cooks on Campus. Just drop us a line (firstname.lastname@example.org), and we will reimburse the cost of your menu (up to a maximum of 100 euros).