It all began in the past century – It was 1999 when the first international neuroscience graduate program was launched at Tübingen University, the Graduate School of Neural & Behavioural Sciences. Back then, it was the first English-taught neuroscience masters program at a German university. The research orientated training and the combination of basic science and clinical research were features that attracted young graduates and, thus, this Graduate School quickly became a well-known training site for German and international students interested in neurosciences.

In our 2007 proposal for the Werner Reichardt Centre for Integrative Neuroscience (CIN), we put forward measures to establish additional international, interdisciplinary neuroscience graduate programs at Tübingen University in order to provide students with state-of-the-art neuroscience training and, to simultaneously ensure a steady supply of well trained students to meet the increasing demand for young researchers in local laboratories. 

Today, we can look back at the very prosperous years. Right after the start of its first funding period, the CIN then fostered the establishment of the Graduate Training Centre of Neuroscience, which now serves – together with the International Max Planck Research School – as an umbrella body that coordinates and runs three international neuroscience degree programs, i.e. the Graduate Schools of Neural & Behavioural Sciences (launched in 1999), of Cellular & Molecular Neuroscience (2008), and of Neural Information Processing (2011) (www.neuroschool-tuebingen.de).

While the individual graduate programs, each comprising a consecutive masters and doctoral degree program, each have their specific scientific foci, they simultaneously and optimally complement one another. Together they provide a markedly broad spectrum of neuroscience research and training opportunities in Tübingen, extending from genes & molecules to behavior & cognition and up to the level of theoretical & computational approaches. All utilizing state-of-the-art applied neuroscientific methods, in particular brain imaging and molecular imaging methods. This has instated Tübingen as a prime location for graduate students and post-docs interested in any one of the many aspects of neuroscience.

A prime responsibility of the Graduate Training Centre and of its steering committees is to develop cutting edge course curricula and recruit lecturers for classroom teaching and laboratory training. The majority of the lecturers come from various institutes at the University, including the medical and the science faculties as well as their associated research institutions, such as: the Centre for Integrative Neuroscience, the Bernstein Centre for Computational Neuroscience, the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research, and the Centre for Neurosensory Systems. Other faculty members also come from local non-university institutions, such as the Max Planck Institutes for Biological Cybernetics and for Intelligent Systems, the Tübingen satellite of the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases, and the Natural and Medical Sciences Institute at Tübingen University.

Bringing together scientists from these diverse institutions and disciplines allows for the generation of a unique and truly interdisciplinary teaching program that bridges the gap between subject areas that are traditionally kept separate. Furthermore, students of the GTC have access to all these institutions for their practical training (laboratory rotations, masters and doctoral theses) and can gain competences in the wide spectrum of methods available in these labs. In addition to their contributions in ‘theoretical and practical education’, the participating institutions and centres also support the GTC financially. This funding allows us to provide scholarships to international masters students, travel money for doctoral students, to hire specialists who teach specific doctoral courses, and other benefits that would not be possible otherwise.

The three masters programs have an explicit ‘research focus’ with the goal of optimally preparing graduate students for demanding doctoral projects. This goal is achieved by three measures: first, by recruiting active researchers as lecturers who incorporate state-of-the-art neuroscientific questions and methods into their courses; secondly, by implementing two 10-week laboratory rotations where students engage in current research topics and work, more or less independently, on their own small projects; and thirdly a 6 month masters thesis, which often serves as the seed for a subsequent doctoral dissertation.

Over the past 15 years, the graduate programs and their curricula have experienced a continuous development and undergone several rigorous evaluations and accreditations. This has not only strengthened the research orientation of the training, but also resulted in three complementary training programs that nearly cover the complete spectrum of modern neuroscience topics. Currently, the masters programs is taught completely in English with about 65 neuroscience and methods courses running annually. In addition, more than 20 specialty courses are organized each year for doctoral students, including neuroscience and methods courses, summer schools, workshops, supplementary lab training, as well as courses on transferable skills and ethical issues.

Status quo – student numbers

For the masters programs, we receive about 250 applications per year, 190 coming from international applicants from more than 50 countries. After a competitive three-step selection procedure (consisting of a written subject test and interviews), some 40 students are finally admitted every winter term to the 3 masters programs, resulting in a steady state equilibrium of about 80 masters students (2 classes50% international students). Accordingly, some 40 students graduate every year with a Master of Science degree (the total number of graduations so far is 345), the large portion of which move on to a doctoral project in Tübingen (ca. 45% of graduates), elsewhere in Germany, or worldwide.

In the doctoral programs of the Graduate Training Centre, there are currently some 230 candidates enrolled with a ratio of 60% international students coming from over 40 countries. Of all doctoral students, 50% work in the field of systems & cognitive neuroscience, 35% in the field of cellular & molecular neuroscience, and the remaining 15% in the field of theoretical & computational neuroscience. Currently, we have per year about 35 students graduating from the doctoral program with a doctor of science degree (Dr. rer. nat.), the total number of graduations so far exceeds 250. The majority of them initially move on to a postdoctoral position, while about 30% of the graduates land a job in industry directly after their graduation.

Finally, I would like to mention a few people who spearheaded the idea of an English taught neuroscience degree program and who, in the very beginnings, made invaluable contributions to its long-term implementation at Tübingen University.  Special thanks go to the emeriti Profs. H.-J. Wagner (Dept. Anatomy), K. Kirschfeld (Max Planck Inst. Biological Cybernetics), H.-U. Schnitzler (Dept. Animal Physiology), E. Zrenner (Univ. Eye Hospital), and N. Birbaumer (Inst. Medical Psychology & Behavioural Neurobiology).

It has been my pleasure to be the head of the Graduate Training Centre for the past 17 years. I have seen the development of Tübingen into an internationally reputed and respected epicenter for neuroscience research. Our vision has always been to provide a neuroscience graduate program that emphasizes excellence and state-of-the-art methods both in the classroom and the laboratory. To see the successful growth of this training side fills me with pride and it must be mentioned that the school’s great success has only been possible through the hard work and enthusiasm of my many colleagues and for that I thank them all. I look forward to the further development of the Graduate Training Centre in the years to come.

Prof. Dr. Horst Herbert

Head of the Graduate Training Centre of Neuroscience 

International Max Planck Research School


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