Champalimaud Doctoral Programme wins competitive FCT call
The Champalimaud Foundation's, International Neuroscience Doctoral Programme (INDP), is one of the selected winners of the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT) call for PhD programmes.
Out of 238 applications submitted to FCT, only 51 (less than 25%) were awarded full funding for a duration of four years, after being evaluated by an international panel of experts. The announcement of the agreement marked the opening of the application period to INDP, which is currently underway and will continue until May 25th.
This new agreement consolidates several affirmative changes in the INDP programme. One change, for example, is an increase in the number of participating institutions. Alfonso Renart, Director of the INDP explains “Participating institutions contribute to the programme in several ways, which range from providing courses and instructors, to allowing students the possibility of conducting their PhD projects under the joint supervision of a researcher from the Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme (CNP) and a researcher from a participating institution.” The participating institutions include the Instituto Superior Técnico, Centro de Investigação de Materiais, in addition to Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência and Instituto de Tecnologia Química e Biológica, which were also partners of the INDP previously. At an institutional level, the programme has also established new collaborations with Universidad Tecnica de Lisboa and with Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada, which now complement Universidad Nova de Lisboa as degree-granting institutions of the Programme.
INDP, a Doctoral Programme that celebrates diversity
Even though the INDP has only been running since 2007, it has already gained an international reputation. Each year, an average of 150 students apply to the INDP, half from Portugal and the other half from all across the world. Students’ nationalities include, among others, British, Korean, Swiss, Turkish and Portuguese. Also, in terms of educational background, students arrive from different fields such as Maths, Biology and Physics. This diversity of academic backgrounds and cultural origin creates a dynamic and rich environment where new ideas and approaches are always encouraged.
According to Dr. Renart “students are attracted to the INDP because of its unique combination of features; excellent possibilities for developing a research project at CNP labs, high-level intensive courses and a unique atmosphere of proactivity, self-initiative and independence among students.”
Programme aims to train and cultivate first-rate scientists
For Dr. Renart the key aim of the programme is “to help students become first-class scientists, both by working in a fantastic research environment, and by fostering critical thinking and active participation inside and outside the lab.” In order to learn the basics of research, from hypothesis formulation, to experimental design, execution and data analysis, “students learn about the thought-process that underlies classical landmark studies through discussions with CNP faculty, become familiar with inner working of the machines they use, such as microscopes or computers, and learn quantitative skills at a level adapted to their previous background”, he further explains.
The first year of the programme focuses on providing students with a broad base of knowledge in the concepts and methods of modern neuroscience, through formal lectures, critical reading of articles and hands-on experimentation, all done in the INDP teaching classroom and dedicated laboratory. In addition, under the new agreement, several months of Laboratory Rotations were introduced, to assist students with the process of selecting the lab where they will conduct their graduate work.
A student testimonial
Simone Lackner, a student from the 2011 INDP class, fills in some of the details as she describes various projects she worked on with her colleagues during their first year - “We built a computer, engineered a self-operated snail-mobile, and conducted psychophysical experiments where we tested people’s ability to adapt to new situations using vision-altering prisms. Ultimately, it was quite challenging, but fun.”
Beyond the lab bench
Despite the students’ busy schedule, a signature of the INDP is the variety of student-led initiatives beyond the student's academic work. One prominent example of these activities is an initiative that has made a clear impact on the Lisbon community - the Ar | Respire Connosco event series. These are public events, targeted at a general audience where both scientific and non-scientific topics are explored. So far, ten events were held over the last year and a half, each event drawing more than 400 people to the Champalimaud Foundation Auditorium and receiving wide acclaim in important local publications. INDP students also organise their own Seminar Series - where they host renowned international researchers - several social clubs and a yearly scientific and recreational retreat.