Sally Deeb from Lebanon is conducting her doctoral studies in the field of biochemistry in Munich. She has been a doctoral student at the International Max Planck Research School for Molecular and Cellular Life Sciences since 2009.
Why did you decide to come to Germany for a PhD?
For a person like me who wanted to pursue a science-related career, Germany was one of the best options to do my PhD. The country is well-known in many fields of research, and in particular, it is famous for its leading technologies and internationally competitive labs in biology, biotechnology and biochemistry. Also, the pharmaceutical industry in Germany plays an important role. So there were some good reasons for me to come here after I completed my Bachelor’s in science at the Lebanese University and then my Master’s degree in biology at the American University of Beirut.
In 2009, you started your PhD at the IMPRS for Molecular and Cellular Life Sciences (IMPRS-LS) in Munich. Why did you choose an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS)?
In my last year at the American University of Beirut, I heard about IMPRS from a colleague who was already in Munich and recommended the doctoral programme. First, it was important for me to choose an English-speaking PhD programme. What makes IMPRS very attractive is that after the first round of selection it offers an interview week which allows us to visit the labs and have a closer look at the kind of research going on. I specifically applied to IMPRS-LS. This programme is specialised in life sciences and was exactly the doctoral programme I was looking for. I do my research in a proteomics lab, where I apply the latest mass spectrometry technology to try to characterise different tumour subtypes with the aim of improving patient diagnosis and treatment choice.
What makes the programme so attractive for you?
IMPRS gives you the opportunity to join a network of elite research groups. Belonging to an interdisciplinary programme allows you to establish contacts with researchers from different labs, technologies and areas of science and gives you the chance to exchange expertise and knowledge with them. My programme includes 100 to 120 international young researchers in all fields of life sciences.
Can you describe the main components and the supervision within the programme?
The programme is based on a credit system. In our first and second year, for example, we have to attend a specific number of lectures, seminars and workshops. But then everything else is flexible throughout your PhD. Every PhD student is primarily affiliated to his or her lab and specific supervisor with whom he or she regularly meets. In addition, there is an individual Thesis Advisory Committee to which the doctoral student has to report each year. The purpose of the committee is to monitor the progress of your work and to advise you regarding the development of the research project.
How do you apply for the IMPRS work?
First you have to know that there are two types of programmes. For the regular 3- to 4-year PhD programme, you should have a Master’s degree in science. There is also a fast-track programme. This option gives a limited number of outstanding applicants with a Bachelor’s degree the opportunity to directly enter the doctoral programme. After a first round of selection, the research school invites the most promising candidates to come to Munich for a week. During this time you will attend short faculty presentations and will have interviews with faculty members of the research school. In general, you are asked about your objectives and motivation as well as your scientific background. The week in Munich is a very good opportunity to find out which lab you want to be in for your PhD project. The final decision on which candidates will be accepted at the research school is made in a special meeting with all faculty members.
You are also involved in the so-called “Soft Skills Workshop Series”.
That is something nice about IMPRS. We have access to high-level workshops. And for me, the soft skills workshops are the most interesting. We have workshops like team-building and leadership skills, intercultural communication, project management and scientific writing. These workshops help a lot in expanding your skills for your future career, whether it is in academia or industry, and I am involved in organising these workshops.
Could you imagine staying in Germany after completing your PhD thesis?
I think that, after my graduation in 2013, I would like to try to work in the pharmaceutical industry, but I am not limited to Germany. Currently at IMPRS, I am working in the Department of Proteomics and Signal Transduction, and my supervisor is a pioneer in the field of mass spectrometry and its applications in answering different biological questions. It would be great to have a job where I continue to use what I have learned to answer questions related to cancer and other diseases.
What would you recommend young researchers planning to come to Germany?
I would recommend that they try to join a structured PhD programme such as IMPRS. Belonging to a programme like IMPRS adds to your credibility, and it immediately places you in a network of elite research groups. It connects you to young researchers from all around the world and allows you to make so many good friends. It’s like having a first-class ticket to cutting-edge research.