There are a range of different sources of funding available for prospective PhD students of the Humboldt University of Berlin:
Humboldt Research Track Scholarship
In September 2017 I was chosen as one of @HumboldtUni ‘s research track scholars!
This unique Scholarship supports Master’s students from the Humboldt-University Berlin, who plan to pursue a PhD. It is a great opportunity for Early Career Researchers to get funded while planning the next steps of their career. Check out the details here.
The scholarship enabled me to publish some of the data from my master thesis and secure funding for my actual PhD.
Elsa-Neumann-Scholarship of the State of Berlin
Since the beginning of 2018 I am one step closer to my PhD dream project. The state of Berlin issues grants to young researchers for up to three years and I submitted my proposal in November 2017.
FYI: Elsa Neumann was the first woman to receive a PhD in physics from the University of Berlin in 1899. She tragically died only three years later, as a result of a fatal accident that occurred when she was conducting experiments in the laboratory.
What to consider:
1) With 1000€ per month, this scholarship provides some financial aid, but it is a far stretch considering that taxfree third-party-funded research scholarships are non-combinable and come without health insurance and social security. For three years!
2) Scholarship holders are not employed, so the only real obligation they have is to devote their time fully to their research project. Sounds wonderful, however, this freedom also means that they are not entitled to the 4-6 weeks of statutory paid holidays or any state-subsidized benefits such as sickness payments.
I have attended my fair share of conferences during grad school, and while this hardly makes me an expert on the subject, I would like to share some of the experiences and insights I have gained that might be useful for first-time attendees. Attending a conference can offer a myriad of opportunities to a young researcher. You may:
raise the visibility of your research
get input/feedback on your work (esp. with talks or posters)
get inspired and develop new ideas on how to approach your research
learn about some emerging ideas and methods in your field
scout out potential career options and job openings
meet people, network and establish collaborations in a fun and relaxed setting (e.g. conference social events)
collaborate to write up and publish a conference paper
travel to new places, eat new foods, and take a break from the daily grind
Depending on the size of your institution and funding scheme, you may not get the opportunity to attend a scientific meeting all too often. Some advisors do have the funds to cover the costs (which can easily add up to €1500), but alternative funding options – while limited – do exist! However, conferences take up time that could otherwise be spent in the field and lab, analyzing and publishing data sets or teaching. Thus, it is all the more important to choose carefully which scientific meetings to attend.
Which conference should you go to?
In the beginning, I mostly relied on my advisers and colleagues for recommendations, but now that I have gotten my bearings, I like to attend different kinds of scientific meeting for different reasons:
Big conferences and conventions
These meetings tend to be quite broad and, admittedly, one can easily get lost in the crowd. Personally, I like to attend conferences put on by scientific societies that I belong to (e.g. BES, ASAB) In fact, I try to do so every year, so that I’ll get to know people and can make some long-lasting connections.
Example 1: Annual Meeting of the British Ecological Society
The BES Annual Meeting has grown into Europe’s largest and most influential conference dedicated to the ecological sciences with 1000+ participants each year. The conference program usually includes 10+ symposia on a broad range of ecological topics, as well as several meet the expert sessions, workshops and poster presentations. Bonus, the BES offers travel grants to PhD students and organizes special events/workshops for early career scientists and new conference-goers, which I highly recommend you go to. In my first year I attended the ECR workshops on day prior to the actual conference, which not only helped me to ease into the conference much better, but also make many connections with people at a similar academic level. In 2016, Daniel Pauly was one of the keynote speakers and thanks to the ‘Meet the Plenary’ initiative I got to meet and cat with the author behind all the papers and research that I’d read during my Fishery Science classes. Thanks to the size of the BES, flipping through the program can be quiet overwhelming, but presentations are grouped into thematic session, so you can decide whether you wanna spend a morning learning all about the newest research in one field of ecology or switch around a little. Scheduled coffee and lunch breaks allow for plenty of opportunity to catch up with people, but I highly recommend attending some of the many recreational events planned (e.g. Women in Science breakfast, conference dinner, Science Slam, …).
Small scientific meetings and workshops
I also try to go to attend conferences that are more directly related to my specific subject and/or more interdisciplinary.
Example 2: Annual Meeting of the German Ichthyological Society
The GfI aims to promote the investigation of the biology of fishes under natural and artificial life conditions, encourages actions for the conservation of biodiversity and protection of natural habitats of fish, and supports ichthyological teaching on all education levels. And they host an annual meeting held (mostly) in German. You aren’t likely to rub shoulders with star scholars in the field, nor will you encounter presentations about the new intellectual movement of the year, but I’ve come to appreciate the strengths of small conferences. The Annual Meeting of the GfI is always a colorful potpourri of topics on all things fish: ecology & evolution, anatomy & morphology, taxonomy and systematics, or molecular ichthyology for marine as well as freshwater species. Attending a small conference means you’ll get the chance to see everything and meet everyone. Presentations are scheduled one at a time over two days, so you don’t have to rush or miss anything. The takeaways are priceless, and the price tag is comparatively small.
Example 3: BfN workshop on biodiversity on the Isle of Vilm
If you ever have the chance to go to the International Academy for Nature Conservation – GO! I was fortunate enough to attend a workshop hosted by the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) about interdisciplinary perspectives on the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in August 2017. Together with thirty-four early-career scientists, I got to spend a whole week on the idyllic Isle of Vilm – a true nature paradise in the German Baltic Sea. With only 94 hectares in area, this car-free island is ideal for undisturbed and productive work in direct contact with nature! In true Baltic Sea fashion, you arrive by ferry and stay in beautiful, thatched cottages that were once built for the GDR council of ministers. I gave an oral presentation on ‘Invasive species in thermally altered freshwaters as a threat for local biodiversity’, allowing me to spend the rest of the time to enjoy other peoples’ talks, network and take several walks around the island, which takes about 50 minutes. Only very few other places in Germany remain as untouched as Vilm and especially the ancient woods with several hundred year-old oaks and beech are a real treat! All meeting contributions were recently prepared for publication in a special volume, which is available to policy-makers and practitioners, as well as the general public: BfN-Skripten 487.
How to get the most out of a conference
Personally, I find conferences rejuvenating, but at the same time they can be intimidating and overwhelming. Here are a few pointers on how to keep track of it all:
Preparations (1 week prior)
finish up everything before leaving for the conference (yes, this includes your presentation)
plan which sessions/talks you would like to attend ahead of time (but be selective and feel free to adjust your schedule as you meet new or get recommendations)
identify people you want to meet up with and possibly reach out beforehand (e.g. Mail, Twitter) to introduce yourself and possibly set up a meeting
prepare an elevator pitch to explain your research a) in 30 seconds and b) a more elaborate version (2-5 minutes)
have some business cards at hand stating your contact details and research interests
dust off that old Twitter account – many scientific conferences have an active community of live-tweeters, so join in the fun
condense each talk you attend to a 1-2 sentence summary and try to connect it to you work
ask questions (if not during the Q&A, find speakers during coffee breaks and start a conversation)
in fact, lunchtime, dinnertime, and snack breaks are a great time to network
feel free to switch between sessions, but be respectful of the speaker so wait until the end of the talk (and sit somewhere in the back).
go to a few talks that are not necessarily within your area to broaden your horizon
I live tweet during conferences, but I try not to tweet during presentations so that I can focus on the topic
check out the exhibition hall, but have an idea in mind of what you’re looking for or which vendors might be of interest (e.g. equipment inquiries)
unwind and socialize: don’t spend all your time at the conference, take time to enjoy the area and the company of your colleagues or new friends
It’s official, I’ve successfully defended my thesis today and have been awarded a Master’s degree in Fish Biology, Fisheries & Aquaculture from the Humboldt University of Berlin. Perfect time to reflect and share some of the lessons I’ve learned in the past 2 years.
1) College degrees with a focus on ichthyological subjects are rare.
Across Germany, training in fishery sciences is offered at various institutions, colleges, and schools. Vocational education still plays a major role in the training of fish farmers and technicians in Germany, but more recently universities have started to introduce classes and/or entire degrees with focus on fishery and aquatic sciences to their curriculums, e.g.:
University of Rostock: Aquaculture, Marine Biology
University of Hamburg: Marine Ecosystems & Fishery Sciences
Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg: Water & Coastal Management, Marine Environmental Science
University of Bremen: Aquatic Tropical Ecology, Marine Biology
University of Kiel: Biological Oceanography
Humboldt University of Berlin: Fish Biology, Fisheries & Aquaculture
With a Bachelor’s degree in Biology in my pocket and two semesters studying aquaculture in Norway under my belt, I was keen to learn more about the biology and husbandry of fish. The HU’s degree first peaked my interest because of their course catalogue. You can specialize in one of the three domains: Fish Biology & Evolution, Fisheries Management & Conservation as well as Aquaculture. Students can begin their studies during the winter or summer semester. Modules are offered at a four-semester interval and leave you with a lot of flexibility and free choice. However, I soon came to realize that this masters program offers a multitude of other opportunities:
2) Take advantage of campus resources
One thing many college students never discover during their time at college, are the impressive resources available. Besides academic resources, many universities provide career services, computer technical support, counseling and a plethora of sport and recreational activities.
The Fish Biology master is a collaborative degree program between the HU Berlin and IGB. Naturally, this means even more opportunities and services to take advantage of. Just a few hundred meters away from the IGB class rooms, you can get close and personal with some freshwater giants such as the Arapaima gigas or European sturgeon. The IGB library offers not only a quiet space to read and study, it also is the home of an intensive collection of literature and data sets (e.g. directly from the monitoring station at Lake Müggelsee). Contingent on availability, IGB master students can also sign up for courses of the IGB doctoral programto deepen their knowledge of statistical methods and other career-related skills.
But if you asked me to name the most eye-opening experience during my degree, the answer would clearly be: working as a research assistant. Students can get in-depth insights into their future career and gain first-hand work experience by participating in research projectsat the IGB. I was fortunate enough to work under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Jens Krause for two years, which enabled me contribute to many different projects ranging from video tracking to work with a biomimetic robot to study animal behavior. It also included two 1-month field trips to Mexico, where I gained the skills and confidence that have led me to my current PhD project and have shaped my career path ever since.
3) International contact and collaborations are invaluable
Nowadays, international mobility is a must for early career scientists. Many fellowships and job opportunities require their applicants to have at least one year of foreign (work) experience.
However, studying abroad isn’t in the cards for everyone. If not, it is all the more important that you make meaningful international connections and strengthen your language skills. The Fish Biology master is an international course taught almost exclusively in English. It is open to all students with an English Skill Level of C1 or higher.
During my time, this set-up had attracted lots of international folks, creating an enriching learning atmosphere. I vividly remember accounts of rice-fish farms in Bangladesh or pacu fisheries in Brazil being shared during class discussions. Furthermore, I have greatly benefited from utilizing and constantly improving my ‘academic’ English, which is an essential step in launching an internationally oriented career.
Hooked? You can find a very detailed overview of the M.Sc. Fish Biology, Fisheries and Aquaculture here. Apply today!