Last year, the PhD School at CEITEC Masaryk University celebrated its tenth anniversary and is currently open for registration. We asked its managers, Michaela Fajkusová and Irena Doubková, what the study involves and what the admission process looks like.
Why does a research institute that accepts “ready-made” PhD candidates from all over the world into its research groups have its own PhD school?
Michaela Fajkusová (MF): One of CEITEC's roles is to educate the next generation of scientists, which is why we founded the international doctoral school ten years ago. Its programme is based on the seven principles for innovative doctoral education set out by the European Commission and embodies a commitment to research excellence, an attractive institutional environment, interdisciplinary research opportunities, exposure to industry and companies, international networking, transferable skills training and quality assurance.
How can prospective students apply?
Irena Doubková (ID): Candidates must register for one of the topics listed and attach their CV and cover letter to their registration. Those who pass the first round of the admission procedure will then submit an electronic application via the MU information system. The application is accompanied by copies of diplomas, two letters of recommendation and a written statement from the supervisor that he/she approves of the candidate. After the applicants have paid the admission fee, they are invited to a second round, in which they summarise in front of the admissions committee of the doctoral programme their scientific achievements to date and explain what topic they want to pursue and why. The motivation of the applicants plays an important role. Both rounds can be conducted both in person and online – and in English, which is the official language of our PhD school.
This year's call for registration is already running on the website https://ls-phd.ceitec.cz until 19 February and if potential applicants would like to find out more information, they can register for an Info Session on the CEITEC website.
What happens after applicants are notified of their acceptance to study?
ID: The admission process is carried out in cooperation with the relevant faculties of Masaryk University. The students of our PhD school are enrolled for studies either at the Faculty of Science (Life Sciences programme) or the Faculty of Medicine (Molecular Medicine specialisation).
We take special care of students from abroad who can use the services of our Welcome Office under the guidance of Zdeňka Bártová. We plan with all of them the individual steps before and after their arrival in the Czech Republic, such as accommodation in the dormitories, a visit to the Asylum and Migration Office, a medical examination and opening a bank account. For students from non-EU countries, we send the necessary documents to apply for long-term residence.
MF: At the beginning of each academic year, we organise a Welcome and Info PhD Day for new students, during which they get all the information they need for their studies and informally get to know their senior colleagues and members of our PhD community.
What does a PhD student have to complete before getting a PhD degree?
MF: Students spend most of their studies on research and writing their dissertation. The publication of a first-authored article in a prestigious journal and an internship abroad is also a matter of course. We also place great emphasis on the development of soft skills, so that students take with them into their professional lives not only the ability to communicate fluently in English, but also the ability to present research results, write grant applications and collaborate with people from different cultures and disciplines. Of course, the same emphasis is placed on mastering laboratory techniques or data analysis.
What industries have your graduates found employment in?
MF: A large number of our graduates remain in academia, where they go on to postdoctoral positions and start their own research groups. A significant percentage of them head into the private sector, either for research positions or management, or even start their own company. We do not forget about these careers of our PhD students and regularly organise excursions to companies and inspirational lectures with successful PhD holders who have not pursued a traditional academic career.
What do you think is the greatest added value of your PhD school for its students?
MF: The fact that students can consult their project not only with their supervisor but also with other experts (including foreign ones), because already in the first year each student sets up a Thesis Advisory Committee, with which they regularly discuss their results and career plans and receive valuable feedback from its members. This mentoring concept is used at many prestigious institutes abroad, but is not yet common in the Czech Republic.
What kind of financial reward do you offer to students?
ID: PhD students currently receive a guaranteed scholarship of CZK 22,000, which increases by CZK 1,000 with each successful year. We also support them through grant schemes such as the Brno PhD Talent or the Jaroslav Koča Bridge Fund, which finances interdisciplinary projects. Students are also rewarded for publications or for presentations at international conferences. In addition, they can receive special rewards for active work in the CEITEC PhD Committee and we also help them to seek nominations for various awards. There are a lot of possibilities.
What are your plans for the future development of the PhD school?
MF: We have a great advantage in that we can consult the future of the school with our international strategic partners EU Life, Alliance4Life, PRIDE Network and learn from experienced colleagues. After all, we were inspired by prestigious institutes such as Cambridge University, ETH Zurich, EMBL and Stanford University when we founded the school. And we travel abroad for inspiration all the time. For example, at the end of the year I spent a few days at the EMBL Institute in Heidelberg, where I brought back inspiration for PhD programme management, PhD student development and other initiatives that we want to implement at CEITEC MUNI. Moreover, we see a great challenge in working with alumni, who are the best advertisement of our PhD school.