Doctoral Training Program

The GIGA Doctoral Training Programme is formed to complement PhD research projects. An educational curriculum is comprised of discipline-related courses and transferable skills training. Our aim is that all early stage researchers (ESRs) will be equipped with the right combination of research-related and transferable competencies for future careers in academia and industry. The educational curriculum and corresponding research training are built in accordance with the Principles for Innovative Doctoral Training in Europe1.

 

The educational and research training will provide a structural framework for acquiring and developing skills which will support their research and will also provide a valuable experience outside their discipline and the academic environment. The Training is organised in close cooperation with the ULiège and GIGA Doctoral School partner organisations. The training programme will consist of five packages that will be organised as follows:

Training Package 1. Crash Course “Start your PhD”

This training package will start immediately after the admission of the ESRs to the Doctoral School.  It will be 12 weeks long and will consist of courses on discipline-related and transferable skills.  It is an obligatory trajectory for all newly appointed ESRs. These 12 weeks will be used to provide advanced knowledge on a number of key disciplines and to introduce the ESRs to GIGA community as well as ongoing and planned research projects. The initial educational package provides a training on specialized biomedical courses, courses dedicated to essential methodology and some transferable skills. (Figure 1).  This trajectory will be taught following a common pedagogic methodology to provide a coherent educational ensemble combined with hands-on experience.

 

Graph1

Figure 1. Educational Package 1, "Start you PhD" 

 

Description of the courses:

Introduction/Orientation (Duration - 0.5 day). We start with welcoming new researchers to GIGA/ULiege, and an introduction to the institute and its thematic units. The ESRs will be asked to prepare a five-minute presentation about themselves to introduce themselves to the community. Additionally, team-building activities will be organised.


 

Ethics and research integrity (Duration - 0.5 day). Ethical challenges and norms for people who conduct scientific research will be discussed. In particularly following topics will be addressed: participation of humans and animals in research (ethical soundness, confidentiality, protection and informed consent), conducting research in a way that serves interests of individuals, groups, and society as a whole and a topic of research misconduct. ESRs will be informed about national regulations and requirements about research on animals. The contact information of persons at GIGA/ULiege responsible ethical questions will be provided. Open access publication policy will be discussed.


 

Experimental design (Duration - 1 day). The course will cover the topic of the preparation of an experiment. The ESRs will learn to ensure that the right type of data, sufficient samples size, and all necessary controls are available to answer the research questions of interest as clearly and efficiently as possible. Additionally, they will learn about the main considerations in the planning of a research experiment. What is the reproducibility of the results and how to ensure that? GIGA researchers will give examples of experimental design specific to their discipline.

 

Bioinformatics (Duration - 1 week). This course comprises two parts. The first will cover basic computer skills, Linux essentials and basic algorithms of programming languages. Some example of different programming languages will be given. The second part includes essentials of working with clusters. Additionally, initial knowledge of R and Python languages and their applications, data visualization principles and tools, and basics of working with big data will be taught.

 

Biostatistics (Duration - 1 week). Currently, more and more biological projects involve statistics and data manipulations. Most of the ESR, however, have a very limited knowledge on this subject. Our aim is not only to provide them with essential theoretical knowledge but to also provide hands-on projects to demonstrate the usage and necessity of such skills, including the discussion of common pitfalls.

 

Modern Biotechnologies (Duration - 1 week. GIGA technological platforms). Modern research largely relies on a variety of sophisticated techniques. GIGA comprises technological platforms covering the majority of modern methods in biology. Combined with complementary online tutorials on different technologies (provided by the GIGA platforms), this course will introduce the ESRs to the techniques offered by the GIGA technological platforms and the modus operandi of the common GIGA facilities. Following these tutorials and passing the examinations, will become compulsory before being given access to the specific facilities. The course will in particular focus on techniques available at GIGA and will be taught in collaboration with company representatives.

 

Reading a scientific article (Duration - 1 day). Reading and understanding research papers is a skill that every scientist has to learn. An eight hours course is designed to address this need and help inexperienced readers gain confidence navigating the contents of a research paper, understand it and make the first steps to critical appraisal.

 

Data analysis project (Duration - 3 weeks). The aim of this project is to teach students the main steps in data analysis. The first day of training package 1, the ESRs will be divided into three groups and each group will receive a project for statistical and bioinformatic data analysis. Building upon knowledge obtained in previous courses, the ESRs will need to complete a project under the supervision of GIGA researchers. The results of these projects will be presented in the form of a presentation and a small article (connected to Presentation skills and English writing courses).

 

English writing course (Duration - 1 day). This course aims to develop essential writing skills for effective scientific communication including the main steps of writing such as planning, drafting and revising. The course also highlights important questions and checklists of self- and peer review and give a short overview of reference programmes. The hands-on experience for writing consists in the generation of a report of the data analysis project that the students have completed.

 

Presentation skills (Duration - 0.5 days) The aim of this course is to master critical verbal and non-verbal skills in a hands-on learning environment with a focus on essential presentation techniques such as storytelling, effective use of visual aids and talk structure. The hands-on experience is based on a data analysis project presentation that students need to make in front of a broader scientific audience.

 

Discipline-related courses block (Duration - 5 weeks) This block includes disciplines that form the main lines of research at GIGA. The aim of this block is to further enhance the knowledge in these disciplines and to introduce ESRs to research areas at GIGA. It is also an effective way to get to know the GIGA researchers, which will help when deciding what laboratory to eventually join. These courses are designed using the same educational structure. Each course will start with the basics of the discipline introducing students to the main terms and definitions. This will follow by a steep learning curve going into more depth of the corresponding disciplines addressing the main current research challenges and questions and learning the main methodological approaches used in the field. Each course will include lectures, article discussions, presentations by ESRs and discussions with researchers. These courses are coordinated between each other to ensure a logical building line of knowledge and are supported by recommended literature and massive open online courses on the corresponding disciplines.

1. Genetics and genomics 

2. Immunology 

3. Oncology 

4. Neuroscience

5. Molecular pathology. Focus on cardiovascular diseases 

 

Managing your PhD (Duration - 2 days). A PhD is a huge undertaking that involves multiple forms of work, uncertainties, and changes. The aim of this course is to show ESR what it takes and what is needed to make such a project successful.

 

Training Package 2. Training through Research

ESRs will acquire scientific and technological knowledge through research. The overall research programme is described in “Research”.  After the last course of Training Package 1, the ESRs will have time for interactions with GIGA researchers to choose from one of the proposed broader research lines and laboratories. Once that is done, the ESRs together with the host laboratory will formulate a PhD project using a bottom-up approach to ensure active involvement of the ESRs from the beginning. A short summary of the final project needs to be presented to the GIGA Doctoral School prior to the beginning. ESR supervisors have been chosen based on their excellent track records in PhD training and research and their enthusiasm in hosting and training ESRs. All ESRs will be engaged in national and international collaborations through secondments and short training trips, defined by their personal needs for training and research. Care will be taken that all ESRs can achieve quality in their research and will complete their thesis within the 4-year time-frame.

Training Package 3. Transferable skills

Additionally, to courses on presentation skills, scientific writing and management offered in Training Package 1, ESRs will have other courses on transferable skills distributed throughout the remaining PhD period. This training will consist of obligatory courses for all ESRs and personalized training programs based on specific needs for each ESR. Courses on IP, patenting and licensing, grant writing, introduction to teaching, leadership courses, entrepreneurship courses and training for job interviews will be obligatory for all ESRs. Additionally, based on a personal development plan that will be revisited on a yearly basis, ESRs will have a possibility to choose useful courses from a wide menu of courses in transferable skills offered by ULiège (R&D department in particularly). These courses are offered every academic year. The catalogue of courses is available at https://www.ulg.ac.be/books/formations-transversales/. All ESRs will be encouraged to train and enhance acquired skills by organizing and participating in symposia, workshops, regular education curriculums, supervision of Master students and outreach activities.


 

IP, patenting and licensing (Duration - 1 day). IP and patenting are areas in which ESRs often lack essential knowledge. However, these topics are of key importance to industry and becoming of more importance to academic researchers starting from the early career stages. This course will provide ESRs with an overall understanding of intellectual property rights including but not limited to patents, main steps of patenting and licensing strategy.


 

Grant and proposal writing (Duration - 0.5 day). This workshop is a 4-hour session that provides an intensive introduction to grant writing. The main steps of proposal writing and common structure of the grants will be explained. The ESRs receive an overview of the main grants distributing organisations in Belgium and in Europe. In addition, the ESRs will benefit from the in-house GIGA Grants “GoGetERCs” initiative. The GoGetERCs meetings are open seminar forums aimed at assisting researchers to develop competitive research proposals, mainly targeting prestigious grants such as the European Research Council (ERC) program, Horizon 2020 calls, and other similar funding instruments. During these meetings, a speaker presents the ideas for a research project proposal and the project is critically assessed and the feedback is given by the colleagues.  

 

Communicating science (course of communication). This course will teach ESR the principles of journalistic nonfiction and communicating of scientific concepts and discoveries to the general public. ESRs will be explained how to make the scientist’s work more relatable, memorable and understandable but still accurately described. This course will be connected to a hands-on experience. The course will be taught synchronised with GIGA conferences. Each month, an internationally renowned researcher is invited to GIGA to present their research to a broader scientific community. After each talk, the ESRs will, in turn, be asked to write a “news and views” item about the speaker and his/her research topic. Feedback on the text will be given by a professional editor and common style and grammatical mistakes will be discussed within the groups. The final text will be published on the GIGA Doctoral School website and will serve to promote the School and GIGA.

Training Package 4. Doctoral school-wide events

As a part of research education, ESRs will be asked to take part in the GIGA scientific animation program. The GIGA animation program includes (i) an annual series of prestigious monthly seminars delivered by high profile scientists from around the world (organized on Friday afternoons and followed by social events), (ii) an annual “GIGA day” intended to inform the community about the latest GIGA research highlights, and (iii) non-overlapping thematic weekdays. The latter aims to harmonize and synchronize the scientific animation of the thematic units so that mingling and cross-fostering between researchers and ESRs of different thematic units are encouraged. Seminar programs are broadly advertised in advance within and outside GIGA to invite maximum participation. All ESRs will have a number of requirements regarding seminar assistance and participation.

 

 

References

1. https://euraxess.ec.europa.eu/sites/default/files/policy_library/principles_for_innovative_doctoral_training.pdf