Qualification Programme

The primary objective of this RTG is to train a new generation of young scientists that is ideally equipped to perform cutting-edge research at the intersection of basic research on emotional learning and memory and clinical research on disorders in which aberrant emotional learning and memory is central – in order to bridge basic and clinical research and to facilitate the translation from basic findings to clinical application. To this end, students in this RTG will undergo a highly interdisciplinary qualification programme, with a strong international orientation, that focusses on both bridging basic science and clinical research and on excellent training in state-of-the-art methods and tools.

The qualification programme will combine several elements, some of which are tailored to the individual background and interests of the individual students whereas others are directed at the group as whole and the network building among members of the RTG, including:

  • Training in general soft skills and professional skills
  • Good scientific practice, open science, and sustainable data management
  • Labrotations and Summer Schools
  • Lecture series
  • Clinically-oriented research seminars
  • Methods Academy

The specific constitution of this RTG, with PIs from different backgrounds (Clinical and Cognitive Psychology, Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience, Psychiatry, Pharmacology) that bring in a very broad range of methodological expertise (e.g. neuroimaging, cognitive modelling, clinical research, psychopharmacology), will be leveraged to provide a unique interdisciplinary qualification programme at the intersection of basic science and clinical application. Leading external experts as well as the specific expertise of the Mercator fellows will further contribute to the interdisciplinary training of the RTG. In addition, we will recruit PhD students with different educational backgrounds, in particular Psychology, Medicine, Neuroscience, Cognitive Science and related disciplines. Regular networking events and the continuous communication among the members of the RTG will ensure an interdisciplinary exchange that will be highly beneficial for the qualification of the individual students.

In addition to the training in general soft skills and specific key skills related to the topic of this RTG, a specific focus of the qualification programme is on training in state-of-the-art methods in Clinical and Experimental Psychology, Systems and Cognitive Neuroscience, and Biological Psychiatry as well as on principles of open, reproducible science. The thorough methodological training across traditional disciplines will not only enable students to tackle relevant research questions but will also foster the mutual understanding of basic science and more clinically-oriented researchers.

Another key feature of the qualification programme is its strong international orientation. Three internationally-leading experts, all based at the Donders Institute of Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour, agreed to contribute to the success of this RTG for its entire duration. In addition to the Mercator fellows, there will be regular visits by many other international experts who will be invited to give lectures or workshops. The broad international networks in which all of the PIs are embedded in as well as the regular participation of the students in international conferences and workshops will further ensure a strong international orientation of the qualification programme of this RTG. The interdisciplinary and international character of this RTG is also reflected in the supervision and mentoring concept. In general, the mentoring and supervision implemented in this RTG, in combination with regular progress reports, will balance the opportunities to develop scientific independence with the need to successfully complete an ambitious research project – and the doctoral thesis – within three years.

Together, this RTG will provide a unique training at the intersection of basic science on emotional learning and memory and clinical research on mental disorders related to aberrant emotional learning and memory. This qualification programme will provide an ideal basis for a career in academia. However, although we aim to train doctoral researchers for a future career in academia, we are fully aware that not all graduates will continue in research. The interdisciplinary training in the RTG and, in particular, its strong focus on methodological skills (e.g. programming, modelling, advanced data analysis) will make the PhD students of this RTG also highly competitive on the job market outside of academia. Potential professional avenues for doctoral researchers of this RTG are, for example, in data science, marketing, or clinical practice. The qualification programme and the mentoring in this RTG will explicitly take career pathways outside of academia into account and include specific elements that inform about and prepare for such alternative professional avenues.