Helmholtz Institute

Training

PhD teaching programme

The aim of the Helmholtz training program is to offer a truly multi-disciplinary training in the study of information processing in intact and damaged biological nervous systems. This includes the study of sensation, perception, memory, emotion, motor control, and perceptual-motor integration. It is important to realize that all these parts are closely related to each other. Motor systems can aid perception by serving as a vehicle for active exploration of the environment, such as during manual exploration of an object. Motor systems, however, may also deteriorate sensory information and thus interfere with perception. Until recently, motor control and perception were studied in isolation. Now, this traditional division is on its decline, the aim of the school is to study input systems, cognitive systems, and output systems in an integrated manner. The training aims at promoting a multidisciplinary approach to scientific issues, easy cooperation and communication between students trained in different disciplines, awareness of where to find various kinds of expertise and how to profit from a multidisciplinary environment.

The educational program is compulsory for all PhD students. The training in the Helmholtz school serves a triple purpose

  • Broadening of knowledge of biological information processing systems in general.
  • Deepening of knowledge in the field of the PhD study.
  • Acquiring skills for the presentation of scientific results.

The School is responsible for a number of teaching activities. First, the content and teaching method of the selected PhD courses are the responsibility of the School. Second, the School organises three PhD days per annum in which students are introduced to the work and methods of the hosting group and subsequently a number of students present their own work. Third, each year the School organises a lecture series and students are expected to attend all lectures. For each lecture, three or four PhD students are selected who have to read a number of recent papers of the speaker and prepare questions. On the day itself they are invited to have lunch with the guest. Fourth, once every two years, the Helmholtz School organises a retreat. All staff members and PhD students are invited for a two day stay in a seaside hotel. An important aim is to provide PhD students with a relatively protected environment for learning how to present a paper. Over the years we have developed a format in which a number of group leaders introduce a research area with a focus on the important research questions and methods. Subsequently, PhD students present their own work. The adVantage of this format is that PhD students from different research disciplines can still understand one another. Starting from 2004 we have obtained funding from NWO to organize NWO Summerschools.

The training program covers vision and hearing as well as haptic, vestibular, proprioceptive and chemical sensory systems. These sensory systems are the major suppliers of information enabling human beings to gain knowledge about their environment. Cognitive and motor systems are subsequently engaged to process information and to react in the real world. Specific knowledge, skills and techniques with respect to the different parts are brought together in the program. This involves techniques from computer vision, image processing, visualisation as well as from psychophysics, electrophysiology, (neuro)psychology and neural networks.

At the completion of the curriculum the following goals should have been reached

  • The students are able to formulate research problems, conduct scientific research and participate in the scientific community on an internationally accepted level. This should be evident from their work as condensed in a thesis. Requirements are in accordance with the general requirements for the PhD degree at Dutch universities.
  • The students possess a general overview of the field and are ready to start fundamental research or engineering projects on a variety of subjects after a reasonable period of preparation.
  • The students are able to communicate and collaborate with scientists from various disciplines that overlap the field. A physicist should be able to formulate research questions of biological and psychological releVance and vice versa. The students are able to appreciate literature from various disciplines.
  • Physicists, mathematicians, psychologists, biologists and medical biologists have their specific expertise: the interdisciplinary nature of the training program should not mark the students as too specialized to apply for regular jobs in their original discipline.
  • The students should be able to communicate colloquially and by way of publications in internationally acceptable English.

In 2010-2011 we have restructured the Helmholtz Programme to better fit into the new Graduate School system, and to reflect changes in participating research groups. The programme is now incorporated in the Cognition and Behaviour PhD programme of the Graduate school of Life Sciences at Utrecht University, organized by the Helmholtz Research School. The content of the old and restructured programmes are essentially the same, yet students that participate in the Cognition and Behaviour programme are required to complete 20 EC, whereas the 2009 programme embodied 30 EC with more options to include workshops. As before, the programme consists of 4 different types of:

  1. Helmholtz PhD Programme Courses (min. 8 EC or 40%) (see below for a list of Helmholtz courses): General PhD training + coursesObligatory for all PhD students: General Helmholtz PhD Training: 6 EC

    This consists of

    • Attendance of the NCU research days
    • Participation in the bi-annual Helmholtz Retraite
    • Regular attendance of the Helmholtz Lectures, where guest researchers will present their work. A small number of PhD students can actively participate during the ‘PhD student lunch’ with these researchers;
    • Regular attendance of at least one of the regular lab meetings, organized by most of the participant research groups.
  2. General courses (min. 4 EC or 20%)
    These are courses in general professional skills such as written and oral communication, statistics, methods, project management, teaching, clinical training, certificate training, NWO talentclasses etc. A selection of such courses can be found on the website of the Graduate school of Life Sciences.
  3. Conferences and Summerschools (max. 4 EC or 20%)
    In concurrence with the supervisor, each PhD student is supposed to participate actively in one or more international conferences in a relevant field of science, or participate in summerschools. One conference yields 1 EC.
  4. Other Training
    Any course at graduate level that is deemed suitable by the student and supervisor can be included in the curriculum.

At the time the thesis is sent to the thesis committee, a list with completed courses is send to the Programme Coordinator, who determines whether the training program has been successfully completed. A successfully completed training program will be rewarded with the certificate of the Helmholtz school, or Graduate School Programme, to be issued together with the doctor’s degree.

The different categories of the curriculum will be rewarded with EC. One EC is equivalent to 28 hours of study. When not specified the programme coordinator establishes the number of EC for each individual course.

Helmholtz programme courses:

Test Students will be assessed on their participation in the interactive lectures and on the assignments. Grades will be in the form of pass/fail.

Title Sensory Systems
Coordination Dr. Chris paffen
Teachers Dr. Chris paffen, local experts
Basic knowledge Basic Neuroscience and Cognition
ECTS 2
Form morning sessions: interactive lectures, assignments, experiments and presentations
Duration 5 days spread over two weeks, plus preparation and assignments
Place/time/freq Bi-annually (starting October 2010)
Test Students will be assessed on their participation in the interactive lectures and on the assignments. Grades will be in the form of pass/fail.
Literature Topic-specific handouts
Helmholtz experts will give highly interactive lectures, which will provide the students with an opportunity to increase their knowledge on specific sensory systems, with an emphasis on learning to recognize what different sensory systems have in common. This knowledge will be used in the different assignments.

Title Motor Systems
Coordination Prof. dr. Chris Dijkerman
Teachers Prof. dr. Chris Dijkerman, local experts
Basic knowledge participants are expected to be familiar with basic concepts of neurophysiology, muscle physiology, systems theory, and some classical mechanics
ECTS 2
Form morning sessions: lectures, afternoon sessions: simulation studies/experiments
Duration 5 days spread over two weeks, plus preparation and assignments
Place/time/freq Bi-annually (starting fall 2011)
Test Students will be assessed on their participation in the interactive lectures and on the assignments. Grades will be in the form of pass/fail.
Literature Topic-specific handouts
The course covers principles of motor control through a detailed discussion of a number of well worked out examples of motor activity such as looking, speaking, grasping and visuo-motor control.

Title Cognitive Neuropsychology
Coordination Prof. dr. Albert Postma
Teachers Prof. dr. Albert Postma, local experts
Basic knowledge Basic Neuroscience and Cognition
ECTS 2
Form morning sessions: lectures, afternoon sessions: assignments, experiments and presentations
Duration 5 days spread over two weeks, plus preparation and assignments
Place/time/freq Bi-annually (starting spring 2011)
Test Students will be assessed on their participation in the interactive lectures and on the assignments. Grades will be in the form of pass/fail.
Literature Topic-specific handouts
Cognitive Neuropsychology gives invaluable insights in how the human mind works and forms an indispensable instrument in modern Cognitive Neuroscience toolbox. The course spans 5 full days of lectures and practical work, in which cognitive neuropsychology research examples and methods are discussed and students have to do a number of practical research and writing assignments, including setting up and trying out their own cognitive neuropsychology experiment. Senior cognitive neuropsychologists give lectures and supervision.

Title Affective Neuroscience
Coordination Prof.dr. Jack van Honk
Teachers Prof.dr. Jack van Honk, local experts
Basic knowledge Basic Neuroscience and Cognition
ECTS 2
Form morning sessions: lectures, afternoon sessions: assignments, experiments and presentations
Duration 5 days spread over two weeks, plus preparation and assignments
Place/time/freq Bi-annually (starting spring 2012)
Test Students will be assessed on their participation in the interactive lectures and on the assignments. Grades will be in the form of pass/fail.
Literature Topic-specific handouts
The course covers principles and research in affective neuroscience.

Title Linear Systems Analysis
Coordination Prof.dr. M.A. Frens (Neuroscience, Erasmus MC)
Teachers Prof.dr. M.A. Frens, dr. I.Th.C. Hooge
Basic knowledge Participants are expected to be familiar with high school algebra
ECTS 2
Form morning sessions: lectures; afternoon sessions: exercises and simulations
Duration 3 days plus preparation and assignments
Place/time/freq Rotterdam/ Anually (winter)
Test to be announced
Literature D.A. Robinson: Systems Analysis in Oculomotor Control Systems
This course teaches the basic concepts of linear systems analysis, applied to neurosciences. The main topics are: differential equations, Fourier analysis, Laplace analysis, filtering, and feedback. Examples that are used will stem from neuro-physiology and psychophysics, but also from the daily routine of measuring and analyzing experimental data.
Our main goal is to help students without an extensive mathematical background overcome a fear for a quantitative approach of problems, and to show more theoretically oriented students the applications of systems analysis in biological control systems. We will make an effort to keep the course material in relation to daily experimental problems.

Title Helmholtz Incidental Courses
Teachers Different every year, contact the programme coordinator for details
ECTS 1-2

Title Helmholtz Journal Club
Teachers Serge DuMoulin, Chris Paffen, other research staff
ECTS 1 ECTS per year of participation, maximum of 2 ECTS
Place/time/freq Bi-weekly
Bi-weekly discussion and presentation of recent research papers.