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Photo: Jens Willebrand

“The density of first-class research facilities in Cologne and the Rhineland is exceptional!”

If there were a single train line linking all research hot spots in Aachen, Bonn, Cologne and Jülich, it would have to be called the “Train of Excellence”. All these research locations can easily be reached within half an hour by public transport from Cologne. It is also referred to as the ABC/Jülich region (using each of the cities’ first letters) to describe a region whose density of important universities, research centers and clusters is exceptional.

Excellent non-university research centres such as the Max Planck Institutes (MPI), the Helmholtz research centres, the Leibniz Association or the Fraunhofer Society Institutes in and around Cologne work in close cooperation with the region’s universities such as the RWTH Aachen and the universities in Bonn, Düsseldorf and Cologne. This dense network offers great research opportunities for young academics. The Research Alliance Cologne (RAC) is a research association of non-university research institutions working closely with the University of Cologne in order to foster greater research opportunities for its young academics. Besides fostering a joint strategic development, the Alliance works on new projects – facilities that can be used by all young academics and graduate study programmes in the future to further individual research careers. Doctoral degrees are conferred by the universities and often professors hold positions in both, university and non-university research centres, such as in the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Cologne.

Fadi carries out his reseach at the Forschungszentrum Jülich | Photo: Private

Many students from non-university centres joined a summer BBQ for international doctoral candidates at the University of Cologne. “I think this is a unique opportunity in Germany for young scientists to work that close on societal matters at a research centre and a top-notch university at the same time,” says Fadi, who did his Master at the MPI in cooperation with the University of Cologne’s Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences and is now carrying out his doctoral research at Forschungszentrum Jülich. “I came from Syria to Cologne in 2010 and have not regretted my decision since. After taking German classes I started working at McDonald’s and Deutsche Post to finance my studies in Cologne. During my studies I was lucky enough to get a job at the Institute of Radiochemistry and Experimental Molecular Imaging (IREMB) at the University Hospital Cologne to earn some money to help me finance my daily expenses. My professor at the University of Cologne is also a researcher at Forschungszentrum Jülich which is a tremendous advantage. When I finished my Masters degree he suggested that I should do my doctorate under his supervision at the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Nuclear Chemistry (INM-5) in Jülich.”

Max-Planck-Institut for Biology of Aging and the CECAD Research Centre on one Campus | Photo: Patric Fouad

There are several MPIs for various research areas in and around Cologne. “Before coming to Cologne, I wasn’t aware that MPI was not one single institute, but many,” says Gabriel. The American talent from the Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute in California is currently enrolled at the University of Cologne to do his doctoral degree at the MPI for Aging Research. The MPI is situated right next to the UoC campus and works in close cooperation with the university’s Cluster of Excellence in Aging Research (CECAD).  “Cologne is an international hub for aging research and I am grateful to be here to do my PhD programme.”  To the question what he likes about working in a German research group, he answers: “The German hyper-efficiency stuns me every day. My aim is to become a hyper-efficient scientist working here,” he adds with a playful grin.

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First-class research at CECAD. Interdisciplinary research on aging-associated diseases.
Photo: Patric Fouad

Felix from the University of Amsterdam is also working at the MPI as an intern. “I am doing a seven-month research internship at the MPI for Aging Research and I love the international culture and the inspiring work environment in the research group.” His aim is to finish his Master in Biomedical Sciences in the Netherlands after the internship and to start his doctoral programme at the MPI in cooperation with the University of Cologne. “For me, aging research gives us the opportunity to live longer in good health, and ‘opportunity’ is the keyword here.  Many opportunities arise suddenly when you aspire to live longer in good health. If you love your job, you can work longer and if you want to enjoy your sunset years with leisure activities, you may also do so in better mental and physical conditions. It is great to be part of this research and to work towards a healthier future!”

Another young researcher from the Netherlands, Thirza, joined the conversation about the research hub in the Rhineland. Thirza is doing her doctoral degree at the Transregional Collaborative Research Centre on Patterns in Soil-Vegetation-Atmosphere-Systems. This research centre is a joint cooperation between the RWTH Aachen, the University of Bonn and the Helmholtz Research Centre in Jülich. “It is very exciting to be part of this buzzing and humming hub of research here in Cologne. I am enrolled at the Graduate School of the collaborative research centre and at the Graduate School of Geological Sciences of the University of Cologne at the same time. This gives me the unique opportunity to benefit from all offers needed to carry out excellent research. When I have had enough research for one day, I meet new people on campus or play music in the university orchestra. I enjoy the variety and the freedom of being a researcher here.”