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IMPRS for Language Sciences Celebrates Its 50th Doctoral Defense

The International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) for Language Sciences, initiated in 2009, continues to enrich the research programmes of its doctoral students. On April 13th, Franziska Hartung will defend her thesis, becoming the 50th graduate of the IMPRS.
IMPRS for Language Sciences Celebrates Its 50th Doctoral Defense

IMPRS for Language Sciences is a joint initiative of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics (MPI) and two partner institutes, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour and Centre for Language Studies, based at Radboud University Nijmegen. Since the start of the IMPRS, 162 students with 30 different nationalities have enrolled in the school. Its most recent cohort is made up of 27 PhD students representing 15 nationalities. Through its diverse curricular offerings, the IMPRS strengthens not only the intellectual foundations of the students' respective fields but also broadens their perspectives of the language sciences.

“Our vision was to open doors, open labs, enable interdisciplinary research in the language sciences…”

The IMPRS is an initiative to attract highly qualified international candidates by offering them a curriculum provided by four faculties. “Our vision was to open doors, open labs, make it possible for research to be question-driven, wherever the trail leads. And then it’s up to the student and their supervisors to rein back if necessary!” says Steve Levinson, founding MPI Managing Director of the graduate school.

Its interdisciplinary curriculum became a defining feature of the IMPRS.  “It’s probably the only place in the world where you could, in principle, take and choose from so many disciplines for a PhD career in the language sciences. There are many people whose projects couldn’t have happened anywhere else,” Levinson says. Els den Os, who coordinated the IMPRS from 2009 until 2016, explains that “PhD candidates from different research areas were put together and could also learn from each other.” Furthermore, students gain skills in interdisciplinary literacy. “People should be able to read research papers in another discipline and understand them,” Levinson adds.

According to Levinson, students need a gentle push to explore the boundaries of the language sciences, but on the other hand, they have to get on with their project in a time-limited fashion. To this end, the IMPRS implemented a checkpoint system to monitor the progress of its students. “The system was instrumental in checking the progress of the projects and we also listened closely to the needs of our students.”

IMPRS helps PhDs succeed both during and after their studies

The IMPRS core curriculum offers its students workshops and courses in a wide range of topics. According to Franziska Hartung, currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania, this prepares students for their post-graduate life by gaining transferable soft and meta-skills such as academic writing or project management. “Compared to other people, I feel better prepared; you learn to work in a highly professional manner,” says Hartung. "The IMPRS helps students gain a broad scientific understanding and assess the current and future trends in science as well."

Next to the diverse scientific training opportunities, “the IMPRS is also meant to help the great number of international PhD candidates feel at home by helping them with all kinds of practical issues and by organizing social events like Theme Evenings,” says Den Os. Hartung adds that the independent project-focused work can cause isolation and that “IMPRS keeps you connected to a community of extremely inspiring people.”

IMPRS has come a long way since 2009                         

Organized by IMPRS students, the international workshop Perspectives on the ontogeny of mutual understanding and an event for the lay public The Nijmeegse Taalmiddag have each been an immense success. Importantly, these efforts demonstrate the IMPRS commitment to reach out to the scientific and lay audience. Furthermore, the IMPRS regularly organizes several special enrichment activities for its students, including preparation sessions for the yearly Nijmegen Lectures. Plans are underway to host an alumni career event in 2017 and another international workshop in 2018. The former underscores the commitment to maintain lasting relations with IMPRS alumni.

  • As the IMPRS prepares to celebrate its 50th graduate, we welcome you to partake in this achievement. Hartung’s public defense takes place tomorrow at 10:30 AM at the Aula of Radboud University Nijmegen. You can find more information on her research project in this related news item.
  • For more information on the IMPRS, see here.

This piece was written by Tulya Kavaklioglu (Language & Genetics Department), current IMPRS student in Cohort 2014.

About MPI

This is the MPI

The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

The institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University. We participate in the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and have particularly close ties to that institute's Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. We also participate in the Centre for Language Studies. A joint graduate school, the IMPRS in Language Sciences, links the Donders Institute, the CLS and the MPI.


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