The participants at the PhD Symposium 2023 of the SFB Microplastics in Waischenfeld

Nestled in Franconian Switzerland, in the middle of the Bayreuth-Erlangen-Bamberg city triangle, lies picturesque Waischenfeld with the Fraunhofer Research Campus . A little away from all three places, but also away from anything that could distract. At the time, the founders deliberately chose this location as a place for "contemplation and reflection on scientific networking", says Angelika Schmidt, team leader of the Waischenfeld Research Campus. The seclusion was also deliberately chosen for this year's PhD Symposium of the SFB 1357 Microplastics at the University of Bayreuth. Getting together, getting to know each other, exchanging ideas and simply spending time together away from the daily university routine: on a short hike to Waischenfeld Castle, playing boules or billiards, or sitting and talking together around the fireplace.

The Waischenfeld Research Campus of the Fraunhofer Institute

"The aim is for everyone - the newcomers and those who have been here for a while - to get to know each other or meet again, and to break down inhibitions about informing and supporting each other's research work," says Eike Esders, one of the organisers and former PhD student spokesperson for SFB 1357.

In Waischenfeld, about 40 doctoral students of the interdisciplinary Collaborative Research Centre met for the first time at the beginning of the second funding period to get to know the other research teams and their contents, to exchange ideas and to explore possible synergies and cooperations. SFB spokesperson Professor Christian Laforsch opened this year's PhD Symposium. His report on what has been achieved so far and his positive outlook gave the starting signal for the next stage of the Collaborative Research Centre.

PICO-Sessions open the interactive part

I got to know and appreciate the concept of PICO sessions this year at the European Geoscience Union conference in Vienna," says Eike Esders, "and I wanted to try it here too." PICO ("Presenting Interactive Content") session is a relatively new format where a 1 to 2 minute presentation on the key messages of the research is followed by a longer exchange with detailed information and answering of questions in a smaller, interactive setting between the presenters and interested conference participants.

"Especially the discussion round after a usual, more detailed lecture quickly leads to a pure expert talk of individuals, while others do not dare to participate. This is broken up by this form of rapid alternation between presentation and direct discussion," Eike Esders continues.

Doctoral student spokesperson Eike Esders in conversation with Ashank Updadhyay.

All projects from the project areas, each covering a specific research aspect in the topic area of microplastics, were presented in three blocks. The SFB is divided into the following project areas: A: Biological effects
B: Behaviour and migration in and between environmental compartments
C: Degradation of plastics in natural and technical systems and the development of new solutions and
S: Prediction of toxicity and assessment of environmental risk of microplastic particles based on their properties.

The researchers come from a wide range of disciplines, including biochemistry, biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, information technology and many more. After a third of the short presentations, there was a round of discussions at project tables, where the participants exchanged ideas with the project representatives who were of interest and relevance to them and explored initial synergies and collaborations. "After this presentation, it is easier to address and question someone directly than in a large plenary, and new ideas have emerged for me and I have come across new techniques," says Anika Mauel from project C01 "Ageing and degradation of microplastics".

Awards as a career boost

One focus of this symposium was also on applying for awards and prizes for one's own research. Three speakers could be won for this, who illuminated the topic from different perspectives. The first speaker was Dr. Mirjam Horn-Schott, Research Officer at the Research Funding Service Office of the University of Bayreuth. She emphasised that not only the doctoral thesis itself, but also the sustainable use of this work is important for further career steps. Applying for science prizes is a great tool for communicating one's own methods and results and making them visible in and outside the scientific world. She showed the different motivations for applying and approaches to selecting and applying for various prizes, both those of the University of Bayreuth and those of external funding bodies.

The second day with good-humoured participants started with a lecture by Dr. Manuel Häußler, winner of the German Study Award 2022 of the Körber Foundation for the development of a recyclable plastic. Dr Häußler is a junior research group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam and project leader of a transfer project at the University of Konstanz. He was invited by the PhD speakers to talk about his personal experiences as a winner of the prestigious prize. In addition to his research, he explained in particular the preparation for and the presentation itself in front of a jury. He also forcefully demonstrated the impact of the win on his career and on him personally and appealed to the audience not to miss any "chance for such a developmental boost". Apart from the financial contribution, the media and consequently the broad public interest was enormous. There were invitations to several interviews and events, which again led to new contacts. The lively discussion afterwards showed the great interest in the research and the person who made such a sustainable and groundbreaking project possible. This resulted in points of contact for possible future cooperation.

From left to right: PhD student spokesperson Eike Esders, Dr Jasmin Herr (GDCh), new PhD student spokesperson Simon Wieland, Dr Melanie Pöhlmann (SFB office), Dr Manuel Häußler (MPI Potsdam), Dr Mirjam Horn-Schott (UBT)

In the second lecture, Dr. Jasmin Herr, management officer of the German Chemical Society (GDCh) and responsible for awards and foundations of the GDCh, explained the many possibilities and opportunities to apply for awards of her organisation: The range extends from the Master's thesis to the appreciation of special merits in the individual disciplines (lifetime achievement). Jasmin Herr explained the process from choosing the right award, to the individual preparation of the application documents, to the selection and awarding by a committee. It was also important for her to describe the positive consequences for award winners: the visibility for colleagues and the scientific world, but also the resulting career opportunities. In the workshop, the participants were then able to research and select which potential prizes would be suitable for them as a group or individually, and which ones they should actively pursue for an application.

This year's PhD student meeting of the SFB Microplastics ended with the election of the new PhD student spokespersons. Johanna Fritsche (Project A05: "Effects of microplastic particle uptake at the cellular level and in tissues") and Simon Wieland (Project A04: "Cellular uptake of microparticles depending on elementary particle properties") were appointed.

Julian Brehm from project A01 ("Effects of microplastics on aquatic model macrofauna depending on particle properties: comparison of microplastics to natural particles") summarises the two days as follows: "With regard to our research and for publications, cooperations are more than helpful and therefore this meeting on two highly compressed days here in Waischenfeld was essential for us. It showed us that we bring together good projects with good people in the Collaborative Research Centre Microplastics."

Andreas Dietl

Andreas DietlPublic Relations and Knowledge Transfer Officer

Tel: +49 (0) 921-55-2065 


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