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HEIBRiDS – the new graduate school for data science

The Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) is one of six Helmholtz Centres that has joined forces with the Helmholtz Association, the Einstein Center Digital Future, and Berlin’s universities to create a new PhD program in data science. The international graduate school HEIBRiDS will receive €6 million in funding.

Berlin will soon be home to a new research institution in the field of digitalization: The Helmholtz Association has awarded a €6 million grant for the launch of a new international graduate school – the Helmholtz Einstein International Research School on Data Science, or HEIBRiDS. It is a six-year cooperation project between the Einstein Center Digital Future (ECDF), Berlin’s universities, and the six Helmholtz Centres based in the Berlin metropolitan area. Up-and-coming data scientists will be trained at HEIBRiDS using a new educational model. The talented PhD candidates will acquire special expertise in information technologies and another scientific field.

An official launch event will be held in October 2017. The graduate school is scheduled to open on January 1, 2018.

Diverse expertise, optimal training

The HEIBRiDS graduate school will draw on the participating institutions’ scientific expertise, which spans a wide range of disciplines. The Helmholtz Centres involved have world-class researchers in the fields of medicine, transportation, earth sciences, and climate research. The Einstein Center Digital Future (ECDF) conducts research on the core technologies of digitalization, from digital health to digital industries to digital humanities, and will eventually consist of more than 50 new professorships, which will be appointed by Berlin’s universities. As a result, HEIBRiDS enjoys a unique environment that enables the investigation of digitalization’s core methods, algorithms, and processes from various perspectives as well as the flow of knowledge between various disciplines.

The graduate school will offer at least 25 doctoral students four years of optimal training in data science. The program, by virtue of being organized across several locations, can be expanded to include additional educational offerings thanks to the existing synergies. Future doctoral students will therefore receive efficiently structured, interdisciplinary training at the highest level, while also taking advantage of a stimulating and networked educational and research environment.

A research school in Berlin – later in locations across Germany

“In mid-September the Helmholtz Association’s members had the idea to develop a Helmholtz Information and Data Science Academy,” says Otmar D. Wiestler, president of the Helmholtz Association. “The plan is to anchor this academy in regional research schools, which we will establish at several locations throughout Germany in collaboration with local universities. Our goal is to train doctoral students at these schools using a new model. HEIBRiDS in Berlin, whose exceptional quality and enormous future potential have been attested to by international experts, marks the debut of a prototype of these schools.”

The Governing Mayor of Berlin Michael Müller: “Our digital agenda has a clear goal: to make Berlin the leading location for digitalization research. The new graduate school taps into the huge potential of our research base and will further strengthen its dynamics. This is yet another example of the power of Berlin’s collaborations.”

“HEIBRiDS aims to provide doctoral students with training at the intersection of computer science and other disciplines. The participating institutions pursue the common goal of educating doctoral students in the field of data science and providing them with a deep scientific understanding of the complex relations between specialized expertise, algorithmic skills, and application-oriented methodologies. The educational program offers the doctoral students individually tailored curricula in order to provide them with the required skills and knowledge,” says Prof. Odej Kao, spokesperson of the ECDF’s executive board.

Interdisciplinary PhD topics

The PhD topics will be drawn from the research focus areas: imaging, machine learning, modeling, new hardware concepts, visualization, and sequencing. The interdisciplinary research topics will be formulated and supported by supervisor teams consisting of two professors, one representative from the Helmholtz Association and one from the ECDF. The topics as well as the applicants will be chosen in a competitive international selection process. The students will submit their PhD theses to one of Berlin’s universities, which are closely connected to the ECDF through their professors.

The participating institutions are the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC); the Alfred Wegener Institute, the Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI); the German Electron Synchrotron (DESY); the German Aerospace Center (DLR); the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam – GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences; the Helmholtz Centre Berlin for Materials and Energy (HZB) as well as Technische Universität Berlin, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Berlin University of the Arts.

MDC systems biologist Uwe Ohler to take the helm

HEIBRiDS will be jointly led by Prof. Uwe Ohler (MDC and HU Berlin), representing the Helmholtz Association, and by Prof. Odej Kao (TU Berlin) and Prof. Johann-Christoph Freytag (HU Berlin), representing the ECDF. They are supported by the steering committee made up of representatives from the participating Helmholtz Centres and universities as well as by an international scientific advisory board with expertise in the research focus areas.

The €6 million grant comes from the president of the Helmholtz Association’s Initiative and Networking Fund. The participating institutions will also provide significant amounts of financial support.

The Helmholtz Association sees digital information processing as one of the central challenges facing society and has defined it as a research focus area for the coming years. Grants from the Initiative and Networking Fund have also helped launch other projects such as the Information and Data Science incubator, which seeks to intelligently pool the diverse expertise within the Helmholtz Centres and to further strengthen the role of the Helmholtz Association as a driving force for innovation in information and data science. Providing excellent training and support to talented young researchers plays an important part in this initiative.

Profiles of the participating institutions

The Helmholtz Association contributes to solving major challenges facing society, science and the economy through top-level scientific achievements in six research areas: Energy, Earth and Environment, Health, Key Technologies, Matter, and Aeronautics, Space and Transport. With approximately 38,000 employees at 18 research centers and an annual budget of more than €4 billion, the Helmholtz Association is the largest scientific organization in Germany. Its work is rooted in the tradition of the great natural scientist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821–1894).

The Einstein Center Digital Future (ECDF) is public-private partnership involving more than 25 companies, eight non-university research institutions, and the Berlin Senate Chancellery – Higher Education and Research. The ECDF is funded by the Einstein Foundation Berlin. Its aim is to establish 50 new professorships, mostly junior professorships and junior research group leaders, at Berlin’s universities and at Beuth University of Applied Sciences Berlin and HTW Berlin – University of Applied Sciences. The ECDF has issued calls for applicants for more than 30 of these new professorships, and recruitment is still underway to fill these positions. The ECDF has already filled four professorships, and will fill another approximately 15 professorships during the 2017/18 winter semester.