Laughter, murmuring, jokes shouted across the courtyard, it was like a class excursion - and the event at Thurnau Castle was actually not entirely dissimilar. After a forced break of two years, it was the first real, face-to-face doctoral student meeting of SFB Microplastics of the University of Bayreuth. Almost 40 young scientists from a wide range of disciplines, all doing their doctorates under the umbrella of SFB 1357 at the University of Bayreuth, experienced three days full of input, entertainment, and, yes, a class trip feeling.

Responsible for the event - and the good atmosphere - were Dr. Melanie Pöhlmann and Dr. Hannes Imhof from the SFB 1357 office, and the doctoral student speakers Gerasimos Gkoutselis, doctoral student in mycology, and Eike Esders, doctoral student in micrometeorology. They put together an unusual programme for the doctoral students: Start-up founders, entrepreneurship professors, and a well-known ZDF presenter were among the speakers, besides a tour of the castle, a pub quiz, and the obligatory presentation of their own doctoral thesis.

"Of course, we have known each other for a long time, but the direct exchange of information and ideas, the personal conversation about the contents of the theses, that had been sorely missed. Here at Thurnau Castle, we were even able to discuss new cooperation opportunities," says Gerasimos Gkoutselis, PhD student spokesperson for SFB 1357. Moritz Lehmann, PhD student in theoretical physics, confirms this. He says his field is "very specialised", but nevertheless he regularly gets requests from other SFB doctoral students to do calculations. Both sides benefit from this: "You get input from all sides here." That includes external doctoral students like Stefan Rohrbach (microbiology) from Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Universität Hannover. He emphasises that "Everyone works on their sub-project, but here the interfaces become visible and new interfaces are added."

Super relevant!

Matthias Völkl completed his master's degree in Biotechnology at the University of Bayreuth, is currently doing his PhD on the effects of microplastics at the cellular level.

Prof. Dr. Eva Jakob and Prof. Dr. Matthias Baum from the University of Bayreuth, who gave the young scientists input on the topic of social entrepreneurship and founding. Dr. Jonas Schubert (founder of the skin protection start-up DEMAPURGE) and Dr. Sebastian Porkert (founder of ECOFARIO, which has developed an award-winning method for filtering microplastics from water) reported on how start-ups work.

The doctoral students also learn about cutting edge scientific communication from Max Kortmann and Sebastian Pohl from the Institute of Ecology at the University of Innsbruck. Last summer, they went on a trip to the Arctic to investigate microplastic pollution and its impact on the ecosystem - accompanying Dario Schwoerer from Switzerland on his media-effective journey. In Thurnau, they reported on their trip: on filtering melted snow and ice samples, on taking sediment samples, on seabird excrement - in order to be able to draw conclusions about the distribution of microplastics in animals and by animals , on the research side. But even regarding the media coverage, the had a lot to do on the trip and afterwards: They themselves blogged, spoke in podcasts after their return, and reported live on various sites and in social media.

Max Kortmann and Sebastian Pohl (Institute of Ecology at the University of Innsbruck)

Dirk Steffens, honorary doctor of the University of Bayreuth and well-known science journalist, presenter of the ZDF programme Terra X and, most recently, author for GEO, presents a completely different kind of scientific communication.

Don’t speak for the benefit of your colleagues, but for the people outside your bubble.

Dirk Steffens, honorary doctor of the University of Bayreuth, science journalist, presenter of the ZDF programme Terra X, and most recently author for GEO.

Steffens reports not only on the power of photos, but also on the use of understandable language: "Anyone who uses technical words has no idea. Don't speak for the benefit of your colleagues, but for the people outside your bubble." And about the advantages and disadvantages of cooperating with industrial or commercial groups, political consultancy, and the media impact of all this. "Share your enthusiasm for your subject. Tell people about how great the aspect of nature you are exploring really is. Allow your feelings to enter your narrative - the feelings you are supposed to suppress at university, they are allowed to come out when you go into the real world". With emotional words like this, Steffens showed his film clips and images to his critically questioning and honestly enthusiastic PhD student audience. He also discussed the text of his latest column, published on GEO a few days later, with the young scientists. The topic: Is plastic evil?

In fact, this is the context of all the doctoral theses currently being written at the SFB. The doctoral students reflect the breadth of the research field: hydrologists, ecotoxicologists, soil ecologists, micrometeorologists, animal ecologists, mycologists, chemists, polymer researchers, ecosystem researchers, bioprocess engineers, and physicists. "This diversity at the scientific level, and the team spirit, is a testament to our interdisciplinarity and the quality of our SFB," says Dr Melanie Pöhlmann. "That's why we aim to further intensify the exchange of ideas and experience among doctoral students," Dr Hanns Imhof announced. The next meeting is already scheduled.

Dr. Melanie Pöhlmann Office of the SFB 1357 Microplastics

University of Bayreuth
Universitätsstrasse 30
D- 95447 Bayreuth
Phone: +49 (0)921 / 55-2062

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