Vignesh Sakthivelu speaks about research and his pursuit of the neurosciences in Germany.

There is a huge exodus of Indian students each year to dream destinations such as the U.S., U.K. and other English-speaking countries. However, the popularity of studying in European countries such as Germany, France, Sweden and Switzerland is also on the rise. There are more than 300 universities in Germany alone which provide foreign students a platform for pursuing higher education and research.

Support structure

Research in Germany is well structured and organised so that one can finish a doctoral degree within 3-4 years. There are fellowships offered by the DAAD, Humboldt and Helmholtz to support foreign students pursuing research. Regular group meetings and departmental presentations, lectures by Nobel laureates and famous scientists help the students grow intellectually and become independent scientists. More specifically, the German systems of a well-defined research structure gives space and opportunities to every individual for arguing and discussing specific research problems and arriving at plausible and logical solutions. Unlike India, in Germany collective, systemic practical knowledge is highly favoured over theoretical practices. To put things simply, in Germany, research is mainly teamwork.

I chose Germany to pursue my Ph.D. for these reasons and more. After completing my master's in Biotechnology I worked briefly on a project that investigated proteins involved in Neurodegeneration at the Central Leather Research Institute, Chennai. I also started exploring possibilities of higher studies abroad. On account of my deep-rooted interest in neuroscience, I contacted my future Ph.D. mentor, Prof. Dr. Jörg Tatzelt, who was based in the University of Munich (LMU), Germany, and was formally accepted into the research programme on a DAAD fellowship.

Journey in neuroscience

Thus began my adventurous journey into the field of neuroscience. After earning my doctorate, I shifted my base to the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Tübingen to continue my pursuits in neuroscience. Under the guidance of Prof. Dr. Manuela Neumann, my current research focuses on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and fronto-temporal lobar degeneration (FTLD), two deadly neurological diseases that affect humans. My long-term goal is to understand the basic biological functions of the human brain, which in turn will further advance finding new cures for neurological disorders.

There are also a few non-academic reasons for heading to Germany. To start with, I can vouch that Germany is among the most beautiful and the safest places to stay in Europe. Exploring and understanding the culture is necessary if one plans to pursue higher studies here. In several respects, the culture is well known for its unique language, dress, working style, thinking, sports, festivals, careful planning and most importantly, punctuality. Germans are beer lovers and produce varied kinds of beer and alcoholic beverages in different parts of the country. Oktoberfest is a popular beer festival celebrated in Munich every year in which over six million people around the world participate and drink more than seven million litres of beer in two weeks. Pork is consumed and preferred over other types of meat in Germany. Grilled or fried sausages such as Weißwurst and Bratwurst are usually eaten and complemented with a big mug of chilled beer. Germans are famous for some of the finest and delicious varieties of bread, cookie and cakes with fresh fruits, the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (black forest cake) being the best example. Bread is usually eaten for breakfast and the German bakeries produce more than 600 types of bread. Sports is an integral part of the German culture.

Apart from football, hockey, motor race, swimming, and skiing in the Alps are popular. Although cricket is not favoured over football, Germany has a national cricket team and more than 50 professional cricket clubs in different cities offer a platform for cricket lovers. The Munich cricket club, Cricket club of Bayern, Pak orient cricket club, Berlin cricket club and Bonn cricket club are a few examples.

The writer is doing his doctoral research at Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen (DZNE)