The Doctoral Programme
The overall aim of the DP-iDP is to form independent, intellectually broad, curious, critical and
open-minded scientists who are able to approach problems from different perspectives. After 4 years of
training these early stage researchers (ESR) are capable to collaborate with other scientists in an
interdisciplinary and intersectoral manner inside or outside of academia. To this end, our ESRs
complete an innovative interdisciplinary training programme consisting of both research and taught elements,
and receive close mentoring by supervisors from different disciplines.
“Inflammatory Disorders in Pregnancy”
DP-iDP doctoral programme will be widely and internationally advertised with detailed eligibility
criteria and application requirements. We will seek to identify the best qualified candidates from all over
the world with research interests aligning with those of our DP-iDP supervisors and eligible to join
the 3–4 year DP-iDP.
Fig. 1: Immunofluorescent staining of a third-trimester placental villus.
The cross section of the villus is bordered by the trophoblast (TB) layer (CK7,
green, green arrowhead). Inside the villus, feto-placental endothelial cells
(fpEC) line the feto-placental vessels (CD34, white, white arrowhead). Hofbauer
cells (HBC) are evenly distributed, but often close to feto-placental vessels
(CD163, red, red arrowhead). A representative image of images taken from
three individual placentas is shown. Original magnification: 200×, scale
bar = 50 µm. The upper insert shows cultured primary
fpEC that have a polygonal shape, grow in loose arrangements and exhibit the
classical cobblestone-like appearance. The lower insert shows cultured HBC which
exhibit a pleiomorphic phenotype with many vacuoles. Original magnification of
the inserts: 200×, scale bar = 100 µm.
The faculty was founded as a focus of excellence to promote scientific studies of the human placenta and
maternal–fetal interactions during pregnancy. It brings together 11 supervisors, who are recognized
international experts in their fields, based in different departments within the Medical University of Graz
in Austria (Med Uni Graz). Their range of multidisciplinary expertise extends from biochemistry,
through genetics and epigenetics, physiology, pharmacology and metabolism, to clinical studies and epidemiology.
This unique depth and breadth of expertise allows members to adopt an integrated and comprehensive scientific
approach to understanding the complexity of placental biology. It is further strengthened by several young
researchers holding externally funded research fellowships, e. g. Marie Curie
grants. The ultimate aim is to explore placental biology in inflammation with modern biomedical tools and
translate new findings into approaches to alleviate placenta derived complications of pregnancy, which may
be caused by diabetes, growth restriction and pre/eclampsia which all still remain a major cause of maternal
and infant morbidity and mortality worldwide.
Application and selection process:
The selection of the most motivated and capable ESRs for DP-iDP needs a fair, transparent and
fast process which will be installed in line with the European charter for researchers and the code of conduct
for recruitment. Following an international call, PhD researchers of DP-iDP will be a three-step
selection procedure. In the first step, written applications will be ranked. In a second step, selected
candidates may be contacted by skype interviews if one or more supervisors have further questions. In a third
step, the top candidates will be invited for a personal hearing to Graz, Austria. The International Selection
Committee consists of the External Advisory Board and the DP-iDP Faculty of Supervisors which together
conduct and control this process. At the end after the first year and two independent calls 15 ESRs
will be affiliated by the DP-iDP Faculty.
In the first year, students will complete coursework and select three different research groups for lab
rotations. After the first year students will single out a thesis supervisor and select a research topic for
their thesis. An individual career development plan will be drawn up including training in teaching and other
transferable skills, attendance of international conferences. The interdisciplinary DP-iDP core courses
are designed to encourage the exchange of knowledge between ESRs from highly diverse backgrounds and
promote the conditions which allow for multidisciplinary approaches in research. A broad variety of topics
is offered to PhD candidates to encourage them to think beyond the boundaries of their primary research focus.
In addition, the courses fulfil a community-building function in terms of fostering exchange between students
from different laboratories. In addition to the interdisciplinary core courses, researchers also take
specialized and advanced courses, both thematic and methodologic, as part of the PhD programme. At the
Med Uni Graz, DP-iDP ESRs are required to act as teaching assistants for at least one
After the successful admission of the aplicants, PhD candidates perform three rotations with three different
research groups. A rotation is a period of roughly two months in which students perform research in a
laboratory on a research project. It is on the basis of this experience that students can choose to affiliate
with a research group. It is also an excellent opportunity for students to learn to think across disciplines
and build up first collaborations and cross-disciplinary skillsets.
In the qualifying exam, applicants’ knowledge within their proposed research area, their ability to
identify important research problems, and their capability to come up with ways to tackle these problems, are
assessed by the thesis committee. The qualifying exam takes the form of a presentation and oral exam. Applicants
must pass the qualifying exam within the first year to continue on the DP-iDP program and perform thesis
research. Re-examination after negative evaluation is possible within one month.
Upon passing the qualifying exam, DP-iDP researchers conduct a hypothesis-driven research project
supervised by one DP-iDP faculty member. DP-iDP research groups are deliberately kept small to
ensure close supervision, and all PhD candidates are mentored by several DP-iDP faculty members and
renowed international scientists in the field, who make up the thesis committee. There are annual reviews which
evaluate the students’ progress, and ensure that they stay on track towards completion of the PhD.
ESRs are also encouraged to present their results at scientific conferences, and within the Institute.
DP-iDP faculty is committed to providing its students with the skills for a successful career since it
is no longer enough to simply be good researchers; to a certain degree ESRs also need to be teamleaders,
mangers and experienced in marketing. DP-iDP researchers can participate in seminars and workshops on
topics including scientific presentation, career planning, time and self-management, interpersonal and
intercultural skills, and science communication.
All our PhD researchers are fully funded and employed by the university, at internationally competitive salary
levels, and receive full social security coverage. There is also financial support for students for attending
scientific conferences and workshops. All materials and facilities are provided by the program to students to
ensure rapid progression of their research project.
Duration of the DP-iDP:
The duration of the PhD programme is typically 3 to 4 years, depending on whether a student will take a skill
training abroad or not. Before the final exam and the permit to defend the thesis is given, the PhD candidate
needs to demonstrate at least one first-authorship in a Science Citation Index (SCI)-ranked
top-20 % journal as a direct outcome of the thesis research project.
After the degree:
Potential employers from both the private and the public sectors want researchers with a wider set of skills
and competencies than just specialized knowledge in a given topic. A DP-iDP doctoral degree will
give the ESRs cutting edge skills within a broad very significant research field of “Inflammation
in pregnancy disorders” and opens up a wide range of career opportunities. After graduating with a PhD
degree, DP-iDP researchers can continue to pursue an academic career at a research institute or in
industry, as a researcher / teacher at a university, as a research-competent leader in the
commercial or healthcare sector, as a science journalist or consultant. Consequently, our doctoral education
provides students with a broad grounding in the subject and prepares them for their scientific and professional
futures beyond the scope of the study plan for an individual project.