Science - April 7, 2005

Plant scientists go French

The graduate school Experimental Plant Sciences has taken steps to work more closely with its French counterpart. Joining forces will mean a wider range of courses available to PhD students, and better international job prospects. The graduate schools also hope to stand a better chance of winning European research projects together.

The PhD students at Experimental Plant Sciences (EPS) in Wageningen will be able to take courses at the Ecole Doctorale ‘Sciences du végétal du gène a l’écosystème’ (SDV) and vice versa. The French graduate school coordinates the experimental plant research done by PhD students at various institutes including the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) and the Institut des Sciences du Végétal.

Martin de Vos, a PhD student and also member of the AIO council, returned full of enthusiasm from discussions in France. ‘They have some of the top scientists in our area. By organising courses and symposia together we can learn a lot about how they work and also build up contacts that will be useful later. It’s difficult to find a job in the Netherlands, even with a PhD. There’s no harm in looking beyond the borders.’ An advantage is that students will no longer have to wait so long to do specialist courses (the wait here is often two or three years) if the course is available in France. In June thirty French PhD students will visit the annual PhD Students Day organised by EPS.

One of the plans is to share advanced research facilities to save costs. ‘High-tech equipment costs millions of euros, so it makes sense to invest jointly,’ says Karin Horsman of Wageningen University and EPS secretary. NMR spectroscopes are an example of expensive equipment.

Plant scientists in the Netherlands are keen to internationalise according to Horsman, as they see the storm on the horizon. ‘It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find funding for experimental plant research. This branch of science is becoming endangered.’ Horsman refers to a number of departments in Utrecht and Nijmegen that have now been subsumed in the Institute for Wetland and Water Research (IWWR). The Dutch plant scientists also hope that by joining forces they will stand a better chance of winning EU financed projects.

The ultimate aim is to create a European research school for experimental plant sciences. ‘If cooperation with the French is a success, we can approach other top institutes in Northern Europe.’ / HB