A new generation of researchers

Both Johannes Zaar, from the Hearing Systems group and Huarda Valdés-Laribi were part of the European Marie Curie Initial Training Network (2012-16)

As a part of her Initial training network Huarda Valdés-Laribi, PhD student from the University of York, UK, has been staying as a guest researcher at Hearing Systems for a month. Huarda is trained as a speech and language therapist, and is now working on her PhD project that focuses on the cognitive factors that influence our ability to understand speech in adverse conditions. Several of the PhD students and postdocs at Hearing Systems are also part of the European training network. Johannes Zaar, who is German, is working on a PhD project that focuses on modelling the consequences of hearing loss and hearing-aid processing on consonant perception.

Getting trained
The purpose with the European network is to get trained in various skills in order to get as many competencies as possible during the PhD studying period. Every half year the network arranges meetings, lately in Copenhagen.
What is the benefit from the EU-network compared to your studies in York?
“What really is interesting is the unique training the network provides, for instance the workshops in collaboration with industrial partners and other academic institutions. Through the workshops we are getting trained in specific aspects, we wouldn’t be able to acquire at the same level at our own institutions, or at least not as easily,” Huarda answers,
“I think for a PhD it is more or less the ideal position you can get, because it is all about you getting training,” Johannes joins in,
“of course you have to deliver publications, but the Initial Training Network focuses on your perspectives, on your future career, because it is really set up to produce very skilled researchers. So the network focuses not so much about the outcome of your individual project, but more about the skills you acquire.”
All the Marie Curie Initial Training Network students have predefined external stays and will get used to presenting regularly and get a routine. After each of the INSPIRE Schools the network has a day solely for the ‘fellows’ the 13 PhD students and three postdocs.
“The Fellow’s day is also a really good opportunity for networking amongst ourselves. We have the possibility to ask any kind of ‘stupid’ question. I can ask basic questions about engineering or the computer which I would not be as comfortable asking in a bigger forum,” Huarda says with a smile.

“My supervisor told me that we are a new generation of researchers due to all the interactions with other scientists. We are not going to be copies of our supervisors, unlike how it was the generation before. I am at the psychology department and my supervisor is in a completely different field than the Hearing Systems group. And just the fact that we have those second hosts like here, means that I will learn about aspects my supervisor doesn’t know about. It is really interesting and exciting,” says Huarda.
Do you have contact with each other between meetings?
“We do have some correspondence about specific issues when decisions have to be made,” Johannes says and adds:
“Actually Huarda is a spokesperson for the fellows as a whole. So we can just discuss any aspects with her, and she delivers the message about our opinion as a group to the senior scientists. She also attends the supervisory board meetings. I also have some scientific correspondence with some of the fellows, which might result in collaboration at some point. We have a huge mailing list including all the network members, and we can just contact anybody on it, and they will respond,” he says.
“For instance a couple of weeks ago I needed to find a specific test, and because somebody in the network had experience with that, I contacted her. It is really practical,” Huarda adds.
In general the idea of the network is that it has the academical and the industrial partners. The academical partners host the PhD students and the industrial partners join in later. You have to do an external stay for three months at one of the other academic partners where your co supervisor also usually works. For Huarda it is Hearing Systems, DTU, in Denmark and for Johannes it will be UCL in London. And later you will do a stay with one of the industrial partners.
“Usually when you do a PhD project you want to do an external stay at an academical institution, but you have to get your contacts and organize everything yourself, funding for instance, Johannes says.
“ If you are part of this kind of Marie Curie network it is all taken care of in a way. It is really convenient.
However, one of the prerequisites for candidates is that you must have lived in a different country before. So if I had done my master’s degree here, for instance, I couldn’t have taken the position. None of us is studying in our home countries, except for one person who spent a long time abroad.”
Do you have any thoughts about the future?
“The question is basically: Do you want to stay in academia or do you want to work in the industry. I don’t know yet. But everything could be possible,” Johannes says.
“Ideally I would love to continue doing research,” Huarda says
“But not as a full time academic. I’d like to go back to clinical work. I really miss working with children. But I also know I will miss research. So ideally I would love to do both. I might go to Australia or the US. Anything is possible,”
“Yes, it is the same for me,” Johannes joins in.
“I haven’t given up the idea of ‘going home’. I just have at the moment, because everything else seems so much more interesting. I haven’t been living there (Nurnberg, Bavaria edit.) for.. ten years.”
“Okay, that’s it. It’s over! You will never go back,” Huarda says to him with a laugh.

Read more about INSPIRE Copenhagen Winter School

Read more about Visit form the Initial Training Network

From January 2012 til 2016, the Marie Curie Initial Training Network Investigating Speech Processing In Realistic Environments (INSPIRE) provided research opportunities for 13 PhD students (Early Stage Researchers) and 3 postdocs (Experienced Researchers) to study speech communication in real-world conditions.
The network consisted of 10 European research institutes and 7 associated partners (5 companies and 2 academic hospitals).

The senior researchers in the network are academics in computer science, engineering, psychology, linguistics, hearing science, as well as Research and Development scientists from leading businesses in acoustics and hearing instruments, and ear, nose and throat specialists.
Read more here: