Visit from the Initial Training Network

Monday 06 Oct 14


Johannes Zaar
Guest Researcher
DTU Health Tech

Bert Cranen, Coordinator of INSPIRE

For two weeks the Hearing Systems group had one of the fellows from the INSPIRE network, Sara Ahmadi from Radboud University Nijmegen in Holland, as a guest researcher. During her guest stay Bert Cranen, the promoter and coordinator of the network also paid a visit at DTU.

A few years ago Bert Cranen, professor from Radboud University got an idea that led to the establishment of this European Training Network which goes a bit beyond the usual disciplinary boundaries.
How did you get this idea?
 “Basically it originates from the deeply felt need in our research to have multiple disciplines work together,” Bert Cranen explains. His own background is electrical engineering working on automatic speech recognition. One of the topics they are working on is how to improve automatic speech recognition in noisy circumstances. “We know that people also have problems understanding speech in noisy circumstances, but compared to humans our automatic speech recognizers do a very bad job. This issue becomes more and more important with the aging population and need for technology to support people living independently. From this perspective, automatic speech recognition is an important enabling technology. In the research aimed at making ASR more noise robust, I gradually became convinced - that simple engineering alone will probably not do the trick. We need input from other disciplines as well,” Bert Cranen says.

Mixing different disciplines
When people grow older they may not only suffer from hearing problems but in some cases they also may have some cognitive problems. Therefore, it really becomes important that not only researchers working on the auditory aspects speech of intelligibility are involved but also psychologists that know about cognitive processes. It is exactly this need for different people with different viewpoints working together where this research network that is now called INSPIRE comes to our rescue.
“Very often one is so narrow-minded and captured by his own area. For example, I am brought up as an electro technician, so many things I do and the way in which I do them, are biased by my training. Teaming up researchers from other disciplines who have different goals often helps to think out of the box and to get a lot of inspiration regarding your own work. In addition, this European initiative called the Marie-Curie Initial Training Network, a program to train early stage researchers, encourages the students to do part of their research in at least one other partner lab abroad and to visit partners from industry and hospitals. This allows them not only to actively participate in ongoing international research, but also to experience in actual practice what kind of cultural differences there exist between academic research and the environments in which their research is applied. Having a more intimate knowledge of the sectors where the societal impact of their research becomes visible is important. In part they owe their current financial support to it, but a realistic view on the real world problems will definitely also help them to successfully apply for new research grants in the future. ”

"When I started being part of the network I realized it’s not only about the research. It is also about learning how to deal with different people, with different cultures."
Sara Ahmadi

Interacting with each other
As a part of her training Sara Ahmadi, PhD student from Radboud University, has been staying as a guest researcher for two weeks in the Hearing Systems group.
“When I started being part of the network I realized it’s not only about the research. It is also about learning how to deal with different people, with different cultures. And that was really a new experience for me; not only was it about the research itself, you have to interact with the other researcher’s personalities as well and learn to understand each other. I have already learned much not only about being in a network and how to use each other’s expertise but also about trying to support people yourself if they need you.” 
Gusztáv Lőcsei
from the Hearing Systems group joins in:
”I can only say the same. The best thing about this framework is that there are so many people with different background. We can really help each other out and get new ideas from people with a different view point on the same problem.”
Bert Cranen agrees: “The added value of the scientific output of the network is probably hard to measure in quantitative terms, but I am convinced that it stimulates people to produce better, more creative and more innovative results. The reason for Sara and me to visit the Hearing Systems group at DTU is the fact that this group has so much knowledge about how humans recognize speech. Despite the fact that our goals are so different, this department has so many commonalities with our own engineering background that we feel certain that we will find ways to realize some cross-fertilization of our areas. This perfectly exemplifies the benefits of being in such a network: You can pick the brains of people who you normally wouldn’t meet,” Bert Cranen says with a smile.

Is there any chance that INSPIRE will continue after 2015?
“This Initial training network will continue till the end of 2015, but already now you can see cross-site collaboration growing and the fellows start to know each other better. This interaction is intensifying and that’s exactly what we want. These initial training networks which are subsidized for a limited number of years come and go, but what we hope and strive for is that during the lifetime of INSPIRE collaborations are started that have a lasting effect on the mindset of the participating people and thereby indirectly on the research and training infrastructure in the near future.”

The Marie Curie Initial Training Network INSPIRE

Starting Jan 2012, the Marie Curie Initial Training Network Investigating Speech Processing In Realistic Environments (INSPIRE) provides research opportunities for 13 PhD students (Early Stage Researchers) and 3 postdocs (Experienced Researchers) to study speech communication in real-world conditions.
The network consists 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: