This year's graduates Hendrik Schlicke, Bijan Chokoufe, Alexander Knetsch, and Alena Wiegrandt with Prof. Daniela Pfannkuche (from left to right). Photograph: Jennifer Vix/DESY

This year's PIER PhD reception took place on 5 December in the newly opened auditorium of Hamburg's Center for Structural System Biology (CSSB).

More than 80 PhD students, their supervisors, friends, relatives, and staff from both DESY and Universität Hamburg (UHH) attended this year's reception to welcome all new doctoral candidates and to honour the graduates of the PIER Helmholtz Graduate School.

An exciting place to do science (also for women)

In their welcome addresses, Prof. Melanie Schnell, Lead Scientist at DESY, emphasized the importance of the PHGS in the education of young researchers from all over the world. Prof. Schnell identified an importance task for the development of graduate education on campus: "We really need to increase the ratio of female scientists in the future", Prof. Schnell said. "In my group, half of the staff are women this year - for the first time ever. The overall ration on campus is between 20 and 30 per cent - this is not enough in my view, and we would like to change that."

Prof. Robin Santra, spokesperson of the PHGS, agreed with this and pointed out the measures of the graduate school directed towards female PhD students, such as the "Women's Career Days" and "dynaMENT", the joint mentoring programme of DESY and UHH. He then highlighted the rapid growth of the school since its foundation in 2013: "In the beginning, we only had about 30 registered members. This number has increased in only three years to over 270 registered PhD students, of which around 60 percent are international. I think this reflects both the success of the school, and the growing attractiveness of the city of Hamburg", Prof. Santra said, and then welcomed the new PhD students. "You have definitely made the right choice to come here. Our campus is evolving as one of the most exciting places in the world to do science."

In his welcome address, the MIN faculty's vice dean Prof. Ingenuin Gasser reminded both this year's and future graduates who plan to stay within academia; that they should keep in mind the exciting possibilities of postdoctoral research: "This is a great opportunity to change the direction of your field of expertise - maybe the last time in your life as scientists. Make the best out of this!"

A little bit of scientific magic - and lots of fun

The reception was hosted by Felix Homann, a trained physicist and entertainer. Mr. Homan explained the physics of air pressure with the help of a red balloon, the virtues of superabsorbent polymers by holding a water-filled plastic cup over the head of a slightly worried woman, and made two people run up and down the auditorium's stairs in order to explain the phenomena of flight physics. In between, the “Brackwasser Jazzquartett” played jazzy versions of classic rock tunes and made the audience guess the correct titles.

Thanks and farewell to DOIT and the graduates

During the PIER PhD reception, the team of the "Doktoranden-Initiative" DOIT, the elected representatives of all PhD students, were honoured. "DOIT's commitment, various activities and positive attitude are an invaluable element of graduate life on campus", said Mirko Siemssen, coordinator of the PHGS.

Prof. Daniela Pfannkuche, the UHH spokesperson of the PHGS, then congratulated the graduates of 2017, of which Alena Wiegandt, Bijan Chokoufe, Alexander Knetsch and Hendrik Schlicke were present.

The programme ended with some jazzy music of the "Brackwasser Jazzquartett" followed by drinks and food in the foyer of the CSSB building.

Some impressions from the PIER PhD Reception 2017