CaCTüS: where talent meets experience

Successful completion of the first round of the international “Computation and Cognition Tübingen Summer Internship“(CaCTüS)

October 05, 2022

CaCTüS, the international internship program founded at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics Tübingen, successfully concludes its first round. It is designed to boost the careers of young talented researchers whose access to top-tier higher-education is constrained. This year’s interns from five African and Asian countries impressed with the results of their three-months research projects.

It is a special evening at the Max Planck Campus Tübingen: Five research talents from Cameroon, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and the Philippines present their work of the preceding three months to a fascinated audience.

The symposium is not just a scientific event like many others. The speakers in the spotlight were selected for the CaCTüS internship, a program for young scientists who face significant obstacles that hold them back in their careers. Whether these constraints be personal, financial, regional, or societal, the goal of the internship is to open doors for students, give them access to excellent scientific facilities, and connect them with outstanding researchers. During their fully funded three-months internship, the selected talents worked on scientific projects at the MPI for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen.

Between research and networking

One of the five talents at the center of attention at this closing symposium is Olayiwola Arowolo. The young Nigerian who has earned his master’s degree in electrical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, Rwanda, has now brought his expertise in machine learning to Tübingen. The research group which welcomed him studies the behavior and brain activity of zebra fish with the help of specially developed microscopes that follow the fish. “The problem is that zebra fish tend to make sudden movements, making it hard for the microscope to track them,“ Arowolo explains in his final presentation. His task was therefore to find better ways to predict the motion of the fish.

“This is a topic I thought I knew everything about,” comments Drew Robson, who supervised the project. “But Ola proved me wrong. He introduced a new probabilistic prediction algorithm to the lab that will significantly improve tracking performance.” Robson was so thrilled by the success of the internship that he decided to take on the role as the program chair, taking over for Franziska Bröker. Bröker, who created the program, is happy that her initiative and hard work paid off: “The internships turned out to be tremendously beneficial for the interns and also our local research community.”

For the interns, it was a summer of many firsts. Many of them had never left their home country before, taken an international flight, or worked in a multinational team. To help them settle in, each of them was paired with a buddy, a local PhD student who helped them navigate daily life at the institute, pursue leisure activities, and feel more at home in their new environment. The program was also flanked by many complementary events, including a large range of soft-skill courses, career counselling sessions, and networking events. “The complementary events really helped me prepare for my next career step,” says Ramya Warrier, psychology and cognitive science graduate from India. The supporting program of CaCTüS was made possible by the Hanrieder Foundation for Excellence through the Hanrieder Impact Fund. The Hanrieder Foundation for Excellence, established in 2015 by Wolfgang Hanrieder under the auspices of the Max-Planck-Foundation, aims to support outstanding junior scientists in gaining experience at leading research centers abroad, and thus to promote the international exchange of excellence in research.

Important first steps towards international research careers

The CaCTüS internship is just the first step to an international stage for the five students. Olayiwola Arowolo, the machine learning enthusiast who helped improve zebra fish tracking, has already secured a PhD position in the Netherlands, while his peers are planning to fan out to other European countries and the US.

The new round of applications for CaCTüS internships opens on October 17. This time, ten internship positions will be filled, equally spread between the MPI for Biological Cybernetics and its neighbors, the MPI for Intelligent Systems and the Tübingen AI Center, a competence center for machine learning with participation of the MPI for Intelligent Systems and University of Tübingen. While the five students say their good-byes to each other and their hosts, preparations to select and welcome the next generation of promising young scientists are already underway.

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