CNRS-UChicago « PhD Forum » : transatlantic joint PhD projects strengthening international collaboration

In science, collaboration is the cornerstone of breakthrough discoveries and innovations. This necessary concept was reflected in the recent « PhD forum » organized by the University of Chicago and the CNRS, as part of their International Research Center for Fundamental Scientific Discovery (IRC Discovery) and their joint PhD program initiatives. The forum, held on December 1, testified to the academic excellence of the thesis projects undertaken by the students and their PIs, and to the enduring commitment of both institutions to fostering interdisciplinary partnerships and advancing knowledge in a variety of fields.

Some of the 55 workshop participants on Friday December 1.
© Sylvette Tourmente/CNRS

At its core, IRC Discovery represents a global framework aimed at steering collaborative endeavors between the University of Chicago and CNRS. The Center, launched at the end of 2022, provides a framework for formalizing, nurturing and expanding the landscape of collaboration between these major institutions. At the heart of this structuring partnership are priority disciplines identified as strategic for collaboration: human and social sciences, biology, quantum physics.

In particular, IRC Discovery supports and promotes joint PhD programs, fostering an environment where cohorts of CNRS and University of Chicago students, alongside their principal investigators (PIs), engage in collaborative research efforts. Initiated in 2019, these joint programs have become an annual fixture, facilitating collaborations between two teams on either side of the Atlantic. Funding provided by CNRS and the University of Chicago enables these teams to engage in research visits to pursue shared scientific goals.

In the spirit of the very first forum organized in 2021, the recent 2023 online forum served as a dynamic platform, inviting students from both institutions involved in joint projects to succinctly present and deliberate on their thesis topics within a 180-second timeframe. Diverse projects, spanning biology, chemistry, ecology, environment, and engineering, showcased the multifaceted nature of collaborative research. Alain Schuhl, CNRS Deputy CEO for Science, Juan de Pablo, Executive Vice President for Science, Innovation, National Laboratories, and Global Initiatives at the University of Chicago, representatives from the CNRS Europe and International Direction in France and the International Relations Division at the University of Chicago, the CNRS office in Washington D.C. and the students’ principal investigators also attended the student presentations. A total of 55 participants from France and the United States attended the workshop.

The event also provided an opportunity to hear from former students about the various paths they took after completing the PhD Joint Program. Of particular interest were the presentations by Joaquim Iguaz, currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Massachusetts and Hugo Toudic, Associate Director for Research Administration and Coordination at the University of Chicago Center in Paris.

Rendy Prastiko and Yuqin Wang, winners of the best presentation award. © Sylvette Tourmente/CNRS

At the end of the forum, a recognition prize was awarded to the group who made the clearest and most outstanding presentation during the event : Yuqin Wang and Rendy Prastiko won the award for best overall presentation for their work on PFAS treatment.

The following groups presented their thesis topics:

  • Maria Douaihy (student at CNRS- Institut de Génétique Moléculaire de Montpellier): Decoding the role of enhancer priming on transcriptional bursting. PIs : J. Reinitz, M. Lagha.
  • Sophia Faresse (student at CNRS- Aix Marseille U): Restoring breast sensation after mastectomy using bionics. PIs : S. Lindau, R. Ackerley.
  • Hannah Farrell and Weldeyared Reda (students at UChicago), and Alexandre Gat (student at CNRS-Université Paul Sabatier Toulouse III) : Anatomical shapes: Transferring knowledge in computational anatomy to study early human evolution in Africa. PIs : Z. Alemseged, J. Braga.
  • Anna Blin (student at CNRS- PSL): Hybrid MBE-CVD rare-earth doped oxide films for on-chip optical quantum technologies. PIs : T. Zhong, A. Tallaire.
  • Huibo Li and Maya Faour (students at UChicago and CNRS – Université de Paris): Multisensory Cognition in the Nose. PIs : L. Kay, C. Martin.
  • Yuqin Wang and Rendy Prastiko (students at UChicago and CNRS – Univ. Sorbonne Paris Nord): Water decontamination using a Plasma-in-liquid technique : application to PFAS treatment. PIs : J. Chen, X. Duten.

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