Girls’ Day at the Max Planck Institute for Neurological Research
The 9th Girls’ Future Day took place on 23rd April - this year featuring the Max-Planck Institute for Neurological Research for the first time: 20 schoolgirls tried out the roles of research workers or industrial machinists.
Who’s employed, apart from scientists, in a research institute? In an introductory session the invited guests learned that without the support of technical assistants, electricians, secretaries, laboratory workers and many other skilled workers, researchers would not be able to achieve their goals. Then, after posing for a group photo, it was down to work, with the girls putting themselves to the test.
Two girls tried their hand at some of the tasks of an industrial machinist. After a short briefing on safety at work, they got some practical experience in metal working. This filing job takes a lot of time and patience – it’s not so easy to get a hole perfectly round! Even for this sort of apprenticeship you need to be computer literate: An introduction to CAD (computer-aided design) caught the interest of the girls. What particularly fascinated the two of them was the CNC-router that cut the figure of a lizard out of a transparent sheet of plastic material, which they then coloured by hand. “The machine does all that on its own,” they said, amazed - knowing full well that some complex programming lay behind it. Proud to present their finished products at the end of the day’s work, their opinion was: “That was fun, but to have to file every day … ?”
Most of the girls took a look at the typical working day of a research scientist. Two psychologists led the project “How to find out how the brain functions”. After a quick run through the history of brain research and a theoretical introduction to the research topic, the 12 girls interested took part in some experiments on laptops, showing ways to learn more about the functioning of the brain. Spellbound, the girls listened to explanations of images of “working” brains, captured by a variety of imaging procedures. They learned how vital it is for a neuroscientist to have a good grounding in the basic disciplines of mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology.
Six girls wanted to find out what can be learned by observing rats. This project, run by biologists, showed them how these rodents can make the same kind of decisions as humans! The girls particularly enjoyed being allowed to train the rats themselves in preparation for one such decision-making experiment. The project was then rounded off with a little theory. The general verdict was positive, if not conclusive: “It was really cool, being able to work with the rats ourselves.”
Across the country, a total of 126,000 girls took part in about 9000 programmes put on by companies, colleges, research centres and other institutes for careers advice. In Cologne alone at least 50 organisations offered more that 2,000 school-leavers an insight into various professions. The Max Planck Institute for Neurological Research was the only employer offering places in Lindenthal and the demand was so great that within a very short time, back in March, all the places had been taken. At the end of the day, there was a great sense of satisfaction and it was mutual, so it’s a pretty sure bet that the Institute will be taking part again at next year’s Girls’ Day.