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Bare necessities: ECTS guide for PhD students

This post is for the GSN PhD students with any doubts about collecting ECTS points.

We need 180 points to graduate within a maximum of 10 semesters:

150 points come from completing your PhD project (so as long as you keep working on your project these points should take care of themselves).

30 remaining points should come from taking courses. These 30 points can be split into hard skills and soft skills.

  • Hard skills (25)
  • Soft skills or non-scientific skills (5): grant writing, poster presentation, scientific writing, etc. At least 1 ECTS (and maximally 3) point should come from teaching.

They are structured like this:

(you can find this in the PhD guidelines pdf here )



I thought I could share my approach to get the bare necessities covered. Please remember the whole point of the 30 ECTS is to equip yourself with all the necessary skills you might need, be it methods or soft skills. You should try to learn and pick up as many skills and points as you see fit, with the minimum being 30 ECTS. The following is just a way to think about the ECTS points to plan your PhD

DISCLAIMER : The following is my personal approach to the credits required to graduate and is not a communication from any GSN staff.



The gist of it is this: try to do the following and you should have no problems to get the 30 ECTS required to graduate.

  • Enroll in one methods or theoretical course per year and, which will get you 2-3 ECTS for each course.
  • Attend one 3 – 4 days conference/year in your area of interest and join the GSN retreat with a poster and/or talk.
  • Attend lab meetings and journal clubs regularly. Highly recommended to go for institute seminars and other scientific talks.
  • Attend one soft skill course per year and either teach a course or supervise a BSc/MSc student.



Lets break this down and map out a few things:

Lab meetings and Journal club

A typical PhD student would have lab meetings or progress reports. For attending these and presenting we get a maximum of 0.5 ECTS points per semester. Lets say you finish your PhD in 3 years (you have superpowers), that is 6 semesters   =  3 ECTS from lab meetings. If you finish in 4 years (8 semesters), you can get 4 ECTS (0.5 x 8) from lab meetings.

Another typical activity would be journal clubs. If you attend a journal club for approximately 1 hr per week, that gives you a maximum of 0.5 ECTS pts per semester. Again, that’s 3 Yr PhD = 6 semesters = 3 ECTS points, or 4 yr PhD = 8 semesters = 4 ECTS points.

These 2 activities: lab meeting and journal clubs should give you 6- 8 ECTS points automatically.  These points will be categorized under P1.1 where you can count a maximum of 8 ECTS points.

Attending other seminars in the institute, where you present your work once a year will also give you a Max of 0.5 ECTS per semester. Attending scientific talks on a regular basis also gives you points that you can count towards P1.1.

So P1.1 should be automatically fulfilled for a typical PhD student.


Conferences and  Retreat

Now who doesn’t like to travel and present their work ? You get points for this as well.

1st year of PhD you may not go to any conferences. By year 2 you surely have some data to put on a poster. Say from year 2, you go for 1 conference a year.

For attending the event, sitting through the talks we get 0.25 ECTS /day of the event. Lets say a conference is generally 2 days long. That gives you 0.5 ECTS. You present your poster that should give you 0.25 ECTS. So grand total of 0.75 ECTS.

We also have the annual GSN retreat, where you can practice your presentation skills as well as have fun. Poster gives you 0.25 and the event gives 0.25/day. We generally have a 2 day retreat, which means another 0.75 points. If you give a talk that gives you 0.5 ECTS points. So, you could get 0.75-1 ECTS per year from the retreats.

In total, 1.5 – 2 ECTS points from conferences + retreat per year. 3 – 4 yrs of PhD should give you atleast 6 points. These points are counted in categories P1.2, P2.2 and P3.2, and we can count 3, 3 and 2 ECTS max in these categories respectively.



As mentioned earlier, we need at least 1 ECTS from teaching. You might take on a bachelors/masters student, help with a course or teach a course by yourself. We can get a maximum of 3 ECTS points for teaching under the category P3.3.


Hard skills

Hard skills is divided into categories P1.1, P2.1, P3.1 and P4.1. We have already taken care of P1.1 (see above). We now need 3 + 3 + 3 = 9 ECTS for P2.1, 3.1 and 4.1.

If you concentrate on taking one hard skill course per semester that gives you 1-2 ECTS points. Per year 2- 3 ECTS should come  up to 9 ECTS points after 3- 4yrs.


Soft skills

You now only need 2-3 ECTS points from soft skill courses. If you attend one course per year, you should  be set.



Self generated sounds and the DCN

Let me introduce the protagonist: the DCN

DCN is the abbreviated form of dorsal cochlear nucleus. The DCN is a brainstem nucleus. DCN receives direct auditory input from the cochlea via the auditory nerve. The DCN also receives somatosensory input about the head, ear and jaw. Why do we have multisensory input at the first point at which auditory information is processed in the brain? This recent paper looks into the DCN, a multisensory hub.

Blog 8a

Continue reading “Self generated sounds and the DCN”

Nicotine avoidance and GLP-1 neurons

After stuffing your face with < enter favourite food >, you invariably feel full. You simply can’t eat anymore. This satiety is not an aversive experience, but rather an avoidance response.  Apparently, smokers also feel this satiety when it comes to their nicotine intake. They can titrate their nicotine intake to avoid the noxious effects of high levels of nicotine.

How does this come about?

The following paper from Tuesta et al., looks at the circuitry behind the phenomenon.

Continue reading “Nicotine avoidance and GLP-1 neurons”

Top 20 alternative career paths

What comes after your PhD ? You might be wrapping up your PhD, set for a post-doc and suddenly having doubts about your career choice. Or, you might be just starting your PhD. It’s never too late, or too early, to give some thought to your career.

You can read about GSN student Sara’s  approach here.

Below is a list of top 20 alternative career paths, compiled by Cheekyscientist (from their free ebook).  Cheekyscientist is a platform that helps PhDs transfer from academia to the industry.

Continue reading “Top 20 alternative career paths”

Movement related activity suppresses certain sensory signals

When you want to judge the texture of an object, you actively use your fingers to touch and feel the given surface. The very act of moving your fingers already provides sensory stimulation (e.g.: the skin in between your fingers stretches). How does the brain make sure this sensory stimulus does not drown the information from the salient touch ?

Continue reading “Movement related activity suppresses certain sensory signals”

Internal representation of space influences visual processing

Say you are walking down the same street you have walked every day for a decade. Before you realize what you are looking at, you notice something is different. Maybe the McDonald’s has been replaced by Burger King. What’s going on ?

Our internal representation of space has come under the spotlight with the discovery of spatial maps in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex. But how does this internal model affect our sensory processing ? This recent paper looks at the activity of visual cortex neurons and how they are influenced by the internal representation of an environment.  Continue reading “Internal representation of space influences visual processing”

Orientation selectivity and functional clustering of synaptic inputs

Moving away from our theme of memory consolidation, looking at Parvalbumin and Somatostatin interneurons, in this blog post we focus on the visual system.

In 1958, David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel discovered that cells in the visual cortex of cats respond to bars of light moving in a specific direction. Their discovery of these cells, termed as ‘orientation selective cells’, has revolutionized the whole field of neuroscience.

This recent paper peers into the origin of diversity of orientation selectivity in the visual cortex.

Continue reading “Orientation selectivity and functional clustering of synaptic inputs”

Somatostatin interneurons control size of memory ensembles

Following up on our previous post about parvalbumin interneurons, this time we look at memory consolidation and somatostatin interneurons. Another type of interneuron that express a peptide- somatostatin.

This recent paper shows how somatostatin interneurons (SST) of the hippocampus control the size of neuronal ensembles that are important for memory. Continue reading “Somatostatin interneurons control size of memory ensembles”

Plasticity in Parvalbumin neurons

Since we claim to be neuroscientists, we thought we should allocate a few blog posts to the nitty gritty details of neuroscience research. To start things off, we have a post on Parvalbumin interneurons. They are a subset of interneurons that express parvalbumin, a calcium binding protein.

In 2013, Donato et al. reported that there are two different types of  Parvalbumin neurons in our cortex and hippocampus. One type expresses low levels of Parvalbumin (PV), low levels of GAD67 (enzyme that makes GABA neurotransmitter) and receive higher inhibitory inputs- referred to here as Low PV plasticity cellsand the other expresses high levels of PV and GAD67  and receive higher excitatory input- referred to as High PV plasticity cells.

Continue reading “Plasticity in Parvalbumin neurons”

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