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First South-Africa-German Summer School on comparative psychology

Group photo
Award winners (Best poster award and best experimental design award): From left to right: Joshua G. Davimes, Ayanda Ngwenya, Brendon Billings, Jean-Leigh Krüger, Leigh-Anne Dell, Tanya Calvey. (c) Dr. Sebastian Ocklenburg (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)

From the 18th to 22nd of February, the "First South-Africa-German Summer School on comparative psychology" took place in Johannesburg, South Africa. During this week students, young academics and senior scientist from the biopsychology lab of the Ruhr-University Bochum and the department of anatomical science of the University of Witwatersrand had the opportunity to discuss one of major constraints of modern comparative psychology: the over focus on too few model species, hampering especially profound conclusions on phylogenetic origins of a given brain function or behavior.

United by the motivation to work on a solution of this problem, participants from Germany and South Africa attended talks from international speakers, with topics ranging from Damaraland mole rat courtship behavior over elephant hippocampus research to cetacean neuroanatomy and many other research areas covering a wide range of fascinating topics within the comparative psychology of unusual African model species. All participants agreed that further research on such less studied species is necessary to provide deeper insights on the evolution and development of specific behaviors. 

Based on the knowledge gathered during the talks, the participating students independently developed their own hypothetical behavioral experiments on less studied species covering species like giraffes, elephants and meerkats, with the best experimental design (“Limb preferences in the common giraffe”) being awarded with a book price. Given the high quality of the experimental designs, based on only a few days of training, the summer school proved that even such a short cooperation can result in a profound basis to solve one of the major constraints of modern comparative psychology.

Opinions of stakeholders and participants

  • "Students were highly motivated to learn about behavioral aspects of comparative psychology and translate this knowledge to interesting own projects." (Dr. Martina Manns, Ruhr-University Bochum)
  • "It was an excellent organization and breathtaking friendly atmosphere in which an open academic exchange could happen." (Prof. Onur Güntürkün, Ruhr-University Bochum)
  • "I liked the idea and I think it really worked, that the students design a hypothetical project." (Prof. Lauriston Kellaway, University of Capetown)
  • "I found the school to be rather interesting in terms of my exposure to different areas of neuroscience. I particularly enjoyed the chance to design a comparative psychological experiment and the ideas my colleagues put forth." (Josh Davimes, student participant)
  • "I really found the school to be beneficial. The lectures were very interesting and I learned a lot. I also took some really good advice from scientists I respect." (Tanya Calvey, student participant)
  • "I really enjoyed the school. Personally, it was very valuable in learning more about presentations and planning future studies. I also found the talks very interesting which could later help with my own future en devours." (Illke Philander, student participant)
  • "I thoroughly enjoyed the 1st German- south African school on comparative psychology. I found the lectures were interesting and informative. The program was well structured and the lunches were delicious. I loved the career planning session the most as I could speak to researchers about a career path in a more relaxed setting. Thank you very much for this opportunity. I look forward to the next school." (Leigh-Anne Dell, student participant)
  • "The school was captivating and enlightening, it explored areas that were new to some of us and presented ideas and tools for research that some of us only got to read about. I especially enjoyed the career guidance session." (Samson Chengetanai, student participant)