Qualification Concept

The market for geospatial information has grown at a sustained annual rate for a long time now and the role of geospatial data, search, and analysis methods as part of mainstream information technology is widely being recognized and exploited. In Germany, the annual market growth is estimated to lie between 20 and 30%. Geospatial information technology is spreading to new kind of end users, with different academic and professional backgrounds and driven to use them as support tools in their application areas. This applies to almost all societal contexts today, and in particular to transportation, environment, public policy and administration, utility management, construction engineering, and real estate. Particularly important are the problems of environmental and urban quality, and geospatial technologies can be used as effective decision support systems to cope with regional development in a wide sense of economic and social growth.

Consequently, holders of Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral degrees in Geoinformatics and related fields have excellent and growing career chances. Indeed, industry is currently facing a severe shortage of personnel with sufficient technological abilities at all levels, including strategic project and technology management (where holders of doctoral degrees are typically employed). An additional bonus of an IRTG degree will be the quality seal of the international and interdisciplinary program. The IRTG program thus qualifies for leading positions in research – in academia as well as in research departments of the private and public sector.

Qualification program

The basic premises underlying our qualification program are that

  1. dissertation work contributes the major part of the research carried out in the program;
  2. doctoral researchers need to achieve a high level of interdisciplinary understanding and cooperation to become innovative and productive researchers;
  3. course work for IRTG doctoral researchers primarily serves these two goals and shall not prolong their studies;
  4. milestones permit a timely monitoring of the doctoral researchers’ progress and achievements.

The qualification concept rests on the international experience of its leaders gained in top quality doctoral programs in Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Switzerland, and Austria. It smoothly integrates with the existing IGERT Qualification concept at the University at Buffalo and the lively doctoral researcher groups at Münster and Bremen.

The qualification program is structured into five phases, each of them containing specific milestones for monitoring and assuring the students’ progress and achievements. An integrative part of the qualification program is the course program equivalent to 25 ECTS credit points. The program consists of eight course types, consisting of three joint courses explicitly created for the IRTG, an external summer school, research colloquia, and a set of courses to be flexibly chosen according to the students’ requirements and interests.

Phases and milestones

Doctoral studies at Bremen and Münster will consist of several phases with the following corresponding milestones:

  • Phase 1 – Introduction, M 1-6: Milestones: preliminary course program (M1), quarterly progress reports (M3, M6), dissertation proposal, including an assessment of the state-of-the-art and publication plan (M5), plan for exchange period (M6).
  • Phase 2 – Exploration, M 7-18: Milestones: quarterly progress reports (M9, 12, 15, 18), defense of revised dissertation proposal (M 12), publication submitted to international conference (M 18), optional: additional publications.
  • Phase 3 – Implementation, M 19 – 30 : Milestones: quarterly progress reports (M 21, 24, 27, 30), publication submitted to international journal (M 30), optional: additional publications.
  • Phase 4 – Wrap-Up, M 31 – 36: Milestones: quarterly progress report (M 33), thesis synopsis (M 33), thesis final version (M 36).
  • Phase 5 – Exchange, between month 1 and 36: six-monthexchange periodat Buffalo on an individually planned schedule. Milestones: quarterly progress report, exchange report.

Phase 1 is an intentionally brief preparation phase. It serves to refine the dissertation topic based on the application, to become familiar with the research environment, to take one or two foundational courses from pertinent disciplines, and to attend the first semester of the research colloquium. The phase begins with an orientation camp and closes with a formal thesis proposal and a literature survey report for the research initiative in which the dissertation is carried out. As in all phases, quarterly doctoral researchers’ progress reports are required. Early in this first phase, students have to provide a preliminary study plan including the chosen courses of their qualification program. This plan will be part of all future quarterly progress reports and their discussion with advisors.

Phase 2 produces the first scientific results of the dissertation. Major steps are to defend an updated dissertation proposal and to submit a publication to an international conference as a first or single author, in order to receive substantial feedback to their scientific work. Doctoral researchers keep attending the research colloquia at their site and can take additional block courses. They acquire multi-disciplinary theoretical and practical experience through their involvement in the broader activities of their research initiative (other theses, workshops, experimental implementations). But primarily, they perform the experimental and theoretical work required for their thesis, leading to two or more internationally submitted publications as a first or single author. They attend a Vespucci Summer School module (www.vespucci.org) or another high-level international summer institute, and doctoral researchers will organize a doctoral symposium, contributing organizing this event and contributing by paper submissions. Summer School and doctoral symposium can alternatively be performed in phase 3. Careful attention is paid to anchoring doctoral researchers within relevant international communities. This is why doctoral researchers are encouraged to attend international conferences and to begin publishing results early in their dissertation work. Such an intense learning experience in a top research environment advances the doctoral researchers’ understanding of research methods and establishes international networks of young researchers. The Vespucci Summer Schools also involve an annual participation by twelve Buffalo IGERT doctoral researchers (funded by NSF).

Phase 3 is the main production phase in terms of final scientific results. The key results is a submission of a journal paper as a first or single author. Depending on the individual publication plan, further publications will be submitted in phase 3 or 2. Highlights of the course program are the attendance of the Vespucci Summer School and the organization of a doctoral symposium, either in this or the previous phase, both fostering intense further integration among the doctoral researchers.

In phase 4, the doctoral researchers finish writing their theses, preferably in six more months (completing the three years). They submit a synopsis of their thesis, assuming that most of the doctoral researchers will write a cumulative thesis, basing of at least 3 high-level publications as a first or single author.

Phase 5 is a six-month exchange period at the University at Buffalo, mentored by the co-supervisor of the dissertation project at Buffalo (if any), or another Buffalo professor involved in the research initiative. The main purpose, also in this phase, remains to continue the thesis work. The scheduling of the exchange period depends on the individual requirements of the doctoral researcher and should be determined in phase 1. Phase 2 or 3 are the most suitable phases for the exchange period, though a placement in phase 1 or 4 is possible, depending on dissertation work, course work, and advising requirements. The exchange complements the methodological, application, and cultural background of the doctoral researchers by perspectives and experiences gained at the University at Buffalo. Together with their IGERT colleagues, doctoral researchers attend research colloquia at the University at Buffalo, and, if applicable, additional courses. Phase 5 ends with a report about the exchange period. Doctoral researchers are encouraged to produce a joint publication with a Buffalo graduate student or professor.

Course program

There is both, a match and a complementarity between courses offered at the three sites. The match is between existing research colloquia at all three sites, assuring a continual interaction between groups of doctoral researchers and advisors, wherever the doctoral researchers are at any point in time. In combination with an IRTG-specific virtual research seminar, these colloquia satisfy the need for regularly scheduled advanced research discussion meetings. Complementarity is achieved through foundational courses to complementary disciplines offered in different disciplines at the three sites. For example, Buffalo offers foundational courses in ontology and in research ethics, Bremen in formal methods and in cognitive science, and Münster in geoinformatics and in reference systems for geospatial information.

The qualification concept structure is not meant to be rigidly imposed on all doctoral researchers. A degree of flexibility is allowed in order to accommodate special requirements resulting from personal backgrounds, previous knowledge, special interests, professor availability, and the dissertation topic. However, the overall IRTG goal of thesis completion within three years will be taken seriously, and finding a structure that is conducive to progress monitoring is essential. Consequently, the course load throughout the program is kept relatively low, with around 25 credits total over the three years. There is a minimum number of mandatory credit points to be achieved in each of the eight course categories, and five of the eight categories have a fixed set of courses (“GI Orientation camp”, “Research colloquia”, “Joint virtual research seminar”, “Vespucci Summer School”, “Doctoral symposium”. There is flexibility in the three categories “Introductory and interdisciplinary courses”, “Advanced GI topics”, and “General studies”, depending on the background and the specific research fields of the doctoral researchers.

Deviations from the default structure require written consent from the Münster and Bremen leaders of the corresponding research initiative, to assure that the initiatives stay on track despite individual thesis rescheduling.

The course offer includes the following course types:

  • Orientation camp (1 credit point): All students attend this introductory three day event at both Münster and Bremen. Contents are organizational, topical, and getting to know of fellow students, faculty, location, and student services in Münster and Bremen.
  • Research colloquia (6 credit points): In all semesters, research colloquia are the essential tools for learning about innovative research topics and discussing progress with colleagues. All sites provide research colloquia, inviting external researchers. Therefore, these research colloquia are essential tools for conveying scientific best practices, experiences, methods and ideas.
  • Joint virtual research seminar (3 credit points): This ongoing virtual seminar is a key tool for constant communication between the researchers of all sites. Once per month, they present and discuss their research results, exchange know how and ideas.
  • Interdisciplinary courses (minimum of 3 credit points): This course offer is leveling the background of the doctoral researchers and provides insight intocomplementary disciplines. All sites offer a set of courses from which students can choose, depending on their needs.
  • Advanced GI topics (minimum of 6 credit points): All partners provide a set of specialized courses, from which students can choose.
  • General studies (minimum of 3 credit points): Additional key competencies are crucial for professional careers. Offers include research methods, ethics, and organizational skills.
  • Vespucci Summer Institute (minimum of 2 credit points): Since 2003, the Vespucci Initiative (www.vespucci.org) has offered high-level summer institutes with two week long block courses. Each year, 12 IGERT students have attended them, funded by NSF. The summer institutes offer the latest on innovative research topics, facilitated by leading scientists in these fields. Attending at least a one-week block (2 credit points) will also be mandatory for the IRTG doctoral researchers.

Doctoral symposium (minimum of 1 credit point): A special feature of our qualification andresearch program will be an annual research symposium organized by the doctoral and postdoctoral researchers and held in turn at the three sites. It will provide a regular platform for interaction across all participants and introduce the students to running peer review processes as well as organizing and carrying out scientific meetings. Experienced scientists will stand by for advice, but remain behind the scenes. Funding will be made available to invite external keynote speakers suggested by the students, extending the permanent visiting scientist programs at all sites. The three German cognitive science graduate programs in Hamburg, Freiburg, and Saarbrücken jointly had a largely student run annual conference which was highly successful; many PhD students started building up their networks at these events. The Atlantic Seminars held between the GIScience programs of Maine, Laval, and New Brunswick in the 1980’s and 1990’s provided a similar experience. In 2007, the Institute for Geoinformatics at Müster picked up this idea and organized a very successful “Young Researchers Forum”, attended by around 100 participants (see www.gi-days.de).

Course type Year Duration Offered ECTS Institutions and Courses
1. Orientation camp 1 3 days at both sites twice 1 Münster and Bremen, if possible with Buffalo participation
2. Research colloquia at each site 1-3 permanent each semester 6 Münster MUSIL Brown Bags (Kuhn)
BremenSFB/TR 8 / IQN-Colloquium Spatial Cognition (Freksa and SFB/TR 8 faculty)
Buffalo IGERT Colloquium (IGERT faculty)
3. Joint virtual research seminar 1-3 ~2 hrs per month monthly 3 Münster, Bremen, Buffalo
4. Interdisciplinary courses 1-2 1 semester each semester/year 3 Münster

  • Introduction to Geographic Information Science (Kuhn)
  • Reference Systems for Geographic Information (Kuhn)
  • Applications of GI in the Geosciences (Pebesma)
  • Introduction to Climatology (Klemm)
  • Environmental Meteorology (Klemm)


  • Natural Language Processing (Bateman)
  • Language Technology (Bateman)
  • Logic for Computer Science (Mossakowski)


  • Introduction to Geographic Information Science (Mark, GEO 591)
  • GI and Society (Mark, GEO 594)
  • Cognitive Geography and Geographical Cognition (Mark, GEO 592)
  • Landscape Modeling with GIS (Renschler, Geo475/575)
  • GIS Applications in the Social and Health Sciences (Zubrow)
5. Advanced topics 1-3 1 semester each semester/year 6 Münster

  • User Interface Design (Krüger)
  • Mobile Interaction (Krüger)
  • Adaptive Mobile Systems (Krüger)
  • Schema Mapping (Kuhn)
  • Dynamic Models (Pebesma)
  • Computer Vision (Jiang)
  • Artificial Intelligence (Jiang)
  • Pattern Recognition (Jiang)


  • Cognitive Systems 1 & 2 (Barkowsky, Freksa)
  • Graduate Seminar Cognitive Systems (Barkowsky, Freksa)
  • Spatial Cognition (Freksa)
  • Qualitative Spatial and Temporal Reasoning (Wolter)
  • Formal Specification in CASL (Mossakowski)
  • Management of Uncertain Data and Knowledge (Schill)
  • Advanced Problems in Visual Cognition (Schill, Zetsche)
  • Graduate Seminar Safe and Secure Cognitive Systems (Krieg-Brückner)


  • Problems in Ontology (Bittner, PHI 531)
  • Database Design for GIS (Bittner, GEO 595)
  • GIS Design (Bittner GEO 488/556)
  • Cartography and Geographic Visualization (Shiode, GEO485/551)
6. General studies 1-3 each semester / year 3 Münster

  • Research Methods and Skills (Pebesma)
  • Project management in GI projects (Brox)


  • Research culture and project management (Schill und Zetzsche)


  • Graduate Research Ethics (Koepsell, PHI 640)

All sites

  • Organization of doctoral symposium
7. Vespucci Summer School 2 or 3 1 or 2 weeks annual 2 www.vespucci.org
8. Doctoral symposium 1-3 2 days annual 1 for presentation organized and conducted by all doctoral and postdoctoral researchers
Total 25

Integration of research students

Twelve research students will be integrated into the work of the research initiatives, two per initiative. They will be members of the initiative research teams, primarily supervised by the doctoral and postdoctoral researchers, and participating in the research colloquia. We address advanced MSc students for applications to this program. They will have to submit their MSc thesis proposal or a co-authored paper at the end of their 6 month participation, but are not funded to acquire an MSc degree.

Visiting researcher program

The IRTG will establish a visiting researcher program for bringing in world class scientists. It foresees four visits per year to Bremen or Münster, typically for a two to four week period. A visit includes

  • a block course of five days (1 credit point)
  • a talk in the research colloquium
  • bilateral and group discussions with doctoral and postdoctoral researchers
  • possibly formal thesis co-advising or defense participation.

The visiting researcher funds are dedicated to scientists of international standing, which can provide significant know-how and input to the research and qualification program at the visited site. Excellent junior researchers engaged in work relevant to the research initiatives can be funded as well.
Visitors will primarily come from one of the “tetrahedron” partners and secondarily from other groups in academia, government, and industry who do innovative work in the area of information integration. The selection of scientists and topics will be guided by the interests and needs of the local researchers. Buffalo’s IGERT program additionally includes visits by external scientists and German researchers will benefit from them during their exchange period at Buffalo.

Mobility and additional qualification measures

An integrative part of the qualification program is a six-month mobility measure (see above, phase 5). IRTG students continue working in the same research initiative with the corresponding faculty and fellow researchers in Buffalo. The primary contact person will be their co-supervisor at Buffalo. The integration into the research initiative at the partner site will be smooth, due to the previously established cooperation. Buffalo provides a contact person for organizational issues, e.g., housing, university services, and social life. Typically, the visit will take place in phase 2 or 3 of the qualification program. During the stay, the attendance of the IGERT research colloquium and the virtual online seminar are mandatory. Further courses are optional, depending on the individual study program.