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EMBL International PhD ProgrammeMission



Aims of the EMBL International PhD Programme
Admission to the EMBL Internation PhD Programme
Evaluation of thesis and examination procedure


Aims of the EMBL International PhD Programme

The EMBL International PhD Programme provides advanced, interdisciplinary training in Molecular Biology and its associated scientific disciplines. University graduates admitted into the Programme ("PhD students") receive theoretical and practical training, and conduct a research project under the supervision of an EMBL faculty member, monitored by a Thesis Advisory Committee. After the successful completion of his/her research project, the PhD student submits a written thesis. Following Committee approval of the thesis and successful completion of an oral examination, the candidate receives the degree of "PhD". Where possible within the national university systems, EMBL PhD students may co-register with a national university to obtain a joint EMBL/University doctorate. Alternatively, EMBL PhD students can opt to obtain their doctorate degree solely from a national university, or to receive a PhD from EMBL without linkage to other systems.

Admission to the EMBL International PhD Programme

Application Procedure
Admission is competitive and is achieved through the selection procedure for the EMBL International PhD Programme. Applicants must hold, or anticipate receiving before enrolment, a university degree that would formally qualify them to enter a PhD or equivalent programme in their home country.

Evaluation of Applications
All applications are evaluated solely on the basis of qualification and scientific potential. In general, applicants are expected to be among the top of those qualified to enter a PhD Programme in their home country. All applications that have been received by the publicised deadline(s) are subjected to a multi-step evaluation procedure by EMBL faculty members. The first assessment is carried out by a faculty member who is familiar with the applicant's national education system and also will ensure that the applicant has achieved the common standard for entry. Subsequently, the application is reviewed by the faculty members of the EMBL Scientific Programme(s)/Outstation to which the candidate applied. Finally the EMBL Graduate Committee (which is composed of the Director-General, Directors and Dean of Graduate Studies together with representatives of each Scientific Programme/Outstation of EMBL) short lists those candidates that will be invited for interview, taking into account proposals from the Scientific Programmes/Outstations, and an overall evaluation that they have adequate qualification to undertake PhD studies at EMBL.

Selection of Candidates by Personal Interviews and Final Admission Assessment
Short-listed candidates are interviewed for several days during Admission week. During the first days, interviews are conducted by the faculty members of the EMBL Scientific Programme(s)/Outstation to which the candidate has applied. This gives rise to an initial ranking of the applicants which is reviewed by the Graduate Committee. Selected candidates then advance to an obligatory Final Admission Assessment during which the candidate may be questioned on any aspect of Molecular Biology and his/her previous training. This assessment is conducted by a panel of faculty members representing the different Scientific Programmes/Outstations (normally chaired by the Director or Co-Director of Graduate Studies) and evaluates the intellectual capacity and general scientific knowledge of the candidates. Successful completion of this assessment and admission by the Graduate Committee is a prerequisite for enrolment into the EMBL International PhD Programme. Research Programmes and Outstations located outside Heidelberg participate in the same process of selection. They may also conduct a second selection offset by 4-6 months, following a second publicised deadline for applications. The selected candidates are then interviewed, ranked, examined and admitted by a panel established by the Graduate Committee following a Final Admission Assessment according to the standard procedures. The maximum number of candidates who can be admitted to any Programme or Outstation is authorised by the Director-General, taking into account resources for appropriate training and fellowships, the balance of the Scientific Programme of the Laboratory, and the number of new faculty.

Enrolment into the EMBL International PhD Programme
Successful candidates are permitted to enrol only if they have been awarded either an EMBL (internal) or an external predoctoral fellowship.

Within the first year, the PhD student must:

  • Complete the EMBL Predoctoral Core Course in Molecular Biology, and obtain the corresponding certificate. The Core Course is organised and supervised by the Graduate Committee. Currently it entails more than 350 contact hours, includes lectures, practicals and student seminars and encompasses the subject matter of all EMBL Programmes and Outstations. Exceptionally, a student may defer the course until the second year with the approval of the Dean of Graduate Studies.
  • Propose jointly with the supervisor a "Thesis Advisory Committee" consisting of at least three members, including his/her EMBL faculty supervisor as well as other EMBL faculty member(s) and external member(s) from a national university (ies). The Thesis Advisory Committee is appointed by the Dean of Graduate Studies, and is chaired by the supervisor.
  • Submit and defend a Project Proposal ('Qualifying Assessment'). The quality of the Project Proposal and its oral defense are judged by the Thesis Advisory Committee. The Project Proposal introduces the problem the student hopes to solve and reviews critically the experimental approaches to be taken. It also summarises the results of the initial work of the student. The Project Proposal including the recommendations of the Thesis Advisory Committee are submitted to and considered by the Dean of Graduate Studies who may request clarifications. When the project and the candidate are found to be of an appropriate standard, the standing of the student as an EMBL PhD student will be confirmed by the Dean of Graduate Studies. In case the Project Proposal or its defense are not found satisfactory, a second qualifying Assessment will be conducted within two months of the first, with the Dean of Graduate Studies participating in the Assessment. In case of failure in this Assessment, the PhD student status is terminated, with the first year studies certified.
  • Register as a PhD student with the EMBL Graduate Office following a successful Qualifying Assessment, and/or register as a doctoral student with a national university.
  • Exceptionally, students already enrolled in another doctoral programme who are to accompany newly appointed members of the faculty to EMBL, may be accepted into the EMBL PhD Programme as students following consideration of their files by the Director-General.

Student Progress and Submission of Thesis
The progress of the work is monitored by the Thesis Advisory Committee, to which Annual Reports are submitted. The Committee meets annually with the student to evaluate his/her progress, future plans and priorities, and to provide to the Dean of Graduate Studies comments accompanying the student's report.

The student is also expected to receive additional training and to practice scientific writing and oral presentations, as well as to participate in journal clubs and seminars.

The duration of the PhD studies is normally 3.5 to 4 years. Following the formal declaration by the PhD student's supervisor and the additional EMBL faculty member(s) of the Thesis Advisory Committee that a sufficiently demanding research project has been successfully completed by the PhD student, he/she may submit an "Application for the Evaluation of the PhD Thesis and the PhD Examination" to the Graduate Office. This application must be accompanied by:

  • Four copies of the thesis (in English). The thesis is organised into a short "General Summary", a scholarly "Introduction" to the field of research, substantial scientific publications which can be already published, submitted or in manuscript, and a final general "Discussion and Perspectives". Alternatively, a monograph format can be followed, with sections of "Materials and Methods", "Results" and "References" replacing the publications/manuscripts. In case of multiauthorship of publications, the PhD student identifies in a footnote his/her contributions.
  • Copies of the approved 'Annual Reports to the Thesis Advisory Committee'.
  • The certificate to indicate the successful completion of the EMBL Predoctoral Core Course in Molecular Biology.


Evaluation of thesis and examination procedure

Thesis Examination Committee
After an 'Application for the Evaluation of the PhD Thesis and the PhD Examination' has been submitted, the supervisor is asked by the Graduate Office for nominations for the Thesis Examination Committee. The Thesis Examination Committee is appointed by the Dean of Graduate Studies and consists of at least three members:

  • A scientist (preferably an EMBO or EMBL SAC member) who had previously no contact with the PhD student's work, and who is an expert in the area of the student's research field.
  • Two members of the Thesis Advisory Committee, including at least one member of the EMBL faculty (other than the thesis supervisor who sits in on the oral examination only as an observer). One of these two scientists acts as the chairperson.

Evaluation of the PhD Thesis
The thesis is evaluated in terms of scholarly criteria by each member of the Thesis Examination Committee. One criterion is the likely acceptability of the thesis work for publication in quality, international peer-reviewed journals. A decision is delivered by the Chair of the Thesis Examination Committee on the basis of the committee members' written reports. The PhD Thesis can be accepted for defense, or revisions can be requested. Following no more than one round of revision, a decision on acceptance for defense or rejection is taken.

The PhD Examination
The Thesis Examination Committee attends a public presentation of the thesis work by the candidate, and participates in the ensuing discussion. The format is specified by the Graduate Committee. Subsequently, the candidate is examined in camera on the subject of his/her thesis, as well as broader aspects of Molecular Biology with particular emphasis on the scientific fields represented by the EMBL Scientific Programmes and Outstations. This examination can be passed or failed. It can be retaken once.

A candidate may appeal to the Director-General against the composition of the Thesis Examination Committee or against the outcome of the Thesis Evaluation or PhD Examination. The Director-General may solicit advice and makes the final decision on the appeal.

Publication of the PhD Thesis and Award of the PhD degree
Following the acceptance of the PhD Thesis and after passing the PhD Examination, two hard copies of the duly corrected thesis is provided to the Graduate Office by the successful candidate. The thesis is deposited in a publicly accessible way and, if possible, published electronically.

A PhD certificate is awarded from the EMBL International PhD Programme to candidates whose PhD thesis has been accepted and who have passed the PhD Examination. The receipt of this certificate is a prerequisite to carry the title of 'PhD'

Revoking the Doctorate degree
Irrespective of whether the PhD certificate has already been issued or not, the PhD degree can be revoked by the Director-General following consultation with the Graduate Committee if the candidate has falsified any of the documents that a) were submitted as part of the application for entry to the EMBL International PhD Programme, b) were required for enrolment, c) were submitted with the 'Application for the Evaluation of the PhD Thesis and the PhD Examination', or d) in other cases of gross scientific misconduct.

Changes of Statutes
These statutes and any amendments are considered by the external Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) of EMBL and are then approved jointly by the Chair of SAC and the Director-General. They come into force upon publication following approval.

Prof. Fotis C. Kafatos, Director-General EMBL
Prof. Louise Johnson, Oxford University, Chair EMBL Scientific Advisory Committee