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Biology: Evolutionary Biology

This research-oriented master specialisation provides students with in-depth knowledge about Evolutionary Sciences. Students learn about evolutionary changes over time and study the origin and maintenance of biological variation all over the tree of life. The mechanisms that drive the adaptation of organisms and their features are investigated at all biological levels. Thus, the specialisation includes genomics, functional developmental genetics, paleobiology, behavioural biology and evolutionary ecology. With this master specialisation completed, the students are well equipped to start a career in evolutionary research or to take the responsibility for projects in an industrial or institutional research environment.

Coordinator: Dr. M. van der Zee


Website Instituut Biologie Leiden

For a description of the full programme please see the 'more information' tab.


Course EC Semester 1 Semester 2

Compulsory elements:

Safety instructions 0
Advanced Statistics 4
Development and Evolution 6
Genomic Architecture 6
Orientation on Evolutionary Biology 2
Systematics and Biodiversity 6
Research Project Min. 60

In case of a research project that involves experiments with fish or birds the corresponding course is compulsory:

Bird species in animal experimentation 3
Fish species in animal experimentation 3

Specialisation related electives

Course EC Semester 1 Semester 2

Courses organized by Biology

Basic Statistics for Master students 4
Human Impacts on Biodiversity 6
Plant Families of the Tropics 5
Ecotoxicology (2025-2026) 6
Ecosystem Services (2024-2025) 6
Metabolomics 6
Paleobiology 6
Urban Ecology and Evolution 6
Tropical Biodiversity and Field Methods 6
Animal Cognition (2024-2025) 6
Advanced Academic Skills Course 6
Top Lectures in Biology 3
Book Exam 6
Literature Review 6

Faculty of Science and LUMC electives (always check with the coordinator of the course whether you can join):

Advances in Data Mining 6
Image Analysis with Applications in Microscopy 6
Science and the public: contemporary and historical perspectives 6
Science Methodology (SCM) 4

Other electives

Course EC Semester 1 Semester 2

Courses organized by Biology

Advanced Cell Biology 4
Advanced Molecular Genetics and Biotechnology 3
Innate Immune systems 6
Mechanisms of Disease 6
Portugal Conservation Field Course (2024-2025) 4
Systems Microbiology 6

Courses organized by the Faculty of Science or LUMC (please check with the coordinator of the course whether you can join the course):

Model organisms in cancer drug discovery and development 4
Multiscale Mathematical Biology (BM) 6
Evolutionary Algorithms 6
Multicriteria Optimization and Decision Analysis 6
Biological and Biomedical Informatics 6
Bio-Modeling 6
Introduction to Machine Learning 6
Other approved electives 4-6

TU Delft elective

Joint Interdisciplinary Project (JIP) 15

More info

The MSc Biology programme builds on the unique combination of biological institutes in Leiden joining forces: the Institute of Biology Leiden (IBL), the Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML), and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Naturalis). The choice of courses and research projects is further increased by the embedding in the Faculty of Science and the connections with the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO) and with bioscience-based companies that are located at the Leiden Bioscience Park.

The duration of the programme is two years (120 EC). Students who complete the programme receive the degree Master of Science in Biology (MSc in Biology) with specification of the specialisation. Below you can find a description of the Biology research specialisations

In addition to the E-Prospectus, the aim and content of the MSc Biology programme is described in the Appendices to the Course and Examination Regulations

Programme research specialisations (120 EC)

The MSc Biology research specialisations consists of:

  • A theoretical part (30-60 EC) o Consisting of the compulsory courses and the compulsory courses of choice + electives courses (if applicable)

  • One or more research projects (60-90 EC).

  • The elective part of the programme (30-0 EC) o Can consist of either additional courses, and/or an extension of the duration of a research project.

The programme includes some compulsory components and can be expanded with a wide choice of elective elements. The mandatory components in the 1st semester aim to provide students with the theoretical and practical background needed for an efficient start of the Research Project at the end of this semester. The Research Projects are the actual core of the MSc programme. Students will be member of a research group of their choice and work full time on a specific project. Each project will be finished with a MSc thesis written in the form of a manuscript for an international scientific journal. At least one Research Project is part of the study programme.

The Specialisation Research Project has to be done within the theme of the specialization. Prior to the start of the Research Project, the internship coordinator has to approve the Research Project agreement.

Compulsory components

Theoretical part
Each MSc-programme consists for at least 30 EC of theoretical components, consisting of the compulsory courses and the compulsory courses of choice + electives courses (if applicable to the specialization, see Prospectus)

Research project
The Research project(s) contribute at least 60 EC. Students are allowed to do two research projects. At least one project must be within the research specialization for at least 36 EC. A second project may be within or outside the chosen specialization, for at least 30 EC. A single research project cannot exceed 60 EC.

Students can carry out their Research Project(s) at one of the institutes participating in the Leiden University Biology education programme: IBL, CML, Hortus, or Naturalis. Also allowed are: research groups within other institutes at the Faculty of Science which focus on life science-related research, the LUMC, the NIOO, academic institutions other than Leiden University, companies, government institutions, and other institutions with scientific activities.
The course Fish species in animal experimentation (3 EC) or Bird species in animal experimentation (3 EC) is obligatory in case of a research project that involves handling or experimental use of fish species or birds species.

Elective elements

The elective part of the programme can consist of either additional courses, or an extension of the duration of a research project. A list of approved elective courses is available on the Prospectus. All MSc Biology specialisation courses (except orientation courses) can be followed as electives in all other master specialisations. For courses outside the Leiden University Biology programme, prior approval of the Board of Examiners is required.
Note: The scope for electives in the Master’s programme may not comprise more than 15 EC of courses that do not contain any biological component.
Approval of programme

All students have to submit their individual study plan consisting of choices of courses and one or two research projects to the Study Advisor. Through the submission of this study plan, The Study Advisor determines whether the student’s individual study plan meets the requirements of the MSc Biology programme and can be approved. Prior to the start of the Research Project, the study advisor has to approve the individual study plan of the student and the internship coordinator has to approve the Research Project agreement.

Career Orientation


In addition to offering you a solid university education, Leiden University aims to prepare you as well as possible for the labour market, and in doing so contribute to the development of your employability. In this way, it will become easier for you to make the transition to the labour market, to remain employable in a dynamic labour market, in a (career) job that suits your own personal values, preferences and development. It is therefore important that during your study programme you not only acquire as much knowledge as possible about your subject, but also are aware of the skills you have gained and the further skills you still want to learn.

Future employers are interested not only in the subject-related knowledge that you acquired during your study programme, but also in the ‘transferable skills’. We speak of transferable skills when a skill developed in a specific context can also be applied in a completely different one. This is in contrast to subject-specific skills that are linked to a certain context and are less applicable in other settings.

Employability consists of the following aspects that you will develop within your study programme, among others:

**1. Discipline-specific knowledge and skills **

Knowledge and skills specific to your study programme.
Examples of subject-specific skills are: using a microscope, cell cultures, sampling, experimental design, executing fieldwork, morphological analysis, laboratory skills, in situ conservation, bio-modeling, bioinformatics, molecular biology techniques such as genome sequencing, microarrays , et-cetera.

**2. Transferable skills **

These include cognitive skills, such as researching, analysing, project-based working, generating solutions and digital skills; intrapersonal skills, such as reflecting, independent learning, resilience, and metacognition; and interpersonal skills, such as oral and written communication, collaboration, presenting and societal awareness. In short, they are skills that all professionals need in order to perform well.

**3. Self-reflection **

This concerns self-reflection in the context of your (study) career, including reflecting on the choices you make as a student during your studies,:what can you do with your knowledge and skills on the labour market? In addition, reflecting on your own profile and your personal and professional development: who are you, what can you do well, what do you find interesting, what suits you, what do you find important, what do you want to do?

**4. Practical experience **

Gaining practical experience through research projects/internships, laboratory training, fieldwork, practical assignments et cetera, which are integrated into courses and research projects.

5. Labour market orientation

Gaining insight into the labour market, fields of work, jobs and career paths through, for example, guest speakers and alumni experiences from the work field, career events within the study programme, the use of the alumni mentor network, interviewing people from the work field, and shadowing/visiting companies in the context of a particular subject.

Career preparation in the MSc Biology

During the study program MSc Biology we want to provide you with the best possible preparation for the job market. In addition to knowledge, it is important that you develop skills, gain practical experience, orientate on positions & careers, and reflect on your own profile and development

At various times during the Msc Biology, questions about this subject may arise, such as: How can you use the knowledge and skills you gain within and outside your study program in the labor market? Which direction do you choose within your study and why? What are you already able to do, and what skills do you still want to learn? How do you translate the courses you choose into something you would like to do later?

You may have already discussed this with the study advisor, mentor, tutor, the Science Career Service, fellow students or made use of the Leiden University Career Zone. All kinds of activities are organized where you get the chance to orientate yourself on the job market and gives opportunities to reflect on your own development, possibilities and (study) career profile as well. Central to this are the questions: "What are my capabilities?", "What do I want?" and "How do I achieve my goals?".

In the prospectus, learning objectives have been formulated for each subject, the purpose of which is to inform you which components are covered in the development of your (study) career profile and preparation for the labour market. Various activities are also organized that help you in making all kinds of career choices and to develop skills. An overview of activities is shown below.


  • Science Skills Platform with a Personal and Professional development domain

  • (Study) career meetings

  • Guest lectures

  • Alumni lectures

  • Company visits and company dinners

  • Lunch & Learn lectures by companies

  • IBL, Naturalis and CML symposia & lecture series.

  • Introductory meeting with the study advisor

  • Introductory meeting Science Career Service

  • (International) Leiden Leadership Programme

  • Mentorship and tutoring

  • Workshops en Career Colleges (Science Career Service)

  • Biology Career Event

  • Other career events such as BCF Career Event, Bio Science Park excursion, Science Career Event/Beta Banenmarkt

  • Events organized by the Study Association ‘Leidse Biologen Club’, such as a Meet & Greet with PhD candidates

  • Regular information sessions with the study advisor

  • Research Project Market

  • Research skills as part of the master research project

Science Career Service

Science Career Service, one of the utilities of the Science faculty, offers information and advice on study (re)orientation, career planning and personal professional profile as well as preparation for the job market, such as job applications. Facilities provided to students include online information, walk-in consultations, workshops and individual counselling sessions. In addition, Science Career Service offers expertise and support to programmes that want to strengthen the connection between their curriculum and the job market. This can vary from providing specific guest lectures/workshops to advising on integrating career orientation programmes into the curriculum.

Open Consultation Hour

On Thursdays between 12:30 – 13:30 hrs., you can reach us by phone (+31 (0)71 527 1867) for short questions, e.g. about your CV, motivation letter, LinkedIn, or job application.

Individual appointment

You can book your appointment (30 minutes) with one of the Career Advisors via the online calendar.

LU Career Zone

The Leiden University Career Zone is the website for students and alumni of Leiden University to support their (study) career planning. You will find advice, information, video recordings of webinars and tools such as professional tests to get an idea of your personal profile. You can also explore positions and sectors, you will find tips about CV, job application, LinkedIn and there is a vacancy platform that you can make use of.

Mentor Network

Leiden University likes to prepare students and young alumni well for the job market. For this we use the knowledge and experience of Leiden alumni. To bring students and young alumni with questions about their careers into contact with experienced alumni, Leiden University has established the Mentor Network. Students and young alumni can register for free.


Do you have questions about your (study) career choices and has the above information not been able to help you further? Your study adviser is available to discuss your plans and concerns: