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Biology: Molecular, Cellular and Organismal Biology

This research-oriented Master specialisation offers students the unique possibility to integrate molecular, cellular and organismal levels of research, but also provides the possibility to specialize in one of these levels. It equips students with advanced knowledge ranging from the functioning of individual cells to the communication between cells, and the development, physiology and behaviour of multicellular organisms. An important aspect of this specialisation is to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying health and disease and how cells and organisms adapt to environmental factors ranging from light, stress and pathogens to ecological and social conditions. Model organisms include bacteria, fungi, plants and animals (invertebrates and vertebrates). The subject areas covered encompass functional genomics, signal transduction, cellular differentiation, development, host-microbe interactions and animal behaviour.

This master specialisation is suited as a basis for starting a research career at a university or research institute and for a position in a bioscience-based company.

Coordinator: Prof. Dr. H.P. Spaink


Website Instituut Biologie Leiden

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


Vak EC Semester 1 Semester 2

Compulsory elements:

Advanced Statistics 4
Genomic Architecture 6
Orientation on Molecular, Cellular and Organismal Biology 2
Research Project Min. 60

At least two of the following courses are compulsory:

Development and Evolution 6
Mechanisms of Disease 6
Advanced Cell Biology 4
Innate Immune systems 6
Animal Cognition (2024-2025) 6

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

Vak EC Semester 1 Semester 2

Courses organized by Biology

Advanced Academic Skills Elite Course 6
Advanced Molecular Genetics and Biotechnology 3
Book exam 6
Literature Review 6
Metabolomics 6
Top Lectures in Biology 3

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
Model organisms in cancer drug discovery and development 4
Multiscale Mathematical Biology (BM) 6
Science and the public: contemporary and historical perspectives 6
Science Methodology (SCM) 4

Other electives

Vak EC Semester 1 Semester 2

Courses organized by Biology

Human Impacts on Biodiversity 6
Systematics and Biodiversity 6
Paleobiology 6
Plant Families of the Tropics 5
Portugal Conservation Field Course (2024-2025) 4
Tropical Biodiversity and Field Methods 6
Urban Ecology and Evolution 6
Ecotoxicology (2023-2024) 6
Ecosystem Services (2024-2025) 6

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

Multicriteria Optimization and Decision Analysis 6
Biological and Biomedical Informatics 6
Bio-Modeling 6
Introduction to Machine Learning 6
Evolutionary Algorithms 6
Other approved electives 4-6

TU Delft elective

Joint Interdisciplinary Project (JIP) 15

More info

Programme (120 EC)
The MSc specialisation consists of:

  • a theoretical part (30-60 EC)

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

The programme includes some compulsory components and can be expanded with a wide choice of elective elements. The mandatory courses in the 1st semester aim to provide students with the theoretical background needed for an efficient start of the Research Project at the end of the 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 but preferably two Research Projects are part of the study programme.

The first Specialisation Research Project has to be done within the theme of the specialization.

The second Research Project is an external research Project and should preferably be done at a research group abroad or at another university, research institute or company in The Netherlands. Prior to the start of the Research Project, the Board of Examiners has to approve the individual study plan of the student and the Research Project agreement.

Compulsory components
Each MSc programme consists of theoretical components for at least 30 EC and the Research project(s) contribute to at least 60 EC. The first Research Project should be minimally 36 EC, and the second Research Project should be at least 30 EC. A single research project cannot exceed 60 EC. A “Fish-specific animal experimentation course (2 EC) or a “Bird-specific animal experimentation course (2 EC) is obligatory in case of a research project that involves handling or experimental use of fish or bird species.

Electives/optional elements
The optional part of the programme can consist of either additional courses or lectures, or an extension of the duration of a Research Project. A list of approved elective courses is available in the e-prospectus. For courses outside the Leiden University Biology programme and for all research projects, prior approval of the Board of Examiners is required.
Note: No more than 12 EC of optional theoretical elements of level < 400 are permitted and at most 15 EC of non-biology courses.

Approval of programme
The individual study programme consisting of the selected courses and one or two Research Projects must have prior approval of the Board of Examiners.

Short desciption of the courses
The Molecular, Cellular and Organismal Biology programme comprises several compulsory courses. The course Orientation on Molecular, Cellular and Organismal Biology provides a state-of-the-art overview of the scientific research and in the departments participating in this MSc specialisation and the research methodology used. The course “Genomic Architecture” aims at training students to become “genome-enabled” biologists by giving an overview of the structure, function and evolution of genomes, and an introduction into the bio-informatics required to study these genomes. Together with the Advanced Statistics course, and two specialisation-related compulsory courses this will prepare the students theoretically for their training in scientific research during the Research Project(s).
A variety of additional courses from other MSc specialisations in Biology and from other MSc programmes at the Faculty of Science and LUMC can be chosen as electives. For details (description, literature, exam dates and further calendar events) about the different courses, see the e-prospectus and Brightspace).

Career Orientation

During 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. In addition to substantive knowledge, it is also important to be aware of the so-called transferable skills that you develop outside and during your education. These are, for example, your cognitive skills such as critical thinking and communication. Altogether, this contributes to your development as a professional and offers good preparation for the labour market.

At various times during your studies, 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.


  • (Study) career meetings

  • Alumni lectures

  • Company visits and company dinners

  • Lunch & Learn lectures by companies

  • IBL Symposia

  • Introductory meeting with the study advisor

  • Information meeting student counsellor

  • (International) Leiden Leadership Programme

  • Mentorship and tutoring

  • Workshops en Career Colleges (Science Career Service)

  • Science Career Event

  • 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.

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.


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 .