The European Education Directory

FOKUS Life Sciences: Yet another Life Sciences MSc program taught in English?

By Dr. Stephan Schröder-Köhne
Head of Office, University of Würzburg Graduate Schools, Germany

Many MSc programs in the life sciences taught in English have been popping up all over Europe and notably also in Germany over the last couple of years. German universities in general prove to be very attractive regarding such programs because they
    - do not insist on German language skills any longer

    - provide world-class research: 1/3 of them, including the University of Würzburg, rank among the top 200 universities in the world

    - combine excellence with zero tuition fees: for everybody, from everywhere

    - offer the benefit of reasonable cost of living, compared with many other European countries or the US.
So, is “FOKUS Life Sciences” yet another MSc study program? The answer is a clear “no”! In fact, the MSc degree is not even the ultimate goal of that program, it is more of a side effect.

What FOKUS Life Sciences is all about

FOKUS Life Sciences is meant to be a launchpad for a PhD at the University of Würzburg. For this purpose, we want to identify that small group of students with a BSc who know early on that they are natural born researchers trying to get there as quickly as possible without compromising on quality and depth of education and training. This is the reason why we have designed our program to have a “fast track” to PhD: students who display excellent achievements throughout the first and second semester may start a PhD project already in their second year, collecting the remaining credit points for completion of the MSc degree in parallel with the PhD project. Almost 80% of our students manage the fast track option, a number definitely not reflecting any ease of the program. On the contrary, the program is very demanding and the high success rate is an indication of the calibre of students who make it through the careful selection process. The university also offers other, more conventional 2-year-MSc programs in English (“Bio-EU”). The annual intake of “FOKUS Life Sciences” is expected to stay below 20 students. This makes sure that you have the chance to become highly visible as an individual student within this elite program. Competing against hundreds of applicants from all over the world, more than 20% of all FOKUS students so far have managed to receive one of the highly prestigious fellowships of the German Excellence Initiative to support their subsequent PhD project.

Würzburg is one of the top universities in Germany in the field of life sciences, medical research and the natural sciences, according to any of the prominent rankings such as ARWU Shanghai, CWTS Leiden etc. If you apply for the FOKUS program we expect you to already have solid research experience, rather than only having repeated pre-designed experiments in lab courses. There is no time in this program to start learning how to go about planning and doing experiments. You will also be exposed -in a very short time- to the full spectrum of the latest research methods and topics in all areas of the life sciences. We believe that such a broad overview is necessary for later research, which is becoming more and more interdisciplinary, employing an ever-increasing range of methodologies. To achieve such a broad foundation, we offer a lecture series with about 60 principal investigators who will introduce you to the work they are currently performing in their labs, to the model organisms they use, and to the methods they employ, covering biomedicine, infection & immunity, integrative biology and neurosciences. You will get the chance for short visits of many labs of your interest among the 240 that are members of our Graduate School of Life Sciences, and you will perform at least one six week internship - all of that in the first semester. Thus you will quickly be among the best networked students within the entire university, giving you the chance to make an informed decision on the area you want to specialize in for your Master thesis and later on for your PhD project.

In fact, FOKUS students are highly individualistic, with very diverging interests. You will find them doing Master and PhD projects in cancer research, infection biology, stem cell technology, biomaterials research, immunology, gene regulation in plants, neurobiology and in many more areas. Collectively they employ the full range of modern methods, from the latest electron and optical high resolution microscopy to genome editing, from metabolomics to deep sequencing, from 3D printing of tissues to structure based drug design. They work on more than a dozen model systems, covering viruses, pro- and eukaryotic microorganisms, pathogenic parasites, social insects, drosophila, fish and mice. Together, they represent the whole spectrum of the life sciences at the University of Würzburg. The program is going into its fifth year in 2016. Soon we expect the first PhD graduates from our program taking up research positions in academia and industry.

For more information on the FOCUS Programme and to apply please visit us at:

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