International Programmes 2021/2022

CEPLAS - Cluster of Excellence on Plant Sciences CEPLAS - Cluster of Excellence on Plant Sciences

Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf • Düsseldorf

Doctoral degree (Dr rer nat or PhD)
In cooperation with
  • University of Cologne, Cologne
  • Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research (MPIPZ), Cologne
  • Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ)
Teaching language
  • English

The programme is conducted in English. Non-native speakers need to provide evidence of proficiency in English. The doctoral thesis is usually written in English. German is also accepted.

Programme duration
9 semesters or more
Winter semester
More information on beginning of studies

The programme starts in October.

Application deadline

Please consult the CEPLAS website.

Tuition fees per semester in EUR
Combined Master's degree / PhD programme
Joint degree / double degree programme

The CEPLAS Graduate School offers a structured four-to-five-year doctoral programme covering the fields of molecular plant sciences, plant genetics, plant-microbe interactions, and synthetic biology as well as quantitative and computational biology. The programme is jointly organised by the universities of Düsseldorf and Cologne, the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research and the Forschungszentrum Jülich. It leads students with a Bachelor’s degree through a unique qualification phase to the dissertation research phase and finally to the PhD. PhD students work in one of the CEPLAS member laboratories on a topic related to the CEPLAS research programme. CEPLAS Graduate School members benefit from comprehensive training programmes that address their academic as well as career development aspirations and needs.

Course organisation

The CEPLAS Graduate School programme is comprised of a one-year qualification phase followed by a dissertation phase of three to four years.

The qualification phase includes lectures, exercises, courses in transferable skills and lab rotations. It aims to provide the theoretical knowledge as well as practical skills that are necessary to successfully conduct a research project. The qualification phase starts with an on-boarding workshop followed by two seven-week subject modules jointly taught at the universities of Düsseldorf and Cologne. The subject modules cover the research topics within CEPLAS as well as advanced genetics, plant biochemistry and physiology, plant development, plant-microbe interactions, synthetic biology and modelling, methodology (genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics) and biostatistics/computational biology. The modules consist of lectures, exercises and seminars. The subject modules are followed by training in Good Scientific Practice and scientific writing. The final part of the qualification phase consists of three lab rotations, six weeks each, in CEPLAS research groups where students will conduct small research projects. One of the rotation labs will subsequently serve as the host for the dissertation phase.

The doctoral research project is the foundation of the dissertation phase. It aims to qualify CEPLAS doctoral researchers for independent and professional scientific work. All CEPLAS doctoral researchers are supported by a Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC), which includes the main adviser and at least one or two additional, experienced scientists (internal/external) from whom they receive scientific feedback about their research progress. The written thesis (dissertation) and an oral defence (disputation) complete the PhD. Apart from their dissertation research, CEPLAS doctoral students benefit from comprehensive scientific and career training programmes that address their academic development as well as career development aspirations and needs.

Types of assessment

Qualification Phase:

During the subject modules, CEPLAS Graduate School students conduct seminar presentations and have written exams. Lab rotations include written lab reports and oral presentations of the research results. Students have to qualify for the dissertation phase during the qualification phase. Those who fail during the qualification period can continue by pursuing a Master's degree outside the CEPLAS Graduate School.

Dissertation Phase:

During the dissertation phase, CEPLAS Graduate School students write annual reports on their research progress and have regular meetings with their Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC) to discuss progress and the further course of the research project. It is obligatory to provide documentation of these meetings to the Graduate School coordinator. At the end of the PhD studies, doctoral researchers write a thesis and defend it, pursuant to the respective university’s examination regulations.

A Diploma supplement will be issued
International elements
  • International guest lecturers
Integrated internships

During the qualification phase, three lab rotations in CEPLAS research groups are mandatory. Other internships are not mandatory, but they are encouraged in cooperation with CEPLAS collaboration partners. Special funding is provided upon application (CEPLAS Mobility Fund).

Special promotion / funding of the programme
  • DFG (e.g. Research Training Groups)
Course-specific, integrated German language courses
Course-specific, integrated English language courses
Tuition fees per semester in EUR
Semester contribution

A semester fee of approx. 300 EUR is required upon registration/enrolment as a student or doctoral researcher. This fee covers transport by bus, tram, and regional trains within North Rhine-Westphalia for the entire semester as well as the use of student facilities.

Costs of living

Students or doctoral researchers should calculate monthly expenses amounting to at least 900-1,000 EUR in order to live in a modest way, including costs for housing, food, health insurance, semester fees, study materials, etc.

Funding opportunities within the university
Description of the above-mentioned funding opportunities within the university

The programme is supported by the German Research Foundation. During the one-year qualification phase, CEPLAS Graduate School students receive a stipend of 800 EUR/month. During their dissertation phase, CEPLAS PhD students receive a contract with the university (according to German Civil Pay Scale, 65% E12/E13 TV-L) for up to four years.

Academic admission requirements

A prerequisite for admission to the CEPLAS Graduate School is a Bachelor’s degree in biological sciences or a subject related to biological sciences (e.g., cell or molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry, computational biology/bioinformatics, quantitative or synthetic biology) at the beginning of the graduate programme in October. Applicants holding a Master’s degree in biological sciences or related disciplines are currently not eligible for the CEPLAS Graduate School programme.

After acceptance to the CEPLAS Graduate School, the final programme admission requires a successful registration for a Master’s programme in Biology or Biochemistry either at the University of Düsseldorf or the University of Cologne.

Language requirements

Knowledge of the German language is not required. However, very good skills in spoken and written English are necessary. Applicants are asked to provide appropriate evidence of their language skills.

Application deadline

Please consult the CEPLAS website.

Submit application to

Please consult the CEPLAS website.

Possibility of finding part-time employment

Due to the intense nature of the programme, students will have little time for part-time jobs. However, employment as student assistants is a possibility.


On-campus student accommodation is available, as is private accommodation near campus. For further information, please check or send an e-mail to
Doctoral students can contact the tutor service of the Junior Scientist & International Researcher Centre (JUNO) for information and support concerning accommodation in Düsseldorf (

Depending on the type of accommodation, the monthly rent in Düsseldorf usually ranges from around 350 to 600 EUR for a basic apartment or a room in a shared apartment ("Wohngemeinschaft").

Structured research and supervision
Research training / discussion
Career advisory service

The CEPLAS Graduate School includes training in career-relevant skills (e.g., excursions to biotech companies, workshops in grant writing).

Specific specialist or non-specialist support for international students and doctoral candidates
  • Other
Support programmes for international students

The CEPLAS Graduate School provides extensive support for international students upon arrival in Germany as well as for the entire duration of the programme. This includes intensive support in finding accommodation, enrolment at the university, visa processing, and orientation in town. For the entire duration of the PhD programme, the CEPLAS Graduate School office provides advice and help in all matters relating to the graduate programme and life in Germany. The Graduate School is in close contact with the university's International Office, which provides assistance to international students in various issues.

Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf

University location